Premier hopes public opinion will change once hydro cuts take effect this summer.
Premier Kathleen Wynne is downplaying polls that show her popularity in decline and a warning from former finance minister Greg Sorbara that the Liberals are in “grave danger” of losing the 2018 election.
“There’s no secret there have always been people in the Liberal party who weren’t keen on me,” Wynne told reporters Friday after meeting with auto industry executives and union leaders.
The premier said she hopes public opinion will improve once Ontarians feel the full effect of her promised 25 per cent cut to skyrocketing hydro rates this summer.
“I know that the issue around electricity prices has been very, very hard for people,” said Wynne, who added she has no plans to step aside.
“I made a commitment to the people of Ontario in 2014,” added the premier, who led the minority Liberals she inherited from her predecessor Dalton McGuinty to a majority in that provincial election and enjoyed solid approval ratings.
“I’m doing that job and I’m going to continue to do that job.”
Liberals are placing second to Patrick Brown’s Progressive Conservatives in most polls and Wynne’s personal popularity is in the low double digits. The latest Angus Reid Institute survey has her at 12 per cent.
Sorbara, a key architect of Liberal majorities under McGuinty, raised concerns this week about the party’s prospects for the provincial election next year and whether Wynne should step down.
“The fact is this is going to be a very difficult campaign,” he said on TVO’s The Agenda.
“The (poll) numbers today are the same and getting worse…the fact is the numbers do not lie and the ability to win the next election is in grave, grave doubt.”
Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid came to Wynne’s rescue in a news conference, saying Ontario’s economy is the strongest in Canada and the jobless rate is at its lowest in years.
“Energy rates became a lightning rod for all the discontent in the province and when you’re premier of a province and that’s happening you become a part of that lightning rod.”
There is talk in the corridors of Queen’s Park about who might replace Wynne as leader if the hydro rate cut doesn’t lead to a bounce in the polls.
At the meeting with auto industry types, Wynne said efforts continued to forge a comment front as the Trump administration pushes renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement – particularly with companies taking advantage of lower wages in Mexico.
The aim is to protect the province’s auto industry, which accounts for 15 per cent of North American production.
Don Walker, chief executive of auto parts giant Magna International, said it’s important to keep Mexico in NAFTA without punitive tariffs.
“If you look at North America, the real competition in the automotive industry is China, is Europe, is Asia…having open access to low-cost labour in Mexico actually helps us be more competitive.”
Unifor president Jerry Dias said nine of the last major auto assembly plants to be announced are for Mexico and it’s time to reverse that trend.
“I’m not afraid of the renegotiation of NAFTA…all of the investment has been leaving Canada and going to Mexico. So there has to be an opportunity to start to turn that around.”
Dias said he’s like to see more major components of autos built closer to the assembly plants where they are used, instead of crossing borders or shipping over long distances.
The Star by Rob Ferguson
March 24th 2017