07 June 2018
None Of The Above
Ontario election latest.
By J R Thomas
Many of our readers are no doubt even now laying in stocks of Molson Light and moose sandwiches to get them through the night of 7th June. If they are, they may be surprised that most Ontario voters are planning on an early night and a late breakfast (bacon and maple syrup, naturally). Today is indeed the day of the Ontario provincial government elections. Ontario, provincial capital Toronto, is the largest and most prosperous of the Canadian provinces – 38% of Canadians live there – so this is an important election not just for the province but for Canada. Canadians are noted as a calm and steady lot, but in their politics recently seem to have become as cynical and offhand as those in Western democracies, and Ontario is leading the disruptive way.
Indeed this may turn out to be a mini-Trump moment for Ontario, and a harbinger of change for the federal elections, which are due at latest by October 2019. The Liberals have been in power in Ontario since 2003, winning a convincing victory under a new leader, Kathleen Wynne in 2014, but since then suffering those stresses which so often dog political parties after long spells in power. Ms Wynne’s administration looks tired, with several big name ministers exiting at this election, increasing infighting as the Prime Minister tries to reshape her party in a more progressive image, and allegations of corruption, some reaching to the Prime Ministerial office itself. Most of the latter relate to things which in the UK are regarded as almost normal – for example, giving politicians jobs to encourage them to exit their seats in favour of new and livelier party candidates. (Our apologies to recently created members of the House of Lords; but then, you know how it is.)
All this has damaged the reputation of the Liberals and made them, it seems, pretty much unelectable, at least this time round. That is not surprising, but what might be more so is that the battle has become not a two way fight. (Canadian political parties, we should say, used to resemble pre-1914 England, each Canadian being born either a little Conservative or a little Liberal, the exception being the Quebec separatist parties which have tended to wax and wane but are currently not significant.) The Liberals dominated recent national Canadian politics until the closing years of the twentieth century, but under Brian Mulroney and then Stephen Harper there was a strong Conservative revival, with Mr Mulroney playing the part of a Canadian Reagan (or Thatcher). In 2015 national politics followed the Ontario lead, with a surprise victory for Justin Trudeau. And to complete this quick dash around the Canadian political field, we should explain that Conservative thinking in Canada is akin to Conservative thinking in the UK (or Republican in the US), Liberals are sort of Blairite Labour or Democrats, and the NDP are…. Ah yes, the NDP, the New Democratic Party, the newish third force, the potential over-turners of the two party system today – well, their colour is orange and they specialise in local politics in gentrifying areas, so not too difficult to get them correctly placed on the spectrum.
Our editor has pointed out that it is only necessary for the Shaw Sheet to make a firm prediction for the absolute reverse to happen. But we will once again risk it, and say that the Liberals are about to suffer an electoral disaster. But that does not mean that there is going to be a Conservative triumph. It has been looking for the last few weeks as if this is going to be a very close race, with the New Democrats possibly scoring its first major political victory, several times overtaking the Conservatives in the opinion polls (you knew that they would rear their woolly pollster heads at some point).
The NDP say this is because their politics are vibrant and fresh and inclusive, appealing to young electors who want to see the old parties consigned to history. This may be true, to at least an extent, but the NPD think they have a secret weapon – which is the Conservative leader, Doug Ford. “Ford” you may say, “Ford; that rings a Canadian political bell”. Indeed it should. Mr Ford’s younger brother, the late Rob Ford, was Conservative mayor of Toronto for four years until 2014, greatly enlivening political discourse by his outspoken ways and lifestyle difficulties with various substances (we don’t mean ice-cream and Hershey bars). Doug Ford has his brother’s outspoken ways and also political antennae which prevent him getting too hung up on any firm promises, whilst his rivals commit to expensive spending in a province which may be rich, but has seen constant accrual of debt which will have to be paid off one day.
Traditional Conservatives seem to rather like Mr Ford. In opinion polls, around 90% of Conservative identifying voters say they will voting for their party on the day – whilst only 69% of NDP loyalist feel the urge, and less than 65% of Liberals. As we have said before in these pages, turnout matters as much as party identification (Mrs Clinton can explain further if you don’t believe that; so can Mrs May). And the Conservatives have another natural advantage – their vote is more evenly spread across the ridings (seats) whilst the NDP’s is piled up in ridings full of young hip millennials. They may on that basis win big in some ridings, but they won’t win enough. And the Liberals, also widely spread, are going to come second in lots and lots of places. In a first past the post system, neither are winning strategies.
The NDP, being new(ish) naturally have new ideas. The party has considered the problems of its badly arranged voter patterns and has the solution. In the marginals it is obvious – get the Conservatives to stay at home. How do you do that? By making special targeted appeals to Conservative voters emphasising all the points on which they may have doubts about their party – maybe their local candidate is not great, perhaps in posh seats they might not care for Mr Ford’s populist ways, in commuter seats they might be fed up with lack of investment in the train service. (None of this is as imaginative as our idea of sending buses round with “Conservative Voters Free Ride To The Polls” emblazoned on the side and then taking the laden vehicle and its passengers to Niagara for the day, but still, we like the NDP thinking).
We also like the thinking of another new party making its way into Canadian politics. The None Of The Above Party is a party made up of members who do not belong to any political party and want an end to party politics, and governance largely by referenda. One of its leading members, or perhaps that should be non-members, is Adam Nobody, long active on the wilder shores of the Canadian political system, who is running for election along with 41 others (there are 124 ridings but money is tight). They won’t win anywhere but personable local candidates might just take enough votes in a few ridings to affect the outcome – and that might just be bad news for the Conservatives if things are very tight.
Our guess is still that it will be Mr Ford in the top job on Friday morning – but in this strange new political world where anything is possible, who knows?
Shaw Sheet would like to thank John P of Toronto for his insights into Ontario politics for this article.