When the Liberal Party Tweeted policy statements from its Annual General Meeting, this past weekend, Dwight Ball was essentially telegraphing a message to voters he had no intention of going near the minefield chosen by Ontario Conservative Leader Tim Hudak.
While Hudak may never win any awards as a strategist, he has also made sure no political leader in Canada will ever advance risqué ideas when the opposing Party is already on the ropes.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath brought down the Liberal Government of Kathleen Wynne even though it proposed a huge deficit which would be added to a large debt. Then, in a measure akin to ritualistic Harikiri, Conservative Leader Tim Hudak kicked off the ensuing election campaign by proposing tax cuts of 30% and axing of 100,000 public sector workers.
The Ontario Liberal Party was exceedingly unpopular. Referring to a Study conducted for the Paper, The Globe and Mail reported that “61 per cent of people who cast ballots agreed it was “time for a change in the Ontario government,” next to only 21 per cent who disagreed.”
Former Premier Dalton McGuinty chalked up a record of lost jobs and lost industry, deficit spending, a costly and failed energy strategy as well as charges of corruption that saw the police search his former offices. McGuinty’s low polling numbers fit well when placed alongside those of former Premier Kathy Dunderdale.
But when the election was held last Thursday 12 June the Liberals were returned with a majority Government.
When so many Ontario Liberals, who thought it “time for a change” stuck with the Party it wanted to be rid of you know that the Tory Opposition had seriously miscalculated.
Hudak might have let the Liberals fall on their sword. That's exactly the strategy Dwight Ball has been working on, with the Tories, since he became Leader.
While the Tories have steeped Ball in opportunity he has always been reluctant to take the bridle of leadership even when marginal issues offered advantage.
Never one to condemn the Muskrat Falls Project, he skirted around even peripheral issues having either bought Ed Martin’s “spin” or felt conflicted by pro-Muskrat insiders. He was careful to recognize that two-thirds of the population support the Project; most of them without a sweet clue how it might impact them.
He has spent a short time on the “Oversight” issue but has given it no staying power.
Even on the Humber Valley Paving scandal, Ball gave it little attention once the Auditor General was engaged, possibly seeing no merit in causing political damage to transitional Premier Tom Marshall.
Ball has simply never differentiated issues when it comes to an assessment of political risk. He eschews all risk.
It is one thing to avoid the advancement of ideas that might mortally wound one’s political survival, as in the case of Tim Hudak, but those issues should never be confused with the importance of advancing others that demonstrate talent, prove leadership or that simply keep the Government honest.
Ball may be savvy enough not to rain on the public’s parade of ‘good times’; debt and deficit notwithstanding. The question is: will he ever be able to communicate bad news when that is the right thing to do. Will he be able to prescribe bitter medicine?
The following policy Tweets from the Liberal Convention demonstrate Ball's 'soft’ approach, one that might command more accurate descriptions like 'mushy' and 'mother-hood':
Ball – Liberals believe in the dream we all share, that home will always be home. #nlpoli #nlliberals #AGM2014
Ball – We will take mental health as seriously as physical health. #nlpoli #nlliberals #AGM2014
Ball – Liberals will move province away from reliance on mega-projects. #nlpoli #nlliberals #AGM2014
Ball - Our policy will ensure the people of #Labrador share equally in the benefits of their resources. #nlpoli #nlliberals #AGM2014
Ball – A Liberal government will never give up on our fishery. #nlpoli #nlliberals #AGM 2014
Ball – Health care providers say money already in the system – we just need to spend it smarter #nlpoli #nlliberals #AGM2014
Ball – Over time we will lower cost of health care & improve quality with NO CUTS. #nlpoli #nlliberals #AGM2014
Don’t they make you you feel emboldened! “Never give up on the fishery”, lowering the costs of health care with “NO CUTS”, “move… away from reliance on mega projects”; wouldn’t you just wish a ballot box were close by!
Of course, besides the Tories' unpopularity, Ball has one other advantage which will compound his propensity to pull him back from any experiment with much needed (forget risky) public policy change. The Ontario Liberal Party chose a Leader who proved to be intuitive and even “likeable”. For certain, Wynne is a skilful communicator capable of embracing rather than isolating her electorate.
The Tories have Frank Coleman, a recluse tainted by the HVP affair, whom the SRB Papers Blog has already dubbed the ‘peek-a-boo’ Premier.
If you had thought there might be some public policy options advanced by the Liberal Party in the next election, that is less likely than ever. The Tories have the support of just 29% of voters and they have Frank Coleman.
The Liberals are not just careful; they are content. While Ball told his troops not to get too "cocky" the bigger problem may be his own: his claim to caution suggests he stands for little.
His caution many cause a fickle electorate to see him as too weak just as Ontario’s voters thought Hudak over the top.
Dwight Ball needs to dig deeper. The Ontario electorate certainly did.