The Ontario election has been characterized by bitter partisan sniping, outrageous grandstanding, and most disturbingly of all, a decidedly cynical and apathetic public. The incumbent Liberal government under Kathleen Wynne, and Dalton McGuinty before her, has been in power for 11 years. Issues of excessive and inefficient government have plagued the administration, and many say that they have presided over an era where Ontario has gone from a “have” to a “have-not” province. Worse still, Wynne and her party continue to be plagued by the infamous nuclear power plant scandal. In any other election, it would be abundantly clear that this government has overstayed its welcome and is past its expiration date. But this election is far from normal, and farther yet from ideal. Ontario voters have been left with an important choice, albeit one that many seem reluctant to make- indeed, their political cynicism has never seemed more well deserved. And while there is little outwardly appealing or flashy about electing the Ontario Liberal Party, a fairly sensible budget coupled with an astounding dearth of better alternatives makes it apparent that the Liberals should win this next election until opponents more deserving of Ontario represent the provincial NDP and PC parties.
It cannot be easy being the provincial NDP party in Ontario. While generally popular with a few key union groups and the more industrial south-western Ontario, many Ontarians are naturally repelled by what they see as an overtly pro-union, free spending movement. Additionally, memories from the administration of then-NDP premier Bob Rae still rankle with many, where a green and untested government was flummoxed by a massive recession. Consequently, the NDP of the 21st century has had to attempt to reinvent itself and find a new identity. However, Andrea Horwath’s NDP has done so at the expense of the base it was purported to represent, while nonetheless seeming doomed to play third fiddle to the Liberal and PC race. Despite the Liberal Party presenting a left-leaning NDP influenced budget, Andrea Horwath sought to vote against it regardless to spur an election- supposedly due to her not being able to trust the Liberal Party any longer. She did not mention any concrete issues with the budget itself, it was only a matter of standing up to governmental corruption. Yet this same corruption did not seem to be an issue earlier when Horwath kept the Liberal government alive in previous votes, and no further major revelations on the Liberal’s nuclear scandal had been brought to the table. Her reasoning for bringing down the government therefore seems to be based not around trust and accountability, but rather pure political opportunism.
Andrea Horwath’s decision to vote down the Liberal budget and campaign to the right was so concerning that an open letter was written by 34 high profile New Democrats strongly condemning her contrived ideological shift. This letter is symbolic of many within the traditional left-wing NDP base who could be prompted to vote Liberal or Green in this election.
Despite knowing that an election was soon to take place beforehand, the NDP have seemed completely unprepared to present a discernible platform, instead opting to criticize those of the Liberal and PC parties from the sidelines. Mix a few clearly leftist policy proposals such as raising the minimum wage to $12 and a potential employment tax credit with Ford-esque right wing populist rhetoric, and you have a provincial leader, and by extension a provincial party that is immature, opportunistic, ideologically confused, inadequately prepared, and one which does not deserve to form a government.
But this election really hasn’t been about the NDP, or even the Liberal Party as much as it has been focused on the PC’s Tim Hudak. For better or for worse, he has undoubtedly set the tone of the election with his bold “Million Jobs” campaign, and drawn the bulk of media attention. And, with all due respect to the NDP/Green parties and their supporters, this election has been a two-horse race between the PCs and Liberals essentially since inception. Hudak knows the audience that he is catering to, and has undoubtedly been the most effective of the three major candidates at politicking- he has kept to a consistent message all campaign long, and has crafted simplistic, easily digestible ideas and slogans for his campaign that relate well to many Ontarians. The problem is that these ideas are as flawed as they are simplistic, and both Hudak’s ideology and character have been proven to be extremely suspect and outright radical in this election.
Much has been written about the unbelievably laughable basic errors in the so-called Million Jobs Plan, where having one job for eight years counts as eight jobs in #HudakMath. Similarly ludicrous is the notion that axing 100,000 public employees at the onset of forming government can be reconciled with promoting good jobs for everyone. Instead Hudak plays on division, demonizing the “lazy” public sector workers by comparing them to “honest hardworking taxpayers”. He proposes deep cuts in our social programs that, while possibly saving some short-run cash, would affect social cohesion, worsen income equality, and ultimately be inefficient in the long run (for more, see Mike Harris). Additionally, Hudak associates with hard-right American strategists, including Benjamin Zychler, who in a widely discredited report has recommended that Ontario adopt fiscal and labour laws similar to the far right (and incidentally, extremely poor) state of Mississippi. Make no mistake, there is nothing remotely “progressive” about this ideologically hard right Conservative platform. Instead it plays upon the same tactics of division, deep cuts, and regressive laws that have been proven flawed before.
Perhaps equally as important, Hudak’s real character has been revealed when confronted with the incredibly flawed realities of his jobs plan. Instead of acknowledging that extraordinarily simplistic mistakes had been made, but he nonetheless believes that the core ideas around the plan would make him the best steward of the economy, Hudak has instead chosen to flatly deny that these errors are in the plan. This sort of refusal to take responsibility and hold oneself to task for administrative mistakes reeks of irony from an individual who has spent the entire campaign castigating his rival Wynne for not being sufficiently accountable.
The Liberals are far from perfect. And neither is its budget- while it takes on the definitive strategy of spending and expanding infrastructure to escape recession, a common public sector macroeconomic tool, it avoids some hard decisions such as reducing the university tuition credit and opting to not dole out money to appease CISCO and other multinational corporations. If there was an election between this Liberal government, a more activist and socially progressive NDP, and a fiscally conservative yet moderate PC party, I would certainly be tempted to change my ballot from Wynne’s Liberals. As we can see however, this is far from the case. And while we may pick at the the parts of the budget we don’t like, the underlying assumptions behind the budget and its ideas for tackling the economy are time tested and relatively moderate. As far as the nuclear scandal goes, public waste of funds for partisan purposes is no laughing matter- but this is more of an issue with Dalton McGuinty than it is Kathleen Wynne. So confident is Wynne in her innocence that she has elected to sue libel against Hudak in a court of law for alleged slander.
While the cynicism of Ontarians is understandable, while feeling disengaged in this political process is understandable, this election is a surprisingly important one. The status quo is not ideal, but a message needs to be sent to the opposition parties- the message being that their leaders and policies are so ill-fitting to the degree that we are prompted to elect the 11 year old Liberal government once again. Ontarians should have real choices, politicians who inspire them, and causes that they can passionately get behind. Until its leaders rise to the occasion though, the Liberals remain the clear cut choice for a reasonable voter in this election, if only by default.
– Eli Vincent Zivot