DOUG FORD’S NEW CON­SER­VA­TIVE OR­DER

Where once the PCs were the party of el­derly and af­flu­ent vot­ers, they now do well with those who are younger, have less ed­u­ca­tion and lower in­comes

NOW Magazine - - FRONT PAGE - By PETER GRAEFE news@nowtoronto.com | @nowtoronto

Elec­tions are de­fined by swing vot­ers be­ing wooed by the par­ties: soc­cer moms, hockey dads or even Joe the Plum­ber. The PC ma­jor­ity in the On­tario pro­vin­cial elec­tion was about cap­tur­ing the “or­dered voter.”

With eco­nomic up­heavals, there is a seg­ment of the pop­u­la­tion look­ing for sta­bil­ity and or­der. Not shar­ing in eco­nomic pros­per­ity, they look to gov­ern­ment to slow so­cial change, such as those re­lated to im­mi­gra­tion and mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism. Lack­ing faith in trans­for­ma­tive change, they look to pol­i­tics as a way to de­liver small ma­te­rial ben­e­fits, like a tax cut or cheaper hy­dro.

Hold­ing onto those vot­ers is a fun­da­men­tal chal­lenge for Doug Ford and his gov­ern­ment.

It seems un­fair to em­pha­size the role of swing vot­ers, but they are cru­cial in our first-past-the-post elec­toral sys­tem. Ford’s crush­ing ma­jor­ity came with 40 per cent of the vote. This is only 4.5 per cent higher than what was con­sid­ered a dis­as­trous per­for­mance in 2014. On­tario vot­ers did not rad­i­cally change their po­lit­i­cal views, but move­ment at the mar­gins rad­i­cally changed their politi­cians.

YOUNGER, LESS ED­U­CATED

In its polling, EKOS has ar­gued that the Con­ser­va­tive coali­tion has changed. Where once the PCs were the party of el­derly and af­flu­ent vot­ers, they now do well with vot­ers who are younger, have less ed­u­ca­tion and lower in­comes.

EKOS cred­its this to the rise of a group of vot­ers with an “or­dered” out­look. With lit­tle hope for a bet­ter fu­ture, they yearn for lead­ers who will at least de­liver small con­crete ben­e­fits and en­force tra­di­tional norms of merit and de­served­ness.

The PCs test-drove ap­peals to the or­dered voter when Ford’s late brother was mayor of Toronto. Even af­ter all of Rob Ford’s scan­dals, pub­lic opin­ion sur­veys re­vealed how eco­nomic hard­ship was re­lated to his sup­port. Peo­ple for whom hav­ing an­other $50 a month would make a big dif­fer­ence were more likely to sup­port Ford, as were the more re­li­gious.

Most con­cur that Kath­leen Wynne has of­ten been un­fairly vil­i­fied, no doubt in part be­cause she’s a woman and a les­bian. But her com­mit­ment to sus­tained aus­ter­ity in pub­lic ser­vices also re­sulted in peo­ple feel­ing they were get­ting less ser­vice bang for their tax buck.

COM­PET­ING POPULISMS

The Ford Con­ser­va­tives did not have the or­dered voter to them­selves. They had to com­pete with the left­ist pop­ulism of the NDP, a party firmly rooted in many ar­eas where the “or­dered” out­look is pro­nounced, such as Wind­sor, the Ni­a­gara Penin­sula and the North.

In the 2014 elec­tion, Hor­wath was heav­ily crit­i­cized within her own party for run­ning on a plat­form that cared more about driv­ers than den­tal care. To the or­dered voter, she of­fered to use the state to make life more af­ford­able in very con­crete ways, such as re­duced auto in­sur­ance and hy­dro rates. While all but wiped out in Toronto, Hor­wath main­tained her seat and vote share de­spite Wynne’s per­sua­sive calls to vote Lib­eral to block Tim Hu­dak’s PCs.

Hor­wath came close this time, with a fleet­ing lead in the polls at mid-cam­paign, be­fore dip­ping back to 34 per cent, the sec­ond-best re­sult in the his­tory of the On­tario NDP. The NDP’s ap­peal to the “or­dered voter” worked in its ar­eas of ex­ist­ing strength, and lim­ited PC gains in Toronto.

In the sub­urbs and the 905 re­gion sur­round­ing Toronto, where the party has been weak for a quar­ter-cen­tury, it stalled.

The bar­rage of neg­a­tive ad­ver­tis­ing from the Con­ser­va­tives about NDP can­di­dates who re­fused to wear pop­pies, and ac­cu­sa­tions declar­ing On­tario a “sanc­tu­ary province” that would al­low for­eign­ers to come il­le­gally and abuse health-care re­sources, killed the NDP’s mo­men­tum.

These were cul­tural ap­peals to “or­dered vot­ers.”

The NDP could have framed a response in its child care, phar­ma­care and den­tal care pro­pos­als: those who work hard should be able to look af­ter their teeth and de­serve qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion for their young chil­dren.

But the Con­ser­va­tives suc­ceeded in defin­ing that as “free stuff” that the NDP would tax you to pay for.

GOV­ERN­ING IN A WORST-CASE ON­TARIO

On­tario will con­tinue to be a tough place to gov­ern.

With­out the oil that sparked pros­per­ity in Alberta, Saskatchewan and New­found­land, and with­out be­ing a net re­cip­i­ent of equal­iza­tion, On­tar­i­ans find them­selves pay­ing taxes above the Cana­dian av­er­age, and yet per capita, pro­vin­cial spend­ing is among the low­est in Canada even as the pro­vin­cial debt grows.

Eco­nomic growth has been slow, with weak pri­vate sec­tor in­vest­ment and poor pro­duc­tiv­ity growth. While un­em­ploy­ment is at its low­est in 15 years (5.5 per cent), that masks the fact that the per­cent­age of On­tar­i­ans aged 15-64 in the labour mar­ket has de­clined from 79 per cent in 2003 to 72.3 per cent in 2017. To steal a mal­a­prop­ism from the Trailer Park Boys, it’s a sit­u­a­tion of “worst-case On­tario.”

WALK­ING A TIGHTROPE

The Ford gov­ern­ment can­not es­cape this eco­nomic box. The job and spend­ing cuts re­quired to fund the PCs’ pro­posed in­come tax cuts and gas tax cuts is con­sid­er­able.

The Cana­dian Cen­tre for Pol­icy Al­ter­na­tives es­ti­mates an an­nual short­fall of more than $13 bil­lion in the PC plat­form, and the need to cut be­tween 45,000 and 65,000 direct gov­ern­ment jobs to close it. While tax cuts might stim­u­late the econ­omy, they will ei­ther in­volve run­ning up a pro­vin­cial debt that they pre­vi­ously found dan­ger­ously un­man­age­able, or re­quire sig­nif­i­cant pub­lic sec­tor cut­backs that will slow the econ­omy.

The big­ger dif­fi­culty for Ford will be main­tain­ing his base. Tax cuts that pro­vide $7 to those earn­ing un­der $49,000 while pro­vid­ing half the value of the tax cut to the top 10 per cent may be a red flag to or­dered vot­ers.

Gas prices swing up and down, and the 10-cent gas tax re­duc­tion will be quickly for­got­ten. Cuts to hos­pi­tals, schools and univer­si­ties, by con­trast, are vis­i­ble and have im­me­di­ate ef­fects on peo­ple’s lives.

Wynne’s ac­tion on the min­i­mum wage and child care pro­vided one ray of hope that hard­work­ing On­tar­i­ans might be able to hold it to­gether. Ford’s ray of hope to or­dered vot­ers was that he could leave some­thing more im­me­di­ate and tan­gi­ble in peo­ple’s pock­ets through tax cuts.

Ril­ing up pub­lic sec­tor work­ers and the Toronto pro­fes­sional class will buy some po­lit­i­cal good­will with these vot­ers. But Ford can only hope to hold onto them if a few bucks in tax sav­ings doesn’t re­sult in more user fees, higher tu­ition and clogged emer­gency rooms. Peter Graefe is as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor in the depart­ment of po­lit­i­cal science at McMaster Univer­sity and a mem­ber of the NDP. This ar­ti­cle was orig­i­nally pub­lished at the­con­ver­sa­tion.com.

On­tario vot­ers did not rad­i­cally change their po­lit­i­cal views, but move­ment at the mar­gins rad­i­cally changed their politi­cians.

Doug Ford’s crush­ing vic­tory came with 40 per cent of the pop­u­lar vote, only a few per­cent­age points higher than what was con­sid­ered a dis­as­trous per­for­mance for the PCs in 2014.

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