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                           Angry Voters Can Mean Radical Change In Ontario Elections

 

 

By Susanna Kelley

Recently former Liberal MP Ken Dryden penned an op-ed in The Globe and Mail saying there is a palpable anger out there amongst the citizenry.

"People everywhere are mad" Mr. Dryden wrote. "Mad at their jobs, mad at the money they don’t make. Mad at others for getting the chances they don’t. Mad at seemingly getting the short end of every stick. Mad at the mess around them: crime, litter, traffic...Mad that others get away with everything they don’t, mad at not being able to stop them. Mad that life isn’t what they thought it would be..."

"And together, mad at all those people who have the power."

When Mr. Dryden speaks, it's often wise to pay attention.

Not only is he a former longtime Liberal MP with a great deal of experience reading the mind of the pubic, and one of the greatest NHL goalies of all time, he is, as well, a very intelligent and thoughtful individual.

He also knows a bit about the psychology of people under pressure.

As a rookie goalie for the Montreal Canadiens, he studied for his law exams while in net as the Habs star goalie during the 1971 NHL playoff season. (At the last moment he found out he was allowed to write the exams the next fall but by then he'd already written the majority of his term papers.)

The Habs won the Stanley Cup that year against the Chicago Black Hawks in 7 games.

But I digress.  

Politicians in Ontario and all across the land could do worse than to listen to Mr. Dryden's analysis. 

Most observers, including this one, believe that any of the three parties can win the next election. 

And if Mr. Dryden is right about the electorate's mood, it is a warning that the public's patience is up.

That often means a change of government and direction in Ontario - and a radical one to boot.

Ask former Liberal Premier David Peterson.

In 1990 he called an election just three years into his mandate, trying to capitalize on his party's lead in the polls.

But Ontario voters were "grumpy" at that time, according to Mr. Peterson, and they did something radical: elected an NDP government for the first time in the province's history.

The Liberals suffered a crushing defeat and the NDP led by Bob Rae (at that time a New Democrat) formed a majority government.

Mr. Peterson himself lost his seat to the NDP's Marion Boyd.  

Likewise in 1995, after a bruising early 1990s recession during which Ontario's average unemployment rate reached almost 11 per cent one year, voters did something radical again.

"Grumpy" wasn't the word for their mood in that election; "frightened" describes them better. Those who weren't already unemployed feared they'd lose their jobs and not be able to get another.

Once again, they turfed Mr. Rae's government after only one term for the radical right-wing Common Sense Revolution of PC Premier Mike Harris. Sweeping cuts to social programs were the order of the day - something Ontario had never supported before, and certainly not in an economic downturn.

All of which is to say that when voters sense that all is not well with Ontario, they are not the least bit afraid to upset the applecart and take a risk on a new government taking a very different path.

What is behind the anger Mr. Dryden and others say they can innately feel is up for debate.

Some think it is the fact that middle class incomes have stagnated for 30 years while the "1 per cent" has reaped massive financial gain. Statistics prove what the middle class already knows: the wealthy really have gotten wealthier, the middle class has not progressed and the poor have become poorer.

As well, people sense politicians are not taking steps to correct the situation as they did when a similar situation occurred just prior to The Great Depression of the 1930s.

Others think it is that the scandals both provincially and federally (gas plants, eHealth, Senate expenses) have voters frustrated and feeling governments simply aren't listening to them.

Either way, it could be bad news for the Wynne Liberals in Ontario and Harper Conservatives federally.

As one Ontario Liberal veteran put it, winning government again after 10 years in power is very difficult.

And while Ms. Wynne's focus has been quite different from that of her predecessor Dalton McGuinty (examples: talking about raising revenue (somehow) to fund better GTA public transit; brokering peace with teachers by cutting new deals with their unions) she still carries Mr. McGuinty's baggage from the aforementioned scandals.

Voters may, however, see her as enough of a change from Mr. McGuinty to give her government a chance.

But if the citizenry is really angry, as they were in 1990 and 1995, a radical change of government is very possible.

Will that be the Common Sense Revolution 2.0 that PC leader Tim Hudak is peddling - tax cuts, 10,000 public servant layoffs, a right to work, union-hostile government? Has Mr. Hudak tapped into the anger that is said to be out there?

Or would voters swing to Andrea Horwath's moderately left New Democrats, electing the NDP for only the second time in Ontario history?

Speaking of history, Ms. Horwath has something going for her on that front.

The NDP has been out of power the longest, meaning many voters have forgotten Mr. Rae's unpopularity or are not old enough to remember it.

The Tories have been out of power the second longest, with voters still having some memory of the Harris era's harsh reforms.

The Liberal scandals under Mr. McGuinty are the most recent, and so are freshest in the memories of Ontario voters.

Few with any political sense are willing to make a bet right now on which party will form the next government.

But be assured: if and when the Ontario electorate is angry, a radical change of government, and direction, is very possible.



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Susanna Kelley

Susanna Kelley is Editor-in-Chief and Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for Ontario News Watch. A veteran political and investigative reporter, documentary-maker, host and media commentator, Susanna oversees and has final editorial control over all news production at Ontario News Watch. Susanna has reported for the CBC, the Canadian Press and served as Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for TVOntario for 13 years. She has also hosted a number of documentaries for CBC’s The Current, CBC Radio News and TVOntario’s Studio 2. Passionately dedicated to excellence in political journalism, and having covered both Parliament Hill and Queen’s Park, Susanna believes quality political reporting is essential to a healthy democracy. You can find Susanna here: @susannakelley
Posted date : January 13, 2014

View all of Susanna Kelley's columns
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