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Pragmatism trumps posturing as Wynne backtracks on fall election

A day after Kathleen Wynne publicly raised the prospect of a fall election, she privately poured cold water on it.

Sources say that the Ontario Premier told Liberal MPPs at their Tuesday caucus meeting not to expect a campaign before next spring, saying she does not want one and, barring unforeseen circumstances, will make no effort to force one.

The contrast with Ms. Wynne's bullishness at the start of the provincial legislature's first week since its summer break, when she seemed to indicate that opposition obstructionism could cause her to pull the plug, may disappoint some members of her own party.

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A contingent of Liberals, albeit likely a minority, believes that a quick election would be to the government's benefit – capitalizing on current disarray among the opposition Progressive Conservatives, and getting ahead of what could be a bad-news budget next spring.

For Ms. Wynne, however, there is powerful disincentive to quickly trigger an election, because of her party's current state of preparedness.

Only last week, the Liberals overhauled their campaign team – effectively placing pollster and former Paul Martin adviser David Herle in charge of strategy and backroom veteran Pat Sorbara in charge of day-to-day operations.

Insiders say that Ms. Sorbara's appointment, in particular, was borne of recognition that the Liberals' organization is not yet where it needs to be. Known for a no-nonsense approach, the former chief of staff to then-education minister Laurel Broten is said to be someone who can "make the trains run on time." But with their party remaining in a state of upheaval, after the departure of most senior campaign operatives who steered former premier Dalton McGuinty's three election wins, it is unlikely that Ms. Sorbara will be able to get it ready overnight.

Just as significant, if not more so, is that the Liberals are still struggling to map out a platform they could take to voters. While Ms. Wynne has signalled that she wants to campaign on economic growth, she has yet to settle on specific ideas in that regard. She appears to be struggling with how to balance her desire to make new investments, aimed at both job creation and a "fairer society," with the need to fight the province's large deficit. And she seems to be some distance from settling on how to raise new revenue for investment in transportation infrastructure, which she has long signalled is a major priority.

An additional disincentive to going to the polls this fall is the looming report by the province's auditor-general on the cancellation of the gas-fired power plant that was to be built in Oakville. The report is likely to breathe new life into the related scandal by showing the cancellation costs to be even higher than has thus far been reported, and the Liberals will not be eager to campaign while it is top of mind. So if they had any intention of triggering an election, they would want to do so before the report's expected release in October.

Finally, there is the matter of Ms. Wynne's personal brand. Were she to appear eager for battle, she might struggle to reconcile that with her positioning as a co-operator by nature who does not relish political conflict.

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Concern about being seen as too much of a soft touch might explain Ms. Wynne's fleeting hawkishness. She might also be trying to frame a case about the need for a majority government, for a campaign that most Liberals – along with members of the other two parties at Queen's Park – expect around budget time next year.

Speculation about an election coming sooner will inevitably continue to crop up. But with the opposition unlikely to have the opportunity to bring down the government this fall, Ms. Wynne's quick backtrack this week suggests it shouldn't be taken too seriously.

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About the Author
Political Feature Writer

Adam Radwanski is The Globe and Mail's political feature writer. More


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