Ont. premier wins 85% party support
Sep 29, 2012 / 5:34 pm
Ontario's Liberals are backing embattled Premier Dalton McGuinty's leadership, despite disappointing electoral results and a looming battle with former union allies who are furious over new legislation to freeze wages.
McGuinty received the endorsement of 85.8 per cent of delegates who voted in a leadership review at the party's convention in Ottawa on Saturday. The review was automatically triggered after last October's election that reduced the Liberals to a minority government.
It was better than Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak, who received an endorsement of 78.7 per cent in February, and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath's 76.4 per cent in April.
Before his staff revealed the results, the premier reassured the party faithful that while things may seem rocky now, they had to weather the storm and stay the course to tackle a $15-billion deficit.
"We've been through tough times before," McGuinty said, pointing to the introduction of the health premium of up to $900 per worker in 2004 or harmonizing sales taxes in 2010.
"This is but one more. Now is not the time for stopping. Now's the time to keep fighting for Ontario Liberal values."
It'll take time for public sector workers to understand that a wage freeze is necessary to protect Ontario's cherished public services, he said after his 30-minute speech.
"This is not a time, so to speak, where we are kind of bridling with enthusiasm," McGuinty said.
"It's a time for sobriety. It's a time for coming to a recognition, and if not enthusiastic support, a quiet acceptance of our reality and what responsibilities we have to take on."
But that message didn't go over well with teachers who picketed outside the downtown Ottawa hotel and convention centre where the Liberals were holding their annual general meeting. Some wore t-shirts bearing McGuinty's likeness and his oft-repeated quote that he'd respect the collective bargaining process.
Unions representing most of the teachers and education workers in the province are at war with the Liberals, upset over a new law that will cut their benefits, rein in wages and give the government the power, over at least two years, to stop strikes and lockouts.
Public servants, nurses and other workers have joined the fight over additional legislation, yet to be introduced, that could potentially impose new collective agreements and restrict their right to strike.
It has alienated the base of support the Liberals have counted on to help them get re-elected over the past nine years, said Progressive Conservative Lisa MacLeod.
The Tories, who have been calling for across-the-board wage freeze legislation for months, aren't worried that they'll lose support, now that McGuinty is moving to the right after caving to the demands of his "union buddies" since 2003.
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