Will Kathleen Wynne lead, follow or get out of the way? - Robert Fisher

If Kathleen Wynne steps down as leader of the Ontario Liberal party before the next election, at whom will voters vent their anger over high hydro costs? Will voters forgive and forget?

The premier promises that she will lead the party into the 2018 election, but no one wants to follow an unpopular leader to the polls. Now there are reports people in her own party are talking already about who should take over. 

The CBC's Ontario Political analyst, Robert Fisher, says he has been speaking about the future of the Liberals with his sources to try to separate the rumours from truth.

Fisher spoke with the CBC's Conrad Collaco about if the Liberals need a new leader before the next provincial election. Listen to the full interview by clicking the image at the top of the page, or read an edited and abridged transcript below.

Robert Fisher, Ontario politics analyst

Premier Wynne says she'll lead her party into the next provincial election. What have you heard about party support for her to continue as leader?

A lot of it is private conversations. People don't want to go public with their concerns. Most of the worry is the hydro rate cut for the summer won't be able to stop the political bleeding for the Liberals. One senior strategist put it to me this way, he thought the whole reporting of the movement to push Kathleen Wynne out was nothing short of B.S.

I believe Kathleen Wynne will lead the Liberal party into the 2018 election, but it won't stop cabinet ministers from doing their due diligence in case things got so bad by this coming summer that the party had to make a change. I don't think it's going to happen, but you have to be prepared, just like Kathleen Wynne was prepared when Dalton McGuinty was waning in public support then eventually left. You can't leave these things to the last minute.

At the end McGuinty, an unpopular Premier, hurting from the gas plant scandal, steps down to save the party before an election. Is Wynne in the same tough spot?

I think she is determined to stick this one out. She has been travelling the province again this week, spent some time in Guelph talking to people directly about hydro. When you talk to Liberals privately, they are absolutely convinced the hydro rate cut will lessen the anger that voters have. When you look at polling, there's one by Nanos Research on Feb.15th/16th before the big cut was announced, the Liberals also have a problem with the public's trust in their government. If you look at polls over the last year, you would be hard pressed to say the premier has earned the trust of Ontarians 'every single day' as she promised when she became premier.

By the time of the next election, the Liberal government will have been around for 15 years. For many people, the polling would indicate their best before date is just about up.

How is Wynne's popularity here in Hamilton and around the province?

The Liberals continue to lag in the polls. The most recent poll comes from Nanos. Support for the Tories is about 44 per cent. The NDP at 25, the Liberals at 24. Nanos took that and extrapolated what that would look like in the new 122 seat legislature. By 2018, there will be 122 seats in the legislature not the current 107. From them, you hear 84 Tories, 27 New Democrats and 11 Liberals. Eleven per cent happens to mirror the personal popularity the Premier currently has. 

Across the province, you see the Tories in the lead, even though 41 per cent of people in the poll say they didn't know if the Tory leader Patrick Brown was doing a good job. It's amazing that he has been around for so long and people still don't know who the Tory leader is.

The concern for the Tories is about a misstep. A big mistake. Like what happened to the late, lamented Tim Hudak. The Liberals are counting on a mistake. So far, nothing major. The Liberals will have to find other ways to attack Patrick Brown.

Are the Liberals also in trouble over school closures?

It took the Liberals most of this week to even admit that upwards of 300 schools are on the chopping block. There was a point earlier in the week when Mitzi Hunter, the education minister, actually ran away from reporters who had asked her for the numbers about school closings. The problem is that in small town Ontario schools are the hubs in the community. To lose them means more kids on longer rides to and from school. This is a big issue.

The bragging they have done this week about how much money they have put in the system, how many schools they have renovated and how many new ones they have opened — in Hamilton, Paul Miller, one of your local MPP's, has talked openly about the number of school closings that have happened in his community. It's an issue the opposition will try to exploit. 

19-year-old Sam Oosterhoff has won another election, this time beating a Conservative rival for the nomination in the new riding of Niagara West. What do you make of his continued success at the polls?

For someone who hasn't completed his first year of political science (at Brock University), he seems to know how to win elections. He wins the nomination against well known conservatives. He wins the byelection handily, then earlier this week he obliterates his only opposition in the nomination for the new riding. Whatever he is learning at Brock seems to be paying off.

For many people in the social conservative movement, he is the boy wonder. He represents everything the Conservative Party should be about, that Patrick Brown isn't. He's kept his own opinions about issues hidden, perhaps ordered to. He is still a force to be reckoned with. The morning after his win, he was sitting in Patrick Brown's seat in the front row of Conservative benches.

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