POLITICS
10/11/2011 11:51 EDT | Updated 12/11/2011 05:12 EST

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath Calls For Meeting With Other Parties After Liberals Narrowly Miss Majority

CP

TORONTO - The political machinations whirled furiously at the Ontario legislature Tuesday as the staffers and elected officials worked behind the scenes to better position themselves for a new minority government.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath was the first to get things rolling publicly by reaching out to the two other party leaders, requesting a meeting to discuss how to deal with the province's problems.

The request, promptly rejected by Premier Dalton McGuinty, came after a lacklustre election that saw less than half eligible voters cast a ballot and gave the governing Liberals a reduced mandate, bringing them into minority territory with 53 seats.

The Liberals only need one more member to reach majority and may be courting an opposition MPP to cross the floor, but would lose a seat if one of their members becomes Speaker.

"There will be some effort made to find an opposition member who's prepared to be the Speaker, although if you are in a minority, being one or two seats in a minority doesn't really make much difference," said Bob Drummond, a political science professor at Toronto's York University.

"So they may actually select one of their own but then you're down two seats rather than one if everyone shows up to vote."

Nominations for the Speaker can't be made by party leaders or ministers, but all other members can nominate candidates.

New Democrat Cheri DiNovo, a deputy speaker, said she'd welcome the nomination under different circumstances, but wouldn't be interested under the current minority situation.

"It really de facto would give the Liberals a majority, which I'm not interested in doing at his point, I'm interested in seeing ... what we can negotiate through with a minority government," DiNovo said.

"As Speaker you tend to have to go with the mover of motions, which would mean that at times the possibility exists that I would have to vote against initiatives that I really would like to get behind."

Asked whether she'd been approached for the role, DiNovo laughed and said she hadn't, adding: "But I haven't been returning some phone calls yet."

The election of the Speaker and the return of parliament will be the first two orders of business, but the Liberals aren't saying yet how soon they will bring the house back.

The premier met with the lieutenant governor on Tuesday morning, the Liberals said, but it was only an informal meeting "to inform him that he intends to form a strong, stable Ontario Liberal government."

The premier will have to appoint his cabinet before parliament returns and prepare a throne speech, in addition to an economic update that would assess the threats to the global economy and how they could impact Ontario, promised the day after the vote.

A separate review on the province's public sector, prepared by Don Drummond, former chief economist of TD Bank, is also expected sometime this fall.

York's Bob Drummond said the Liberals will have to figure out how to craft a throne speech and budget that will get one of the opposition parties to go along with them, and generally work with both the NDP and the Tories on an issue-by-issue basis.

"Neither opposition party is eager for another election immediately," he said.

"With a turnout below 50 per cent you don't want to have to try to mobilize the electorate very soon, so I don't think they have to do very much, but they have to do something at least symbolically."

McGuinty has been pretty clear throughout the campaign that he wasn't interested in forming any agreements or coalitions with the other parties.

In shooting down Horwath's request Tuesday, the government said "there will be lots of opportunity for input from the opposition as the legislature resumes."

Horwath, whose party grew to 17 seats from 10, said she was disappointed with the response, and hoped the dismissal wasn't an indication of the parties' attitude in the future.

"People made it pretty clear that they want to see things done differently in their interest," Horwath said.

"I was putting out a bit of an olive branch and hoping that we could all work together to make some gains for the people."

The Progressive Conservatives didn't accept the Horwath's invitation either, saying they'd rather get down to work in the legislature.

"I just think the NDP is kind of tilting at windmills, thinking it's going to be possible to sit down and get a straight answer from Dalton McGuinty," said Peter Shurman, who was re-elected in his riding of Thornhill, north of Toronto.

"Dalton McGuinty tells you what he thinks you want to hear on any given day. ... And I don't know that it's at all productive to sit down with Dalton McGuinty or Andrea Horwath or anybody else."

But no one is eager to trigger another election, he said.

"Realism means that there is no stomach on the part of the Ontario people for any election in the near term," Shurman said.

"There is no money in any of the caucus's war chests to do anything in the near term. So there is a necessity to fight hard in parliament to make things work on behalf of the folks who sent us."

The Tories ended the election with 37 seats, up 12, an improvement from the previous election but a disappointing turn for a party that was the clear front-runner going into the race.

There have been some changes in the Tory camp since Thursday's vote. A source confirmed that leader Tim Hudak has parted ways with his chief of staff, Lynette Corbett, who has been replaced temporarily by Ian Robertson, a senior adviser.

The Tories won't say whether they'll allow one of their own to run for Speaker, but the party is expected to discuss the matter at the next caucus meeting, which could be held within the next week to 10 days.