What can we expect from a minority government?

By MPP Toby Barrett

After finally seeing the end of three minority governments federally, it looks like people in Ontario are about to get a reminder of what minority leadership means provincially.

Ontario has seen elections create minorities in 1975 and 1977 – the last being in 1985, following the retirement of longtime Premier Bill Davis

As opposed to the majority situations we’ve become accustomed to, in a minority, governments must rely on the support of other parties to stay in power, providing less stability, but, some say, more accountability. We’ve seen situations over the past three federal minorities where committee and legislative decisions, as well as governing parties themselves, hang on the ability to ensure all hands are on deck for important votes.

Most minority governments last less than two years. For example, a budget non-confidence motion brought down Joe Clark after nine months. Stephen Harper actually led one of the longest serving minorities after the 2008 election, running government for just under three years.

A minority was the final decision of the electorate on October 6th, and unfortunately, that electorate comprised only half the eligible voters. The 49 per cent that did head to the polls ensured that the present hung parliament will govern as long as it maintains the confidence of the Legislature.

Here are the numbers. In his first election as leader, Tim Hudak gained 12 seats – to 37 from 25. The McGuinty Liberals got 53 – down 18. And the Horwath NDP gained 8 seats for a total of 17. The Liberal share of the vote was 37.6 per cent, PC 35.4 per cent, and NDP 22.7 per cent. Locally, in Haldimand-Norfolk, I secured 61 per cent of the vote –garnering 25,203 votes. The NDP came in second with 8,048, followed by the Liberals with 7,048.

The results mean that, one seat short of a majority, rather than making unilateral decisions, Dalton McGuinty now must ask for support from other parties.

Rural communities rejected Liberal MPP’s in rural areas– including former Agriculture Ministers Mitchell and Dombrowsky. Of the 11 rural Liberal MPP’s elected in the last election, only three managed to keep their seats: including Peterborough’s Jeff Leal, Ted McMeekin of Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale, and Dave Levac in Brant.

Other rural Liberal MPP’s defeated by PC’s were Lou Rinaldi who lost Northumberland-Quinte West and Perth-Wellington’s Environment Minister John Wilkinson, as well as Maria Van Bommel in Lambton-Kent-Middlesex.

Neither Liberal veteran Pat Hoy, who has held the Chatham-Kent-Essex riding, nor former Agriculture Minister Steve Peters of Elgin-Middlesex-London, sought re-election this time– both ridings went PC.

Survival of the current minority government requires indications that the McGuinty Liberals are willing to work with the Opposition on so many of the issues we heard about during the election. I think of the need to hold the line and reduce our tax burden, the need for job creation and improvements to health care and government administration, as well as a second look at the HST on electricity and the placement of wind turbines.

Questions remain: Why did so many not vote? And why did so many not receive a voting card locally? I didn’t get one, and no one in my family got one. And how will things work out with Ontario’s first minority government since 1985 – 1987?