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      How Real Is The New Ontario Trudeaumania?

 

By Randall White

Everyone said that to do well across the country Justin Trudeau’s Liberals (or anyone else) had to do well in battleground Ontario. And everyone was right.

The new 2015 Liberal majority government in Ottawa has wound up with 66 per cent of the 121 federal seats currently assigned to Canada’s most populous province — efficiently taken with 45 per cent of the regional popular vote.

All this arguably descends in some degree from the current Liberal majority at Queen’s Park. Yet the provincial Liberals took only 55 per cent of 107 seats in their 2014 election — with a mere 39 per cent of the province-wide popular vote.

The new Trudeau majority in Ontario has analogues in other parts of the country as well. 

Trudeaumania was strongest in Atlantic Canada and all three northern territories — where every federal seat available is now in Liberal hands. Ontario was next, followed by Quebec, Manitoba, and BC.

At the same time, the extent of the Trudeau Liberal sweep in Ontario remains somewhat surprising. Critics can reasonably argue it is only skin deep.

To start with, much like Mr. Harper’s party in 2011, Mr. Trudeau’s party in 2015 has won some 54 per cent of the seats in the federal parliament with less than 40 per cent of the cross-Canada popular vote. 

(And there have been immediate calls for the Liberals to live up to their election promises about “an all-party Parliamentary committee to review a wide variety of reforms, such as ranked ballots, proportional representation, mandatory voting, and online voting.”)  

The 45 per cent popular vote won by the Trudeau Liberals in Ontario is closer to a real democratic majority. But even here the new order has its limitations.   

In some degree it is a creature of voters who dislike Harper Conservatives more than they like Trudeau Liberals.

And then there is regional diversity inside the province. Northern Ontario in 2015 is Liberal red and New Democrat orange. Southern Ontario is awash in Conservative blue rural and rurban seas, with red and orange islands of urban growth, and various hybrid waters in between. 

Closer to the ground, on October 19 the New Democrats managed to hang on to only eight of Ontario’s 121 federal seats — three in the Windsor area, one in London, two in Hamilton, and two in the more easterly half of Northern Ontario. 

The Conservatives still managed 33 seats. And they dominated most of the Southern Ontario countryside. The Harper Conservatives did not collapse on October 19 as their predecessor Progressive Conservatives did in the 1993 federal election. 

Their 35 per cent of the Ontario popular vote was better than the 31 per cent managed by Tim Hudak’s Conservatives in the 2014 provincial election. And all this recalls a Justin Trudeau Liberal mantra: “Conservatives are not our enemies: they’re our neighbours.”

Meanwhile, the Trudeau Liberals’ 80 Ontario seats in 2015 include seven in Northern Ontario, two in the London area, five in the Kitchener-Cambridge-Guelph high-tech cluster, two in Niagara, and two in Hamilton.

Most impressively, Liberals now hold every seat along the Lake Ontario shoreline from Burlington and Oakville to Ajax and Whitby — including every seat in the cities of Mississauga, Brampton, and Toronto, much of York region and the western half of Durham region. 

Then after a brief blue interlude, there is another burst of red in the Peterborough-Prince Edward County-Kingston countryside — where some former urbanites have retired lately.  The new Trudeaumania in Ontario ends with eight Liberal seats in the Ottawa region, including the francophone countryside right next to Quebec. 

You might almost jump to the conclusion that the new Justin Trudeau Liberals in Ontario add up to an awesome thing.

Yet a little comparative history puts present enthusiasms in perspective.

Back as recently as 2011 the Harper Conservatives themselves did just as well in Ontario as the Trudeau Liberals in 2015. They too took almost 45 per cent of the Ontario popular vote. And their 73 out of 106 Ontario seats (69 per cent) actually amounts to a slightly larger percentage than the 80 out of 121 seats the Liberals won this election (66 per cent). 

Somewhat further back the Chretien Liberals took 53 per cent of the popular vote and 98 of Ontario’s then 99 federal seats in the election of 1993. And they came close to repeating this performance in 1997 — in the midst of the hard-right-wing Mike Harris regime at Queen’s Park.

So ... it’s not as if the sky has fallen, or anything like that. But Justin Trudeau’s Liberals in 2015 have done just as well in Ontario as Stephen Harper’s Conservatives did in 2011. 

That has helped them win a somewhat surprising majority government in Ottawa.

And it seems increasingly difficult to deny altogether that Ontario’s Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne deserves some credit for the new federal Liberal hegemony north of the Great Lakes.

 

 

 

 

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 : October 27, 2015

View all of Randall White's columns
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