Ontario’s Election

Nova Scotians who worry about the state of our provincial political landscape should have a care for the good citizens of Ontario.

After many years of decent government under Bill (“bland works”) Davis and others, they descended into mediocrity under Liberal David Peterson followed in 1990 by five years of relentless fiscal incompetence under New Democrat Bob Rae. They then swung hard right for eight years under the unsubtle Progressive Conservatives Mike Harris and Ernie Eves.

Finally, and worst of all, they elected Liberal Dalton McGuinty in 2003. He set a new low for bare-faced lying to the electorate (OK, Rob Ford is in a class of his own, but that is another story), most conspicuously about the cost of cancelling a gas plant contract in order to save a couple of seats in the 2011 provincial election. In that contest, McGuinty just missed getting a majority.

The Progressive Conservatives won only 37 of 107 seats after leading in the polls for months. They nevertheless chose to stick with leader Tim Hudak in spite of his weak performance against a government with a poor track record.

McGuinty, who comically had floated his name as a candidate for leading the federal Liberals, finally beat a retreat in 2013 and was replaced at a party convention by Kathleen Wynne.

She has a very difficult job. It is hard to succeed a premier of the same stripe who has been in power for ten years or more, even if the predecessor has done a reasonable job. How much more difficult it has been following the much discredited McGuinty. This is when things began to get really weird.

In early May, Ms. Wynne’s finance minister presented a budget so lavish in spending and indifferent to fiscal responsibility that she managed to manoeuvre left of the NDP—not an easy feat. Unlike McGuinty, she was honest about her plan to drive the province further into debt in the near term. Her forecast that deficits will suddenly disappear after two years is entirely unsubstantiated.

Having to guard her left flank was a new experience for NDP leader Andrea Horwath, and perhaps a first for any leader of the NDP. Unwilling to continue supporting the government, she decided to vote against the budget, as did the PC’s under Hudak, so the minority government was defeated. Ontarians will vote on June 12th.

What appeared to be a display of interest in financial responsibility set off alarm bells in the NDP establishment, culminating in an intentionally leaked letter from 34 veterans criticizing her position. With friends like that, who needs enemies?

Actually, Horwath said it was time to get rid of the corrupt Liberals without disowning any part of their budget except the proposal for an Ontario Pension Plan, an initiative that the NDP had been backing. On that, she said that she would await developments at the federal level.

With the Liberals and NDP fighting for the leftmost extremities of the electorate, one might imagine that PC leader Hudak would content himself with a centrist position, smiling, reminding voters of the Liberal track record, and making high level commitments to do better. “Time for a change” is a pretty good strategy at times like this.

But Hudak will have none of that. He talks about reducing the public service by 100,000, labour market reforms that unions will hate, and a quick return to balanced budgets followed by tax reductions. In short, he has positioned his party well to the right of the unoccupied centre. His numbers, especially the promise to add a million jobs over nine years, are suspect.

What is the thoughtful Ontario voter to do? Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson argued on May 24 that their best choice was “none of the above.” That is, of course, not one of the alternatives offered to voters on the ballot papers, but that does not mean it is impossible.

The voters in Quebec have historically demonstrated an extraordinary collective genius when faced with unattractive choices. In 2012 the alternatives were (a) more years of Liberal Jean Charest who was well past his best before  date, (b) former PQ minister Francois Legault leading the new and the relatively unknown CAQ party, and (c) Pauline Marois who had become leader of the Parti Quebecois unopposed in her third try.

Charest lost the election and his own seat in 2012, but Marois won a disappointingly bare minority. She in turn lost the election and her own seat in 2014. Thus, Quebec voters got none of the above.

In Ontario, Wynne promises to present the same irresponsible budget if elected, and the NDP will support it, probably under a new leader.

On the other hand, voters have been given good reason to have their doubts about Hudak’s judgement.

The best choice will be to give a weak minority to whichever party wins. If Wynne succeeds they can only hope that, like McGuinty, she ignores her promises. If Hudak wins most of his wilder ideas will be constrained. One or both parties may decide they need a new leader.

Nova Scotians should be glad to watch from a distance. Whatever the shortcomings of our current party leaders, they seem modest in comparison to the leaders being offered to voters in Ontario.

Our leaders will need to work well together to bring the Ivany recommendations to life. Each will need to be comfortable using the word “we” in a way that includes the other two. It is hard to imagine that happening in polarized Ontario.


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