It was the end of a historic political agreement. On June 26 the two-year accord between Ontario Premier David Peterson’s Liberals and the province’s New Democratic Party quietly expired. Signed in the wake of the 1985 provincial election—after Ontario voters had given the reigning Progressive Conservatives a mere 52 seats in the 125-seat legislature—the accord ensured the 48-seat Liberals the support of the 25 NDP members. In return, the Liberals agreed to a common legislative agenda and pledged not to call an election for at least two years. Now, although the two parties appear eager to reaffirm their independence from one another, both say that the experiment was successful. Said Peterson, who is expected to call an election this fall: “I have no reservations about its success. We worked out a constructive agenda. Everybody won.”
Indeed, despite Tory predictions that the accord would collapse, both sides remained faithful to the agreement. As a result—and with the current legislative session not yet over—the minority Liberal government has passed 117 bills since 1985, among them a new rent-control law, tougher environmen-
tal legislation and a freedom of information act. Although many items on the accord’s agenda—ending extra billing by the province’s doctors, for one— had been part of the Liberals’ campaign platform, Ontario NDP Leader Bob Rae says that the document ensured that campaign promises would be kept.
And despite Rae’s criticism that some legislation, including pay equity, was heavily amended in response to business lobbying, he, too, pronounced the pact a success. “You never get exactly what you want,” he said, “but it is a darn sight better than what we would have gotten without the accord.”
Last week, with an election on the horizon, the Liberals were already distancing themselves from the agreement. Peterson distributed copies of a red 250page binder that stressed his government’s initiatives and minimized the importance of the accord. But the Lib-
erals have clearly benefited the most from the pact, which allowed them to establish a strong party profile after 42 years of Tory rule. Now, according to a recent poll by Toronto-based Environics Research Group Ltd., they enjoy the support of 49 per cent of decided voters—compared with 28 per cent for the Conservatives and 23 per cent for the NDP.
In the fall the Liberals are expected to provoke a vote of nonconfidence by the Tories and the NDP, giving Peterson the opportunity to call an election. But despite the changed political environment in Ontario, some experts say that the accord’s success means that such arrangements could become a more permanent feature of Canadian politics. Said Liberal Senator Eugene Forsey: “We could easily get a series of minority governments at the provincial level and even at the federal level—in which case the parties might repeat what has proven to be an effective experiment.”
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