Ontario’s minority government turns one; will it make it to two?

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

When you think about the last year in Ontario's legislature, the word 'dysfunctional' comes to mind.

Saturday marked the first anniversary of the 2011 Ontario election — an election that thrust Queen's Park into a minority government scenario for the first time in over a quarter century.

Like all minority legislatures throughout Canada past and present, this one has had its fair share of bickering and political gamesmanship. But don't expect that dysfunction to lead to an election anytime soon.  You have to believe, at this point, that none of the parties are ready to pull the trigger on an election, especially the Liberals.

A recent Forum Research poll suggests that the government's recent flurry of austerity measures — particularly with regards to public sector wage freezes — has pushed Premier Dalton McGuinty's approval rating down to about 20 per cent. The Liberals also continue to be dogged by a series of  boondoggles and scandals: there was the eHealth scandal, the Ornge fiasco and questions about the decision to cancel development on two Ontario power plants that cost taxpayers over $230 million.

While the Forum poll also predicts that Tim Hudak's Progressive Conservatives could win a majority government, support for him is tenuous, at best.  Last spring Hudak was widely criticized for taking a back seat to NDP leader Andrea Horwath in the province's budget debate. There are also rumblings about Hudak's leadership, especially after the Tories failed to win either of two provincial by-elections last month.

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The only party that might benefit from an election right now is the NDP, which has been buoyed by solid poll numbers and Catherine Fife's by-election victory in Kitchener-Waterloo. Despite her recent successes, however, Horwath has expressed a desire to make this minority government work.

"This legislature can work and we've proven that it can," she said in an interview with Yahoo! Canada News earlier this week.

"I think the legislature has worked in so far as the arrogant, out of touch majority Liberals have been reigned in. They are on a shorter leash because the people of the province didn't give them a majority this time," she said.

"What the New Democrats have been able to do is make that minority government work for families, for people.  Our first victory, in that regard, was the way we were able to make the budget more fair.  We were able to achieve a number of things in that budget that paid attention to what everyday folks were experiencing."

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While things can change quickly in minority situations, don't be surprised if one year from now we're 'celebrating' this government's second anniversary.

Recent minority governments in Ontario:

David Peterson Liberal government: May 2, 1985 to Sept. 10, 1987  (861 days)

Bill Davis PC government: June 9, 1977 to March 19, 1981 (1,379 days)

Bill Davis PC government: Sept. 18, 1975 to June 9, 1977 (630 days)