'The shift is hard': An exclusive look at the disquieting new political reality for Kathleen Wynne and Ontario's defeated Liberals
By Fatima Syed in News, Politics | October 9th 2018
On their first day back at Queen’s Park after the June 2018 Ontario election, the seven elected Liberals couldn’t find a place to meet. There were meeting rooms galore for the Liberals in the castle-like legislative building when they were in government, but on this day, the Liberals regrouped in a restaurant in the basement. A seat short of official party status, minimal staff, and no research money, the makeshift meeting place punctuated a new political reality.
“This was a new world in this building,” said former cabinet minister Michael Coteau, a seven-year MPP for Don Valley East, recalling how he grabbed a plastic jug, filled it with water and brought seven paper cups to that first meeting.
A seat short of official party status, minimal staff, and no research money, the makeshift meeting place punctuated a new political reality.
The Ontario Liberal Party expected to lose the June 7, 2018 election. Too much had happened and too much had been said about their decisions and their leader. Former premier Kathleen Wynne knew it when she stepped down as leader a week before the vote in one of the more emotional and historic moments of the heated campaign. The pundits, too, predicted the Liberal fall.
Members hoped to win at least a minority status in the legislature, but voters had other plans. The Ontario Liberals had been in power for 15 years - a long time in the life cycle of modern politics. When the legislature dissolved for the election, they had 55 seats. The 2018 defeat was a natural course for a party few expected to win four years earlier.
The new reality has set in slowly. In the first 100 days of Premier Doug Ford's Progressive Conservative government, the seven Liberals have been quietly adjusting to their offices on the fourth floor of the legislature – a floor Coteau said he had never ventured to until this year.
“Kathleen Wynne says there's no such thing as a bad office in the Ontario legislature because you're here, right?” said a smiling Coteau, seated on a new sofa in his office. “But the legislature today is an entirely different world.”
Now on the outside looking in, the tiny Liberal team has been enduring an onslaught of finger-pointing by Ford’s government, which has set up a special committee of MPPs to investigate what it says is a $15 billion deficit left by the Liberals.
While still in power the Liberals said this year's deficit would be $6.7 billion. Ontario's auditor general said the Liberals had veered away from standard accounting rules and that the deficit was actually $5 billion higher. After an initial review in September, Ford said the deficit was, in fact, much higher and stood at $15 billion. "Kathleen Wynne and her cronies," he said, should be held accountable for "the biggest government scandal in a generation."
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