Ontario Premier Mike Harris Set to Resign After Six Years in Office
By Janet Wellman, Oakwood High, Toronto ON
Ontario Premier Mike Harris announced this past Tuesday that he will resign as Premier of Ontario. In a news conference he told reporters, "Last night, I delivered a letter [...] asking the party executive to call a leadership election as soon as possible." Harris stated he will remain as MPP for Nipissing for the remainder of his term.
In recent months, the Harris government’s popularity dropped significantly - 33 per cent compared to 53 per cent for his Liberal rivals.
His government has been plagued by the Walkerton tainted-water scandal, and protests by labour unions, social welfare groups, teachers and health care workers on his spending cuts. During this time, the Harris government managed to balance the books for the first time in decades while wooing voters in two elections with a series of personal and corporate income tax cuts.
His education reforms sparked massive province-wide teacher strikes which led to a massive disruption of the education of millions of students. His policies, including a 22 per cent welfare cut in his first term, also provoked massive protests from social welfare advocates.
Yet Harris beat the odds in 1999 by winning a second majority through a platform of further tax cuts and tougher social spending measures. His core supporters - suburbs surrounding Toronto - favoured his tough initiatives including a crackdown on welfare recipients which demanded they undergo drug and literacy testing.
The race begins on who will succeed Harris as Premier. Two popular candidates are Labour Minister Chris Stockwell, and Janet Ecker, whose verbal sparring in the legislature has earned her a reputation for quick comebacks.
Any successor will have to live in the shadow of the Harris platform of massive restructuring of the government and the broader public sector.