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                       Wildcard: Ontario Election Could Go Any Way

 

By Randall White

The summer of 2017 is just a memory for the diverse youth back at school. And already almost everything of consequence in Ontario government and politics is focused on the next election. 

It is still described cautiously by Wikipedia as “scheduled to be held on or before June 7, 2018.” At the height of this summer’s madness there were even rumours Premier Wynne would call a snap election for the fall. 

As now seems clear enough, the election will be held on the duly legislated date of Thursday, June 7, 2018. And Kathleen Wynne will be leading the governing Liberals, despite other summer rumours about her resignation. 

Beyond these two initial clarifications, it is looking more and more like anyone interested can look forward to a fascinating next nine months.

To start with, the so-called “bribery trial” of two Liberal party workers involved in the 2015 Sudbury by-election has already begun.

This and the gas plant scandal from the McGuinty years, also back in court this week, may have less electoral bite than some hope. But they breed excitement.

Progressive Conservative critics of Liberal political behaviour, others will urge, also need to explain complaints about their own “rigged nominations” at meetings to choose PC candidates for the election. 

It has been reported that local police are investigating alleged ballot box stuffing at the PC nomination meeting for Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas. 

Meanwhile, polls on Ontario elections this far from the election date have a mixed history. Many provincial voters, obsessed by federal politics, only start paying attention to Queen’s Park when the election is closer than nine months away. 

Polls for the last two years have nonetheless been suggesting that the 2018 Ontario election is the Conservatives’ to lose. 

The governing Liberals have been in office since fall 2003. There have been reports of recent poll improvements in their direction. But Kathleen Wynne remains the least popular provincial premier in Canada. 

At the same time, as former Mike Harris cabinet minister John Snobelen has gratuitously advised PC leader Patrick Brown: “The bitter reality ... is that the Liberals, despite their dismal record and Wynne’s lack of popularity, will be competitive in this election.”

One of the reasons is Mr. Brown’s own sketchy popularity. Another is the comparative strength of the Ontario economy. 

Whatever else, the Wynne Liberals have also lived up to their promise to balance the budget while still supporting the progressive role of government. 

Already they have acted aggressively to meet complaints about rising electricity costs (by asking future generations to share some of the burden of rebuilding the system in this generation).                

As noted in a recent student newspaper, there were as well  “several major policy announcements made between April and May alongside the release of the 2017 provincial budget” — including increasing the minimum wage to $15 and implementing a youth pharmacare plan.

Late this past April the Globe and Mail was similarly editorializing “Ontario’s NDP-lite budget sets the table for the next election.” 

New Democrat leader Andrea Horwath — typically the most popular of the three major leaders in polls — is understandably distressed that the Wynne Liberals’ winning strategy is to borrow unilaterally from NDP platforms.

Similarly, John Snobelen’s most practical advice is that Patrick Brown “needs to go blue, as in blue collar ... Working people deserve better value from their government ... Brown needs to deliver it.” 

This suggests that in the age of Donald Trump “go left young man” (or at least pretending to) may be the latest strategic thinking in all three major Ontario parties.

And this suggests the most fascinating thing about the 2018 Ontario election could be that each of the three main parties has serious prospects of taking the prize.  

If the polls today mean anything, Patrick Brown’s PCs have an excellent chance of winning on June 7, or better. 

On the other hand, both the Wynne and McGuinty Liberals have demonstrated remarkable past resilience (2014 and 2011), despite initial poor showings in polls. 

Yet again, if it is going to be a “change election,” and if go left really is the new strategic wisdom, the people of Ontario could wake up on Friday, June 8 beside premier-elect Andrea Horwath.

Summing up, Sylvia Sutherland, former mayor of the city of Peterborough, Ontario, has stressed that the “Liberals have been in power for 15 years, a nanosecond compared to 42 years of Conservative rule under premiers Drew, Frost, Robarts, Davis and Miller, but an eon these days.”

Ms. Sutherland also wonders about voters like the angry elderly gentleman in a “Make Ontario Great Again” baseball hat, who kept attacking the nominated candidate at a Progressive Conservative meeting in Stittsville, near Ottawa. 

And she concludes with a traditional assessment that seems especially apt for Ontario in 2018: “It will be an interesting election.”

 

 

 

 

About Randall White

Randall White is a former senior policy advisor with the Ontario Ministry of Finance, and a former economist with the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. He is the author of Ontario 1610-1985: A Political and Economic History and Ontario Since 1985. He writes frequently about Ontario politics.
Posted date : September 08, 2017

View all of Randall White's columns
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