By Jason Menard
Generally, to run a government, you need your finger on the pulse of the populace. However, Dalton McGuinty and the Ontario Liberals’ style of governance has seen that same finger used to point out blame at each an every opportunity.
To date, the modus operandi of the Ontario platform has been to find the best scapegoat and deflect criticism. But when you build your foundation on shifting blame, can you really be surprised when the whole house collapses?
Now that the statute of limitations on blaming the Harris/Eves government for all the provinces ills has expired, McGuinty has found a new target towards which to deflect criticism – the federal Liberals. Whether it’s the variance in gas prices in Ontario or the injustices of an allegedly unfair equalization program, McGuinty has worked hard to demonize the federal Liberals and cast them as the source of many of the provinces ills.
While the “I’m doing the best with what I can” platform may work in some cases, it can be a fatal recipe when you’re casting blame within the same family. Like it or not, the average voter sees little difference between the federal and provincial bodies of the respective Parties. And, for the most part, the defining policies and beliefs that guide these Parties is the same.
So, when you’re all painted with the same colour, why would you be surprised when your differences all begin to blend together? Instead of tearing each other apart, Liberal supporters of both the federal and provincial variety need to understand that to ensure the continued strength and political success that the Party has enjoyed, it needs to work to support one another. Essentially, whether you’re on the Varsity squad or in the Juvee ranks, you have to remember that you’re pulling on the same sweater and playing for the same team.
While McGuinty may have able to ride his focus on Ontario’s gap between what we contribute to the nation and what we receive in return to improved short-term ratings, has that been done at the long-term expense of undermining Party credibility?
Of course, this isn’t a one-sided argument. Ontario is arguably the most important province when it comes to deciding who wins federal elections. The composition of the existing minority government just goes to prove the power that Ontario can wield over the nation. As such, it’s imperative for Prime Minister Paul Martin and the federal Liberals to patch up the Party’s differences to present a more unified front going forward.
The federal Liberals can’t afford to look down their noses at provincial politics. They can’t run the risk of treating McGuinty as nothing more than an uppity kid brother who doesn’t know his place in the pecking order. His arguments need to be respected and action has to be taken if they want to continue to obtain the overwhelming support that the province has given to them.
But, while the risk is there, the lack of strong, powerful alternatives in the federal ranks means that there’s a little more wiggle room. At the provincial level, there is no such room. Despite being trounced in the last election, the Conservative party has enjoyed recent support. And the NDP remains a viable choice for those finding themselves on the centre-left range of the political spectrum. In fact, in 2004 the Hamilton East riding went overwhelmingly NDP (63.6 per cent) in its by-election to replace the seat vacated by the passing of Liberal Dominic Agostino.
Unfortunately, a significant number of people in our society don’t get to know their individual representatives or appreciate the unique aspects of each candidate’s platform and beliefs. They look to the example set by the Party leaders and the generic stances and beliefs that the Party is known for when it comes to casting their ballots. As such, how can confidence in a particular Party not be undermined when the respective wings can’t co-exist to get their house in order?
By targeting criticism at his federal brethren, McGuinty is essentially cutting of his nose to spite his face and runs the risk of cannibalizing votes in future elections. By undermining the credibility and integrity of the federal Party, McGuinty runs the very real risk that electors will apply those negative Liberal feelings to the provincial ranks.
It’s the basic laws of nature – when you annoy those who are farther up the food chain and nip at the bigger fish, you often end up finding your way to extinction.
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