When the legislature opens for business on Tuesday, Dalton McGuinty will confront one of the most troubled periods in provincial history.
With a $16-billion deficit, a debt of about $250 billion, a sputtering economy, a weak job market and the danger of a credit rating downgrade, the 40th Provincial Parliament couldn’t be sitting at a more important time.
The challenges facing Ontario would be daunting for a majority government. Throw a minority government into that volatile mix, with the Drummond report hanging over his head, and McGuinty’s task becomes herculean.
Analysts say McGuinty’s situation is unique. What voters conjured up last Oct. 6 last year, is not the minority of 1985 when Liberals and New Democrats signed an accord and took power from Conservative Frank Miller, giving government to David Peterson. Nor is it 1975 and 1977 when Bill Davis led two Conservative minorities with relative ease in the face of a divided opposition.
The political environment today is more fractured and more partisan, with the Opposition Progressive Conservatives and the NDP united in their determination to give the Liberals no breathing room.
Worse still, worries about the economy have left cranky Ontarians in no mood to cut the government any slack. McGuinty not only has to walk a political tightrope in the legislature, he has to make sure whatever tough medicine he prescribes to revive the economy doesn’t lead to social unrest.
With 53 seats to the PC’s 37 and 17 for the NDP, McGuinty may have a “strong minority,” but it is not enough to give him control of his own destiny.