The On­tario Cam­paign that Went from Time for a Change to Throw the Bums Out

Policy - - Contents - Ge­off Norquay

The neg­a­tive tra­jec­tory of On­tario’s once-for­mi­da­ble Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive party only con­trib­uted to the Lib­eral Party’s 15-year run in gov­ern­ment, first un­der Dal­ton McGuinty, then Kath­leen Wynne, that ended with Doug Ford’s elec­tion on June 7. The com­bi­na­tion of dis­plea­sure with Wynne’s lead­er­ship and Ford’s ultimate suc­cess in con­vinc­ing vot­ers he was a safer ver­sion of change than the NDP’s Andrea Hor­wath de­liv­ered Queen’s Park back to the party that was once a dy­nasty.

Any party seek­ing re-elec­tion af­ter 15 years in of­fice will face chal­lenges, but it’s not im­pos­si­ble in Cana­dian pol­i­tics. Provin­cial party dy­nas­ties with suc­ces­sive lead­ers are rare, but they do ex­ist: the On­tario Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives, 1943-85, and the PCs in Al­berta from 19712015. In each of those cases, the party shuf­fled out the old lead­ers ev­ery 8-10

years, and re­placed them with new lead­ers who re­ju­ve­nated the gov­ern­ment and in turn left af­ter an­other two or three terms.

While four of­fi­cial par­ties con­tested this year’s June 7 On­tario elec­tion, there was a fifth po­lit­i­cal move­ment that was per­va­sively and de­ci­sively in play; the “party of change.” In fact, long be­fore the elec­tion be­gan, that move­ment had mor­phed into a seething de­sire to “throw the bums out”, with pub­lic sup­port rang­ing be­tween 65 and 70 per cent—the bums in this case be­ing Kath­leen Wynne and the Lib­eral party.

Pol­icy played an in­ter­est­ing role in the cam­paign, with the three par­ties blithely ig­nor­ing the re­al­ity of On­tario’s fis­cal sit­u­a­tion, promis­ing bil­lions of dol­lars in new spend­ing while laugh­ably vow­ing to be re­spon­si­ble and pru­dent.

All of this came about at least partly through a com­edy of er­rors put on by suc­ces­sive lead­ers of the PCs over the pre­vi­ous decade. Go­ing into the 2007 elec­tion, the Lib­er­als un­der Dal­ton McGuinty had pro­vided four years of de­cent but unim­pres­sive gov­ern­ment. The PCs en­joyed an even-up chance of win­ning un­til leader John Tory promised to ex­tend ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing to faith-based schools, and the Lib­er­als were re­elected. Kath­leen Wynne per­son­ally de­feated Tory in the rid­ing of Don Val­ley West.

By 2014, McGuinty had re­tired, hav­ing be­queathed the pre­mier­ship to Kath­leen Wynne the pre­vi­ous year, but with a large pile of po­lit­i­cal bag­gage. These in­cluded a bro­ken prom­ise not to raise taxes, waste­ful spend­ing scan­dals at crown agen­cies e-Health On­tario and Ornge Air Am­bu­lance, plus the can­cel­la­tion of two lo­cally-op­posed gas-pow­ered elec­tric­ity plants in west-Toronto Lib­eral rid­ings just prior to the 2011 elec­tion.

By the time Wynne sought her own ma­jor­ity in 2014, the provin­cial au­di­tor had pegged the cost of the gas plant can­cel­la­tion at up to $1.1 bil­lion, and elec­toral suc­cess looked doubt­ful for the Lib­er­als. Into the breach stepped PC leader Tim Hu­dak, who started the cam­paign with a prom­ise to cre­ate a mil­lion jobs, but also to be­gin that task by killing 100,000 pub­lic ser­vice jobs through lay­offs. Wynne and the Lib­er­als waltzed to vic­tory, re­gain­ing the ma­jor­ity they had lost in the pre­vi­ous elec­tion.

As this year’s elec­tion ap­proached, Wynne had ac­com­plished much in her time as premier, but she was never able to put the McGuinty record be­hind her. While an ef­fec­tive and en­gag­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tor, her time in of­fice had also added her own mis­takes to McGuinty’s. They in­cluded the plan to lower soaring hy­dro rates by kick­ing costs down the road, and hugely ex­pen­sive re­new­able en­ergy sub­si­dies that paid pro­duc­ers to gen­er­ate power that was not needed, while con­sumers were paid not to con­sume that same power.

No ac­count of the 2018 elec­tion would be com­plete with­out de­scrib­ing the bizarre odysseys of Pa­trick Brown and Doug Ford in the first few months of this year. In the early hours of Jan­uary 25, Brown re­signed as PC leader fol­low­ing se­ri­ous al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual mis­con­duct. Just 133 days later, Doug Ford led the PCs to a smash­ing elec­toral vic­tory, win­ning 76 of the 124 seats in the Leg­is­la­ture. In be­tween were:

A light­ning-fast lead­er­ship cam­paign for the PCs which Brown en­tered briefly af­ter be­ing ex­pelled from the PC cau­cus be­fore with­draw­ing;

• Ford’s chaotic lead­er­ship vic­tory over Chris­tine El­liott, Caro­line Mul­roney and Tanya Allen Granic, as El­liott won the pop­u­lar vote but ended up 150 elec­toral votes short of Ford out of the more than 12,000 counted in the party’s com­plex vot­ing sys­tem; and • An elec­tion in which Ford ap­peared to have blown a huge lead, then re­cov­ered to sprint to a strong ma­jor­ity vic­tory.

As a provin­cial po­lit­i­cal neo­phyte whose ex­pe­ri­ence was all at the mu­nic­i­pal level, Ford took a while to reach cruis­ing speed. His first task was to clean up the mess left by Brown. Sev­eral nom­i­na­tion con­tests had been con­tro­ver­sial with doc­u­mented vot­ing ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties, and a strong sus­pi­cion that Brown or his party of­fi­cials had had their thumb on the scales to favour pre­ferred can­di­dates, one of whom was the mother of one of Brown’s for­mer girl­friends. Ford cleaned out the party, ditched sev­eral con­tested can­di­dates and called for new nom­i­na­tions, all of which went off with­out a hitch.

As the elec­tion cam­paign be­gan in earnest, Ford’s in­ex­pe­ri­ence showed and was painful to be­hold. Brown had left him with a com­pre­hen­sive and wellthought-out plat­form, but in the early weeks of the cam­paign, Ford strug­gled to move be­yond bland plat­i­tudes: “You know me, I’m for the lit­tle guy.” In the first lead­ers’ de­bate on May 6, he ap­peared stiff and scripted. While he man­aged to hold off Wynne and NDP leader Andrea Hor­wath, he made a strange and pa­tron­iz­ing re­mark about the premier’s smile. Hor­wath took ad­van­tage of the Ford-Wynne counter-punch­ing to be­gin cast­ing her­self as the win­ning al­ter­na­tive.

As vot­ers sized up the al­ter­na­tives to the Lib­er­als, Hor­wath and the NDP slowly whit­tled away at the PCs’ lead, and by May 23rd, IP­SOS Reid had the NDP at 37 per cent and the Tories at 36 per cent, a vir­tual tie. The

fi­nal lead­ers’ de­bate on May 27 did not go well for Hor­wath. Her party had had to ad­mit the pre­vi­ous week that they had made an em­bar­rass­ing $1.4 bil­lion cost­ing er­ror in their plat­form. The Tories and Lib­er­als ar­gued this er­ror added $7 bil­lion to the NDP’s pro­jected deficits. And in the de­bate, Hor­wath came out swing­ing against Ford, re­peat­edly in­ter­rupt­ing both Ford and Wynne, and at times com­ing close to ap­pear­ing rude and over­bear­ing.

Pol­icy played an in­ter­est­ing role in the cam­paign, with the three par­ties blithely ig­nor­ing the re­al­ity of On­tario’s fis­cal sit­u­a­tion, promis­ing bil­lions of dol­lars in new spend­ing while laugh­ably vow­ing to be re­spon­si­ble and pru­dent. An apt ti­tle for all three par­ties’ plat­forms would have been, “We will make wa­ter flow up­hill.”

• The Lib­er­als un­veiled most of their plat­form in their March bud­get, and af­ter strug­gling to man­age down the deficit to zero, blew out spend­ing to a deficit of $6.7 bil­lion for the cur­rent fis­cal year. In May, On­tario’s Fi­nan­cial Ac­count­abil­ity Of­fice re­ported that the real deficit for 2018-19 would be al­most $12 bil­lion, a sig­nif­i­cant blow to Lib­eral Fi­nance Min­is­ter Charles Sousa’s cred­i­bil­ity.

• The NDP’s plat­form promised $9.1 bil­lion in new spend­ing, fo­cused on af­ford­able child care, rais­ing wel­fare rates, in­creased hos­pi­tal fund­ing, pub­lic den­tal and phar­ma­care, and a new work­place ben­e­fits pro­gram, largely off­set by new and higher taxes.

• The PCs ran up a to­tal of

$9.1 bil­lion in new spend­ing com­mit­ments, fea­tur­ing a 20 per cent mid­dle in­come tax cut, end­ing cap-and-trade, re­duc­ing busi­ness taxes, low­er­ing gas taxes by 10 cents per litre and build­ing 15,000 new long-term beds. While the Tories never re­leased a full cost­ing of their plat­form, they said their new spend­ing would be off­set by find­ing $5.6 bil­lion in “ef­fi­cien­cies” and scrap­ping the Jobs and Pros­per­ity fund, which was cre­ated in 2015 to pro­vide $2.7 bil­lion over 10 years to bol­ster On­tario’s pro­duc­tiv­ity and in­no­va­tion.

The week­end be­fore the elec­tion, fac­ing dec­i­ma­tion in the polls and the loss of of­fi­cial party sta­tus, Kath­leen Wynne did some­thing un­heard of in elec­toral pol­i­tics: she ac­knowl­edged that she would not be premier af­ter June 7 and called on vot­ers to vote Lib­eral to stop the PCs or NDP from se­cur­ing a ma­jor­ity. It was a strange ploy, and spec­u­la­tion on its mean­ing was fu­ri­ous, the most preva­lent be­ing that Wynne had rec­og­nized her con­tin­ued pres­ence as leader was detri­men­tal to the Lib­eral brand, and wished to re­move that de­ter­rent against vot­ing Lib­eral.

By any mea­sure, the PC vic­tory on June 7 was both strong and de­ci­sive. The PCs achieved a net gain of 49 seats and the NDP more than dou­bled the size of its cau­cus, mov­ing from 21 seats at dis­so­lu­tion to 43 on elec­tion night. The Lib­er­als suf­fered a huge loss, los­ing 51 of their 58 seats, and end­ing with seven, one short of of­fi­cial party sta­tus. So far, the Ford gov­ern­ment is off to a solid start. His cabi­net ap­point­ments favoured ex­pe­ri­ence over di­ver­sity, and his two fel­low con­tes­tants for the lead­er­ship, Chris­tine El­liott and Caro­line Mul­roney were re­warded with key port­fo­lios, Health and At­tor­ney Gen­eral. The calm and deeply ex­pe­ri­enced Vic Fideli is Fi­nance Min­is­ter. For­mer fed­eral min­is­ter Greg Rick­ford is Min­is­ter of En­ergy, Mines, North­ern De­vel­op­ment and In­dige­nous Af­fairs. Col­lec­tively, the cabi­net is ide­o­log­i­cally cen­trist and mod­er­ate.

The sum­mer ses­sion of the Leg­is­la­ture may have brief, but it was event­ful and even tu­mul­tuous.

Not only did the Ford gov­ern­ment im­me­di­ately can­cel On­tario’s cap and trade pro­gram on car­bon emis­sions, it is­sued a le­gal chal­lenge against Ot­tawa’s in­ten­tion to im­pose a car­bon tax. In su­ing the feds, On­tario joined Saskatchewan’s le­gal chal­lenge to the fed­eral car­bon tax, with At­tor­ney-Gen­eral Mul­roney call­ing it “un­con­sti­tu­tional.”

Ford also un­leashed chaos when he an­nounced a down­siz­ing of Toronto City Coun­cil from 47 to 25 mem­bers, at the very out­set of the mu­nic­i­pal elec­tion cam­paign. Un­der the 1867 Con­sti­tu­tion Act, cities are crea­tures of the prov­inces, with provin­cial pow­ers over “Mu­nic­i­pal In­sti­tu­tions in the Prov­ince.” Pub­lic opin­ion seemed to align the rest of On­tario vs. Metro Toronto, and Ford ap­peared com­fort­able with that.

For the rest, the hard work of turn­ing all these prom­ises into re­al­ity be­gins this fall.

Con­tribut­ing writer Ge­off Norquay, a prin­ci­pal of Earn­scliffe Strat­egy Group, is a for­mer se­nior ad­viser on so­cial pol­icy to Prime Min­is­ter Brian Mul­roney

By any mea­sure, the PC vic­tory on June 7 was both strong and de­ci­sive. The PCs achieved a net gain of 49 seats and the NDP more than dou­bled the size of its cau­cus, mov­ing from 21 seats at dis­so­lu­tion to 43 on elec­tion night. The Lib­er­als suf­fered a huge loss, los­ing 51 of their 58 seats, and end­ing with seven, one short of of­fi­cial party sta­tus.

Flickr photo

Doug Ford swept to a ma­jor­ity PC gov­ern­ment on June 7, con­found­ing the Lib­er­als and pun­dits alike, while the poll­sters got it right.

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