rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

McGuinty's incoherent approach at Queen's Park

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca for as little as $5 per month!

Photo: BC Gov Photos/Flickr

Got change? Want change? Spare some and get some by becoming a member of rabble.ca today.

Events at Queen's Park over the last week tell us two things.

First, that it is not easy for a government to try to pursue three different strategies simultaneously in a minority legislature. And second, that the NDP's toolbox in a minority legislature continues to represent a challenge to opponents.

Let's begin with the "three strategies" thing. Broadly speaking, there are three ways for a government to survive life in a minority legislature.

First, a minority government can seek to survive by blackmailing opposition parties with constant threats of elections. Stephen Harper did this (Michael Ignatieff let him get away with it).

Second, a minority government can work, more or less amicably, through case-by-case arrangements with reasonably like-minded opposition parties. Bill Davis did this (generally in partnership with Stephen Lewis) and so did Lester Pearson (generally in partnership with Tommy Douglas).

Or, third, a minority government can buy itself a reasonably stable term by negotiating a formal agreement with an opposition party. David Peterson did this with Bob Rae (an accord under which the NDP supported the Liberals while remaining outside of government). Roy Romanow did this with Jim Melenchuk (a coalition, with Liberal ministers in an NDP cabinet).

Premier Dalton McGuinty's minority government in Ontario has tried to survive by pursuing versions of all of these strategies simultaneously. It is blustering and threatening elections. It is trying to do informal, verbal, case-by-case handshake deals. And it is trying to achieve the kind of stability that comes from a written accord, without paying the price required to actually negotiate one.

The incoherence of this approach has made for a disjointed ride in Queen's Park since the last Ontario election. And it has made for a nasty confrontation in recent days.

Ontario Liberals might do better to pick one plan and to stick to it. Govern without regard to the opposition, and accept the risk of having the bluff called. Govern case-by-case, and accept that this will mean ongoing horse-trading on every piece of legislative business at every stage -- particularly with regard to over-weighed omnibus budget bills. Or buy two to four years of stability through a formal accord, which would mean that another party will get to crystalize their contribution to this minority legislature -- not an unreasonable trade-off.

That the Ontario government seems unsure which strategy to follow tells us something about the challenge the post-Layton NDP toolbox poses to other parties during minority parliaments.

Voters like the idea that legislators show up for work planning to get things done. In offering to support the government on terms, Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath is therefore doing exactly what voters want her to do, without being a pushover. Ms. Horwath has earned herself a role as a leading Ontario politician by deftly playing her cards in this minority legislature.

Having witnessed what this meant for their federal cousins, the Ontario Liberals can be forgiven for not wanting to play along. But this week's mess at Queen's Park would suggest the government of Ontario is going to have to pick their legislative and political poison a little more clearly.

This article was first published in the Globe and Mail.

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.