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The Salon is ONW's weekly gathering place where three of Canada's brightest and most respected political strategists - John Capobianco , Marit Stiles and Richard Mahoney - come together to analyze national issues affecting Ontario.

Richard Mahoney:

Last week's Ontario election was one for the ages. Monday morning quarterbacks have all kinds of interpretations after the fact to justify their misread of the public.

Some disgruntled Conservatives blame it all on Tim Hudak and his personality. I think that is bunk. First of all, the election was closely contested and there were points during the campaign when Mr. Hudak had the advantage and was in a dead heat with the Liberals. After a strong start by Premier Wynne, and an apparently shaky one by Andrea Horwath, Tim Hudak seized the agenda with his platform and drove the campaign for a while. There were glitches, yes (we have yet to see a campaign without some) but, from the beginning, there was a competitive race at least between the PCs and the Liberals.

Kathleen Wynne's victory was a remarkable one, to be sure. It was a vote for her brand of leadership, and her progressive agenda of investments in transit and a new pension plan.  It was also a vote for a more realistic and economically cautious approach to deficit reduction than that proposed by the Conservatives.

In the end, more Ontarians chose that agenda and Kathleen's authentic style of leadership. Combine that with a brilliantly conceived and executed campaign and you have a majority government.  

John Capobianco:

I will agree with Richard that this election was one for the ages - had me totally expecting a minority government for either the Liberals or the Conservatives.

What was interesting about this election was that the Liberals had scandal after scandal to deal with which resulted in voters wanting change at an all-time high of 70%.

This election was Ms. Wynne's first and the second for both Tim Hudak and Ms. Horwath - so advantage would go to the experienced - you would think.

Ms. Horwath had an awfully slow start for someone who triggered the election, compared to a solid start by Tim Hudak who, as Richard correctly stated, controlled the agenda for most of the campaign. I do believe that Mr. Hudak and the PC's had a solid game plan - set the plan and agenda early, had the opposition respond to their ideas and stuck to the Buckley's 'tough medicine, but it works' plan.

It was risky and the end result was that voters did not take to the plan.

Marit Stiles:

Yes it was one helluva an election that's for sure. I will admit that I did not see a majority coming for the Liberals. And credit where credit is due: they managed to pull a majority out of a scandal-plagued record, and despite - as John points out -- an electorate that seemed hungry for change.

While it would be easy to just blame Tim Hudak's lack of personal appeal to the voters (in fact, I'd go so far as to say that he generally appeared much stronger than in 2011), the problem had more to do with what the Conservatives were proposing.

Hudak's message simply didn't resonate with voters, and particularly some of the voters that ended up going to the NDP and Liberals.

The NDP picked up some votes, overall, and held onto by-election seats that the Liberals and Conservatives targeted aggressively. And of course, made gains in Sudbury, Windsor and Oshawa.

But the lack of a convincing argument for the defeat of the budget -- a brilliant tactic by the Liberals, by the way -- left the NDP struggling in some ridings where we should have been strong. A mixed result to be sure. And I expect as in any campaign where you don't achieve your ultimate goal (in this case, government), the NDP will have four years to consider how we can better position ourselves to provide Ontarians with the alternative they want. All the while, ensuring that the Liberals don't revert to their well-worn habit of 'running on left, governing from the right.'


Let's look at the question of what this means for federal politics in Ontario. Most importantly, Kathleen Wynne's mandate spells some immediate challenges for the Harper government.

First of all, Premier Wynne has a fresh mandate form Ontarians, and Mr. Harper's mandate is now a little stale, being three years old. She can and will claim to speak for the province on some important items raised in this campaign. On retirement/pensions, she will move ahead to establish the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan.

Secondly, she will look to Ottawa for help on moving key economic files forward, such as the Ring of Fire, and for a better partnership with the feds on Ontario's fiscal situation. Wynne made the point repeatedly in the campaign that Ontario was the only province to have federal transfers reduced, and that fiscal imbalance will need to be corrected if Ontario is to be successful in balancing the budget over the next three years.

Finally, much is made of the notion that Ontarians like to split their votes in Ottawa and Queen's Park. I don't think any of us think that our politics is that simple. There will be a number of factors that motivate the people of Ontario in next year's federal election. The fact that we have a Liberal government at Queen's Park, with similar views to Justin Trudeau's Liberals, is unlikely to be a huge hill for Mr. Trudeau to climb. More to the point will be what Mr. Trudeau and the federal Liberals bring to the table on issues like creating equality of opportunity for Ontario's middle class, and the prospect of a tired Harper government that appears to be out of steam, out of ideas, and lurching from controversy to controversy of their own creation. I think those issues will be more important to next year's election than some alleged strategic vote-splitting.

John Capobianco:

It is difficult to make predictions on how this provincial election may or may not affect the federal campaign in 2015 or what it means for the Harper Conservatives. There's a few takeaways that one can observe and that the federal Conservatives can take some solace in.

First, the conventional wisdom that voters get tired of governments after eight years is not true.


Richard Mahoney:  Apparently not!


John Capobianco:

Despite Premier Wynne being a new leader, this scandal-plagued government has been in power for 11 years and Ontarians were more than accepting to allow this government four more years in power. Secondly, economic stability matters, and the fact that Ontario voters stuck with the Liberals shows that they will stay with the government that makes them feel safe when it comes to the economy (despite the fact that the Liberal will raise taxes and drive jobs out of Ontario.)

This is good news for the federal Conservatives since they have handled the economy through very challenging economic times.

And lastly, the splitting of votes between federal and provincial parties. As Richard states, it is not that simple, but history does show that when a certain party is in power provincially, voters like to have a counter-balance at the federal level.

However, all this to say it still is critical that campaigns matter and the next federal election will be about which party defines the ballot question and which party voters believe can deliver on that question.


Marit Stiles:

I think there are some significant issues that each of the federal parties will be grappling with as they unpack the provincial results.

From the Conservative perspective, they'll be looking at the failure of Mr. Hudak's attempt to appeal to a very narrow base. Harper has broadened his target somewhat in the last few years, but is it enough?

Although the Liberals may be somewhat emboldened by gains in Toronto, they have to see that their party in Ontario is almost entirely excluded from several major regions.

It was the NDP that attracted voters in some of the most economically hard-hit cities and regions of this province - the Southwest, Windsor, Hamilton, Sudbury, Oshawa. Those areas did not turn to the Liberals or the Conservatives for representation, they turned to the NDP.

Also, let's not forget that the Liberals hardly scored a majority of the vote in this election. They did manage to translate their 38% into enough seats to form a majority, but it should be noted.

And while Wynne may try to play against the federal Conservatives - as Richard notes - she’s going to be faced with some tough choices. She admitted during the campaign that cuts were on the way, and we’ll see how long she can fend them off. If she even tries.

The NDP will be looking at where they can shore up support in those hard hit regions, building on some gains in ridings across the province, and rebuilding in others, and laying out a progressive agenda that leaves no question about which leader has the smarts and social conscious to defeat the Harper Conservatives and form the government.  


About The Salon

Richard Mahoney is a former Liberal advisor to Rt. Hon. Paul Martin; Marit Stiles is a federal and Ontario NDP strategist; and John Capobianco is a former CPC candidate and long-time party activist in both the federal and Ontario Conservative parties
Posted date : June 18, 2014

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