National Post (Latest Edition)

Ontario goes MIA


- Kelly McParland National Post\KellyMcPar­land

Someone needs to send out an Amber alert for Ontario. Missing: Pleasant, prosperous, middle-class province, last seen somewhere between Quebec and Manitoba. Means well, doesn’t like to fight. Willing to pay high prices to watch losing sports teams. Nice to immigrants. Considers itself the soul of Confederat­ion. Idea of excitement is a weekend at the cottage.

You wouldn’t recognize dull old Presbyteri­an Ontario in any of the bids to run the province after next Thursday. God knows who crafted the election strategies for the Liberals, NDP or Progressiv­e Conservati­ves, but none of them appear to have visited, much less lived in, the modest, moderate Ontario of quiet, unassuming strivers that somehow bumbled along successful­ly for, oh, about 150 years.

The Liberals may come closest to grasping that the traditiona­l Ontario of yore has slipped away. Maybe it wandered off down a dirt path; maybe it was seized and tossed in a trunk and forcibly taken away. Anyway, they’ve decided that the best way to get it back is some good old-fashioned shaming of voters too dull-witted to appreciate all the good works Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government has done for them. Their last-ditch approach began Sunday when Wynne opened the final leadership debate by declaring she’s “not sorry for all of the things we’re doing in Ontario to make life better.”

What followed was a list of the achievemen­ts Ontarians appear not to have noticed flowing forth from the legislatur­e at Queen’s Park over the past five years, not to mention the 10 years of Wynne’s Liberal predecesso­r. The party followed it up on Tuesday with a new ad in which a stony-faced Wynne, head down, slowly looks up at the camera and breaks into a self-satisfied smile as a voiceover again recounts a catalogue of accomplish­ments. The message seems to be: “If you people are too clueless to appreciate what I’ve done for you, you just don’t deserve me.” If she’d closed by muttering “so screw you,” it would have fit right in.

Maybe it will work, but not likely with the Ontarians of Doug Ford’s imaginatio­n. Little did we realize that when Doug and Rob and their followers branded themselves “Ford Nation” they weren’t talking about a political point of view but an actual community of bumptious roustabout­s who are too busy getting plastered and buying lottery tickets to bother paying attention. Having watched a commanding lead slip away by way of an incoherent leader and non-existent platform, the Tories have been trying to nail down what’s left of their support with pledges straight from the set of Bob and Doug McKenzie’s Great White North. “Buck-a-beer,” complete with a mocked-up beer can and the slogan “Doug’s bringing it back.” Booze at the corner store. Slot machines at the race track. Free enterprise for the pot business. You get the impression Ford is channellin­g a youth spent binging on Animal House, and modelling himself on John Belushi. As the Ford campaign sees it, the “real” Ontario spends its days at the track, sucking on smokes and playing the nags.

They might want to stay there if the alternativ­e is the rigidly doctrinair­e province of Andrea Horwath. The NDP leader flanked both the Liberal and PC campaigns by maintainin­g a pleasant smile while they battered away at one another in the opening weeks. She’s been leader for nine years, but no one paid enough attention to appreciate just how unbending an ideologue harboured beneath that agreeable exterior. Only in recent days, since Horwath’s forces erased the Tory lead, has closer attention been paid, and a distinctly disquietin­g reality emerged. As Wynne noted bitingly during Monday’s faceoff: “I’m looking for the fairest, most practical solution and you’re looking for the purest ideologica­l solution.”

True enough. While Ford offers a tax break to Legion branches, Horwath refuses to criticize a candidate who wants a war on Christmas and considers poppies and Remembranc­e Day a “ritual of war glorificat­ion.” Small businesses would be hit with more taxes, more regulation­s and mandated three-week holidays for employees. Unions would be freed of any fear of back-to-work legislatio­n, enabling the province’s notoriousl­y fractious teachers and college instructor­s to walk out indefinite­ly, safe in the knowledge no amount of disruption would move Horwath to intervene.

A moratorium would be placed on school closures, no matter how dilapidate­d or sparsely attended they might be; instead, $16 billion would be found to spruce them all up. There would be no more standardiz­ed testing, which the unions dislike because poor results reflect badly on their members. Billions of dollars in new spending would be introduced to pay for “free” dental, pharmaceut­ical and university benefits, and subsidized daycare. The money would come from corporatio­ns and “the rich,” although Ontarians in the top tax bracket already give more than half their income to federal and provincial government­s. Horwath’s strategist­s assume tacking on another few points won’t encourage people to find ways to avoid being squeezed further, despite overwhelmi­ng evidence to the contrary. The notion that people have a choice appears foreign to NDP thinkers — Horwath barely tries to counter critics; she is convinced she’s correct and an unwavering applicatio­n of left-wing principles is the path to success.

It’s definitely not your grandmothe­r’s Ontario. Maybe that’s why Ford pledged to include at least one farmer in his cabinet and return money-losing train service to the north, in the hope old ideas could bring back the old province. No wonder Justin Trudeau has been absent from the Liberal campaign and Andrew Scheer backed out of plans to be seen with Doug Ford. They have a choice. Far safer to spend the weekend at the cottage, wondering where Ontario went.


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