What a tough week to be an Ontario Liberal!
First we have the cookie controversy with my friend Warren Kinsella. On the scale of one to ten (with ten being the worst), I'd give this incident a one or two. This was very minor in the greater scheme of things, and I'm sure Kinsella knows it. A mere bump on the road.
Of course the resignation of Mike Colle yesterday and the whole grants mess has contributed to a negative perception of the government as a whole.
The McGuinty government was perceived as having a fair, decent record. While some promises haven't been kept, the government sure did try to move in the right direction. This scandal will damage that reputation, but not fatally, I think.
I remain convinced that McGuinty's main message - fixing public services like public health care and public education - still resonates with Ontarians. Public education is on the mend in Ontario. Public health care is in better shape today than it was in 2003. The $5.6 billion deficit left by the Tories is now gone and public finances are in good shape overall (despite some problems at the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration of course), as the Auditor General confirmed in his pre-election report back in June.
What the Ontario Liberals need to do after this disastrous week is launch an aggressive defense of their record, reminding voters of the improvements they've made since 2003. They're already doing this with their Dalton.ca site, but more needs to be done and I'm sure it will.
One big silver lining this week - and I do mean BIG - is John Tory's fleshing out of his private religious schools promise. While memories of cookies and Lisa Macleod will have surely faded by October, Tory's ill-advised policy on increasing segregation in public education will not.
What Tory did this week was give every progressive person in Ontario who opposes this kind of segregated approach to public education a big reason to stop him. Tory has done the typical Conservative thing and, with this policy, has divided up the province into two: those who don't mind religion mixing with education, and those who do.
Now progressive voters who might have flirted with the NDP or the Greens have a very good reason to stick with McGuinty's Liberals.
Most will agree that the future of public education in Ontario is under threat from John Tory's terrible private religious schools promise. If the election gets polarized around this issue, it will work to the Liberals' benefit.
Judging from the hostile reaction seen in letters to the editor and elsewhere, there is little doubt that Tory's policy is a vote loser. For every vote he gains for it, he'll lose three or four, as long as this issue remains front and centre. And we have every reason to believe that it will.