Ontario Liberals flirt with losing official party status

Kathleen Wynne's Liberals may be dealing with a loss more embarrassing than handing over the reins of government on June 7th. Modelling out of Wilfrid Laurier University suggests the Liberals may lose official party status.

Political parties need to hold eight seats to be recognized by the Ontario legislature. Projections from the Laurier Institute for the Study of Public Opinion and Policy (LISPOP) published Wednesday put the Liberals one seat short of that benchmark.

"They have been in free-fall each week," says Barry Kay, an associate professor in Laurier's department of political science. "They're at seven now, we had them at 12 last week, we had them at 16 the week before that, 20 the week before that. The Liberals are still declining in support."

Nelson Wiseman, professor of political science at the University of Toronto, explains that losing party status makes it easier for MPPs to be relegated to the sidelines at Queen's Park.

In Ontario, members of unrecognized parties don't get taxpayer funding for staff to help research policy or perform other duties beyond the basics. They don't get to sit on committees to debate legislation and they have to compete to ask a question of the government during Question Period.

"You're just in a much weaker position in terms of your presence in the legislature," Wiseman explains.

He adds that without party status, it can be difficult for members to get a piece of the political spotlight to share their message.

While the prospect of going from a majority government to losing party status is stunning, it is not one without precedent in Canadian politics. It happened to the federal Progressive Conservatives in 1993.

After nine years in power and facing bitter unpopularity Brian Mulroney resigned as Prime Minister in June of that year. In October, the party then headed by Kim Campbell was reduced to a measly two seats in the House of Commons.

Kay expects to do at least one more Ontario seat projection before election day, possibly two. His models put the PCs on the cusp of forming a majority government with 63 seats and the NDP forming the opposition with 54 seats.