Ontario’s going to the polls on Thursday, and it’s become a tight race with a minority government likely. It’s also been a total snoozefest, with no notable PR bombs, scandals, or charisma. I’m not complaining necessarily — sometimes you just want to elect a government and get on with things, and not have to wade through a morass of questionable ethics, extreme levels of mudslinging, or John Baird. Plus, after the rather remarkable stretch of federal politics from about March until now, most provincial races will look dull by comparison.
At the start of the campaign, it was (distressingly) looking like Hudak and the Progressive Conservatives would be taking at least a slim majority, and quite possibly a sizeable one, but as the campaign has progressed his popularity has fallen considerably — from around 42% in midsummer to about 35% now, in a statistical dead heat with McGuinty’s Liberals. The NDP’s Howarth has held the fort, with a steady but slow increase in popularity, and the NDP has around 27% support. I have a few ideas about why the picture has shifted from Hudak looking to get a majority to McGuinty retaining power but only with a minority.
Ontarians look at Harper having a majority, Rob Ford being mayor of Toronto (which obviously doesn’t impact the whole province, but since it is The Centre of The Universe, the direction it takes does impact a sizeable proportion of the population), and get leery about going for the triumvirate, and apparently at least one pollster agrees with me. It’s increasingly clear to a wide range of voters that electing Ford was a bad idea (though to be fair, it was pretty obvious from the get-go as far as I can see), and I think that Hudak comes across more like Ford than Harper — not the blustery manner so much, but the reactionary, governing on gut regardless of facts style. Let’s be clear: I think Harper does this too, especially the second part — he’s just considerably better at hiding it and glossing over it when it gets dragged out from under the covers.
Secondly, I think Hudak’s lack of depth of governing ideas is doing him in, as well it should. His campaign has been rife with misrepresentations of data, for example grossly exaggerating visualizations of data throughout his campaign platform, and supporting a homophobic and factually inaccurate ad slamming the Liberals’ sex ed curriculum. A platform built so solidly on misprepresentations and distortions is not a platform that will inspire confidence in voters, and voters aren’t stupid. They may not, on the whole, pay attention to politics as rabidly as yours truly does, but they don’t like to be lied to, directly or indirectly. Again, I believe Harper does this too, but again, he’s much, much better at it, and the public doesn’t pick up on it in the same way that they’re picking up on Hudak.
Thirdly, I think McGuinty is seen much more as the calm, steady, measured leader, much like Harper appears to people who don’t squint too hard at him. Ontario politics aren’t known for being a source of firebrand politicians, and I think that a measured, dignified public persona goes over better in Ontario than a fire-in-the-belly persona. Hudak enjoyed an initial lead because people get antsy about having the same party in power for an extended amount of time — if he wins, this will be McGuinty’s third mandate. But once you start to look at Hudak and what he has to say (remember that foreign workers nonsense from the beginning of the campaign?), he’s not looking like a good alternative.
And Horwath, I hate to say, is not quite out from under the Bob Rae shadow from the late nineties, though I think they’re nearly there. There’s a not insignificant split policy-wise between the Ontario NDP party and the federal party, and while I think success on the federal level has helped by legitimising, to some extent, the NDP name to many who wouldn’t otherwise consider it, there’s no direct translation from the federal success to provincial success. I think they’ll pick up some seats — Horwath comes across as a very personable person who connects to Ontarians, and that is important for anyone looking to win a popularity contest — but I don’t think Ontario will return an NDP government.
But a minority government is certainly looking possible, if not likely, and the NDP is a natural choice to play a supporting role. I think a productive stint as part of a formal or informal coalition would go a long way to negotiating many Ontarian’s distaste of the provincial NDP, especially coupled with a productive federal NDP as the Official Opposition. I know many Canadians don’t think minority parliaments are good, but I think they’re great — it forces politicians to actually listen to what the other parties have to say, rather than just pushing through their legislation, and hammer out some sort of consensus on legislation. Yes they’re more unstable, but I’ll take unstable and co-operative (even if only by necessity) than stable and unilateral any day.
So, Ontarians — who’re you voting for and why? Let me know, even if you are a Hudak supporter! (I won’t snap at you, I promise, though I’d love to hear your perspective on his platform.)