McGuinty spending spree signals close election race
Published Sunday, August 19, 2007 7:36AM EDT
The Ontario Liberal government's recent flurry of announcements, which contain a number of new initiatives and hundreds of millions in spending, signals Ontario is in for a tight election race this fall, pundits say.
But analysts differ on whether the efforts will harm or benefit Dalton McGuinty's chances for re-election as premier.
McGuinty and his cabinet ministers have been making spending announcements at a rate of about one a day -- and sometimes a few day -- for weeks now, despite the election being more than two months away.
Some of what's been unveiled includes:
- $309 million to schools boards over two years;
- $12 million in last-minute funding this year for specialized autism treatment;
- $2 million for OPP planes that will monitor street racers;
- $21.5 million to manage high-risk offenders;
- $79 million to plant 50 million trees; and
- A $30 million project for a flagship transit hub at Kipling Station.
The early spending spree sends a bit of a mixed message, says Ryerson political professor Myer Siemiatycki.
"I think in a strange way it may send a signal that this is a government that doesn't think it can win based on its record," Siemiatycki told CTV.ca.
"They have been in office for almost four years, and this massive amount of projected spending and new programming implies this isn't a government that thinks, 'Look at what we've done, and on the basis of that, re-elect us.'"
Siemiatycki said in an "an odd kind of way," it may reflect a starting point of weakness rather than strength.
"On other hand, it is a charting of new direction and identification of new priorities ... and the government could plan to aggressively project itself as a dynamic, new government with all kinds of priorities out there."
Siemiatycki said the party could also be a responding after losing a number of byelections recently.
Other observers say the Liberals will gain from the announcements, reassuring their supporters and winning over swing voters.
"One of the challenges of this government -- and it's true about any Ontario government -- is getting the attention of the population," Tim Woolstencroft, managing partner of the Strategic Counsel, told CTV.ca
"I think it's been quite strategically smart to do what they're doing."
Woolstencroft said a series of spending initiatives before an election only backfires when voters are already predisposed against the government.
"They tend to see these announcements as buying off, trying to mollify voters' anger," he said.
Opposition Leader John Tory on Friday accused McGuinty of going on a "$25 billion spending binge," adding the announcements are a "blatant election ploy."
"It's seems these days that there's magic McGuinty money falling from the sky," said Tory, leader of the Progressive Conservatives.
"Taxpayers have a right to know where all this money is suddenly appearing from and why it wasn't in Dalton McGuinty's budget a few months ago."
Political commentators agree that a competitive and fiercely fought election is coming.
"The opinion polls seem to be implying that a minority government is very much in the cards, and (they're) unclear even who the lead party would be in that kind of configuration," Siemiatycki said.