A bit dated as I was on vacation for the last three weeks overseas, but here is my take on the Ontario election and also the cabinet Doug Ford put together. As known from my previous posts, I am no fan of Doug Ford, but I do believe the outcome was a good outcome considering the options. As much as I dislike Ford, he has a strong team and at least the party wants to take the province in the direction I would like to see it go. By contrast electing an NDP government would simply make the problems the Liberals have created even worse and would be a disaster for the economy making Ontario an unattractive place to do business, so the province dodged a bullet here. Below I will look at things from a few angles.
What Happened and Why?
For the Liberals, I don’t believe it was any one policy per se that brought them down, rather it was simply a cumulation of errors that added up over 15 years that brought them down. If you put too much stress on a bridge, it won’t collapse right away, but overtime it will reach the point that it buckles and that is what happened to the Liberals. They were too out of touch, lacked direction, and people were simply tired of them. In fact in many ways they should have been defeated in 2011 or 2014 had the PCs had a better leader and those cases the defeat probably wouldn’t have not been nearly as bad as what we saw on June 7th. For the NDP, I think there is a bit of fatigue with left wing policies which have dominated our politics for the past few years so going further left while popular in certain sections, was a turn off to some. More importantly, I think what we saw was a strong divide between the downtown urban cores who clearly like a strongly socially progressive activist government agenda vs. the suburbs and rural areas who are turned off by it and thus that explains at least in Southern Ontario (Northern Ontario is a whole different story) why the NDP won where they did and why the PCs did where they did. Had the NDP been more a third way one like Tony Blair, Gary Doer, or Roy Romanow I think they could have won outright, but they were too left wing for suburban middle of the road voters. I had earlier predicted an NDP majority and that was done based on past NDP surges which usually continue, but this was unusual as it came mid campaign whereas most other ones like 1990 in Ontario, 2015 in Alberta, and 2011 federally came near the end. As such the other parties had time to stop it which they successfully did so a case of the NDP peaking too early as opposed to the right moment. People liked Horwath personally but once they saw many of her more radical candidates, I think that scared some away. Likewise I believe Ford’s decision to have a press conference with several of his potential cabinet ministers and bring out people like Caroline Mulroney and Christine Elliott to more campaign events really helped. He was an anchor on the party so this made it less about him and more the team which is what I believe helped turn things around for the PCs. As for the polls, if you look at the one’s that were in the field until the final day, the IVR ones (Ekos, Mainstreet, and Forum) were all very close to the real results or at least within the margin of error while the online ones only slightly underestimated PC support, but grossly overestimated NDP support which seems to be a recurring problem with online polls. As for whether Ford was the right choice or not, I believe vote wise an Elliott led PC party probably would have gotten around 45%, but seat wise I don’t think it would have made much difference as she wouldn’t have picked up some of the Ford Nation areas of the 416 while in the more affluent suburban ridings (Burlington, Oakville, Mississauga-Lakeshore, Eglinton-Lawrence etc.) she would have ran up the margins instead of narrowly winning them but a win is a win regardless of size. Likewise in the downtown cores, she would have not been clobbered as badly as Ford was, but still lost them and a loss is a loss. She probably would have defeated Kathleen Wynne in her own riding, but that is one riding only. Whether the party made the wrong or right choice, we won’t be able to say until 2022 as its quite possible the party would have won no matter whom they choose.
What this means for Federal-Provincial relations
Wynne and Trudeau got along really well and its probably fair to say relations are not going to be nearly as close with Ford. Never mind he already has trouble with BC and Saskatchewan and may soon with Alberta and perhaps Quebec on the tax forms and immigration assuming both the UCP in Alberta and CAQ in Quebec win. Up until now, asides from Saskatchewan and to a lesser extent Manitoba, he has largely been dealing with progressive governments who shared similar ideological leanings to him. That has changed in Ontario and is more likely than not to also occur in Quebec this October and Alberta next May while BC is perhaps the one province where he would rather have a centre-right than centre-left government due to the pipeline issue. Still this does not mean he is toast in 2019, in fact during Mulroney and Chretien’s tenure as well as Harper’s; for the majority of time they had premiers of a different ideological stripe so actually having the federal government lean one way politically and majority of the provinces the other is quite normal in Canadian politics.
Future of Conservatism
It does seem conservatism is on a bit of a roll recently not just with Ontario election results, but polls at both provincial levels and even to some extent federally. But I think one needs to be careful in reading too much into the results. I believe Ontario was and still is largely a centrist province and the Liberals lost partly but not fully due to straying too much to the left whereas if the PCs go too far to the right, they could find winning in 2022 a challenge. Most suburban middle of the road voters don’t spend a lot of time thinking about political ideology, what drives their votes is who will make their lives better. In fact Ford’s win the 905 belt is not that much different than John Horgan’s in the Lower Mainland suburbs despite ideological differences as both emphasized making life more affordable for middle class voters even if their policy prescriptions were radically different. As much as I am not a fan of populism, I do think this was a clear message that leaders need to get out of their political bubbles more and listen more to what average voters want. That doesn’t mean pandering to prejudices or developing bad policies, it simply means being in touch with people’s concerns and issues.
What Progressives need to do
I am no fan of progressive politics, but I sense there is a real sense of anger amongst progressives. I also feel many are in denial of what happened and keep on making excuses of why things didn’t turn out the way they wanted. Until they fix this, they will continue to lose. So below are a few helpful hints to my progressive friends.
- Quit focusing on identity politics. Most people abhor discrimination, but most also care more about bread and butter issues, not the latest social justice cause.
- Make realistic promises. People may not have the deficitphobia the right has, but most want a government to have a fiscal anchor, not spend beyond their means year after year. The era of grand visions is over, focus on small achievable goals that help people, not grand expensive visions.
- Quit demeaning and insulting those who don’t share your views. Not everyone in the suburbs and rural areas is totally hostile to your viewpoints, but calling them backward, uneducated, selfish etc. will ensure they don’t even bother listening to you
- Most still want action on climate change, but not if it makes their life more expensive as many already find life too expensive as it is so be creative and find ways to deal with climate change that don’t involve making life more expensive for lower and middle income individuals. Perhaps a carbon tax with a massive rebate is one solution or another is maybe work with municipalities on zoning so people can live closer to their work.
On balance I think it was a good one and would give it a B+. The focus seemed to be on experience above all else and with the challenges we face, that is definitely something the Ford administration absolutely needs. I was a bit disappointed on lack of GTA representation considering it was largely gains there as to why Ford is now in government, but I suspect once many of the rookies learn the ropes, that will improve. On female representation, I don’t support quotas so don’t think it was necessary to have a gender balanced cabinet like Trudeau has, but 1/3 seems a bit low, mind you quality not quantity is what matters and Ford has some very strong women ministers such as Christine Elliott, Caroline Mulroney, and Lisa MacLeod. In some ways strong capable ones does more to advance women in politics than just numbers, especially as while Trudeau has some strong female ones (Chrystia Freeland, Jane Phippott, Carolyn Bennett, Jody Wilson-Reybold), he some really weak ones who probably got appointed to fill the quota (Catherine McKenna, Maryam Monsef, and Melanie Joly for example). Some also complained about lack of visible minorities as while 25% of Ontario residents are visible minorities only 1 of the 21 executive council members is a visible minority despite PC caucus being 25% visible minority. I certainly think it would have been better to have 3 or 4 visible minority members, but I suspect as they get more experience, this number will rise. With rookies, its tough to know who will excel and who will be a complete dud so perhaps Ford wants to give the rookie MPPs a chance to prove themselves to see who should and shouldn’t make cabinet.