Ontario’s opposition parties came together last week in a historic alliance designed to end 42 years of uninterrupted Progressive Conservative rule. Their intention: to replace Premier Frank Miller’s new minority government with an administration led by Liberal Leader David Peterson. The Liberal alliance with the New Democratic Party led by Robert Rae was forged in an effort to forestall an early election in a province that went, to the polls on May 2, returning 52 Tories, 48 Liberals and 25 New Democrats. Then, last Friday, nearly two weeks of intense political bargaining culminated in a political drama in the cavernous Queen’s Park legislature building in Toronto. Both Peterson and Rae pledged to defeat the Miller government at the earliest opportunity. Said Rae: “Forty-two years is enough.” Less than two hours before Rae announced that his party would support a Peterson government, the embattled premier declared his intention to convene the legislature and produce a throne speech on June 4, and to introduce a budget on June 25. Then Miller —whose party had tried to reach a working agreement with the NDP, and who held an unsuccessful personal meeting with Rae on Friday morning —vowed that if the Tory legislative program failed to win the confidence of the House, he would seek dissolution and another election.
But it seemed likely that Lt.-Gov.
John Black Aird, a former Liberal senator, would reject a Miller request for dissolution and that Peterson, 41, the businessman-politician who became leader of a disorganized Liberal party three years ago, would be in the premier’s office before the end of June. Because the Liberals won 38 per cent of the popular vote on May 2 while the Tories captured 37 per cent, Aird could make a strong case for exercising his viceregal power to call on Peterson. Indeed, Rae declared that “it would be constitutionally inappropriate for the lieutenant-governor not to recognize that there is an alternative government ready for office.”
For Aird, 62, who originally had hoped to retire on June 1 but delayed his departure after the inconclusive election, the next few weeks seemed destined to be the most trying of his five years in office. Traditionally, governors general and lieutenant-governors in Canada follow the advice of their first ministers.
One notable exception: the 1926 decision by Gov.
Gen. Lord Byng to reject Liberal Prime Minister Mackenzie King’s request for a new election, after King’s minority government was defeated. Instead, Byng dis-
missed King and called on Conservative Leader Arthur Meighen to form what proved to be a short-lived government. Rae cited the Byng decision as a precedent.
Both Peterson and Rae said that their pact —which did not include any provision for a coalition and which was announced even before the two parties had reached any detailed formal agreement—would allow the legislature to function smoothly in an atmosphere free of the day-to-day crises that traditionally accompany minority governments. Said Rae, 36, a former labor lawyer who was a member of Parliament during Joe Clark’s 1979 minority Conservative government and moved the resolution that defeated it: “Brinkmanship on a daily basis does not serve the system well.” In exchange for its support, the NDP had asked both the Conservatives and the Liberals for at least a two-year term before another election. That request reflected Rae’s concern that his party would be badly defeated in an early runoff between the two older parties.
At the same time, Rae sought guarantees that legislation reflecting NDP policy on such issues as the environment and job rights, including equal pay for work of equal value, will be introduced swiftly. According to Miller, who claimed that Rae’s demands threatened to undermine the parliamentary principle of daily accountability by responsible governments, the price was too high. Said the 58-year-old former resort owner: “To proceed as the NDP suggested would, in effect, establish a congressional form of government.”
For his part, Peterson insisted—and Rae confirmed—that the Liberals had not agreed to any specific timing for calling the next provincial election. Indeed, both party leaders said they had only a loose framework for a formal agreement but, added Peterson: “We are going to sign an agreement. There is a level of trust between us.”
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