Thursday, December 01, 2005

McGuinty v. Martin: Both Lose

You can just feel the love between Paul Martin and Dalton McGuinty these days, can't you?

Already, indications are the brightest and best are not flocking from Queen's Park to staff federal campaign teams. One federal Liberal said Mr. McGuinty's aides are reluctant to release senior operatives, sending rookies to give them experience for the provincial campaign in 2007.

Provincial observers say relations between Queen's Park and the Prime Minister's Office have been at an all-time low since the 2004 election.

Martin insiders want Mr. McGuinty to abandon his fiscal fairness campaign, which has struck a chord with Ontario voters. They are warning that anything short of total loyalty from the Ontario premier could even lead to a shift in political allegiance.

About three months ago, senior Martinites began quietly talking up the idea of campaigning against Mr. McGuinty by working with Conservative leader John Tory. With so much on the line, the Ontario premier was sounding conciliatory in an appearance on Tuesday.

"I will be supporting Prime Minister Martin and the federal Liberals during the course of this campaign," he told reporters. "I mean, we've crossed swords more than a few times, and I've never ever shrunk from fulfilling my duty to Ontarians as I see it. But when you look back on the record, it's not bad."

Mr. McGuinty mentioned two deals worth more than $2.2 billion signed within the past week -- on labour markets and immigration funding.

"At the same time, I will be pressing them to make more progress in the future," he said, mentioning social transfer payments and dollars the province wants to help pay for the shutdown of coal plants. So the premier's next moves are being closely monitored by Mr. Martin's war room. Observers say the tension is palpable.


Relations between the two sides took a sharp turn for the worse when Mr. McGuinty introduced his unpopular health tax weeks before the 2004 federal election. That move sent provincial support plummeting in the polls; federal Liberal support in Ontario followed. Indeed, Mr. McGuinty became so unpopular that federal Grits asked him to make himself scarce in the final days of the campaign.

Another source of anger for Martinites is Mr. McGuinty's association with political strategist Warren Kinsella, the multi-faceted former Chretien adviser who runs a virulent anti-Martin blog widely read by political insiders.

The passive-aggressive Ontario voter may not be deterred from voting Liberal because of these games of inside baseball that interest the electorate far less than the media.

But McGuinty could become a loose cannon on the Liberal deck the way that Ralph Klein has been for the Conservatives. The Liberals already had to do damage control because of McGuinty's health premium announcement in 2004. What if he cooks up another brilliant idea in the middle of the camapign?

Source: Ottawa Citizen

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