Our wishes for each of the province's main parties, now that the election is done.
Ontario has elected, in defiance of most predictions, a Liberal majority. We will have four years of stable government, and Kathleen Wynne will have the chance to show us the kind of premier she really wants to be—as opposed to the cagier kind many think she has been until now, fighting to keep her minority government alive. If Wynne has been holding back—if, as many progressives and urbanists hope, she has been restraining herself on some issues (ranging from Toronto transit to sex-ed policy)—now she will have the chance to pursue those issues more aggressively.
The outcome is useful, in this way, for the NDP and the Progressive Conservatives as well: they each have the opportunity to define themselves more clearly. Free of the hedging that comes with minority governments, the Liberals can define themselves by their governance; the NDP and Tories can do so by the nature of their opposition, and in their approach to rebuilding their respective parties.
What do we hope for in this new political era?
The last three years in this province have been a non-stop orgy of pandering by every single party, and it has been exhausting—and worse, it has been timid. The Liberals have consistently kicked the can down the line on dealing with the budget deficit, but financial scandals and underdeveloped economic plans notwithstanding, Ontarians have decided that the Liberals can be trusted to handle those problems without checks and balances.
The Liberals now have to justify that trust. Kathleen Wynne has made good progress in beginning to counter the excesses of Liberal corruption, but she needs to redouble her efforts. She will certainly have public support in this regard: the Liberal scandals may not have gotten electoral traction, but nobody thinks they were not an issue. And Wynne has a fair amount of personal political capital, since it is fair to say that her popularity was responsible for at least part of the Grits’ stunning success. She has to use it, and if necessary (as it probably will be), use it against elements within her own party that are entrenched in its power structure, to clean house and establish new standards of accountability.
Just as importantly, we hope now that the Liberals choose to govern like a party that doesn’t have to worry about the next election for a few years, and deliver ambitious, substantive policy: a real transit plan for Toronto and other municipalities, not the watered-down version we got in the election platform. A real answer to our affordable housing crisis. A real solution to Ontario’s slowly collapsing manufacturing sector—one that doesn’t rely on endless subsidies to car companies. Actual implementation of the pension program that was the cornerstone of the Liberals’ budget draft.
None of these are easy issues to tackle, but then again, nobody made these people run for office. The Liberals have an opportunity to govern, without fear of reprisal, for several years. They need to make the most of it.
Finally, the Liberals must live up to their promise to allow cities to used ranked ballots in municipal elections. Electoral reform was the best thing the Liberals put on the table. They cannot take it off now.
“It is about economic justice. It is about redistributing the wealth,” Rosario Marchese said following his defeat in Trinity-Spadina—and this is desperately relevant, because the Ontario New Democratic Party has been running away from itself for years.
Everybody is talking about how the Tories were embarrassed in this election, but the New Democrats are the real losers here. Andrea Horwath held the balance of power in the previous minority administration, and chose to call an election with a new, untested premier still carrying the baggage of a decade of Liberal governance, cronyism, pandering, and corruption. But she didn’t take the first opportunity she had to bring down this untested premier, in the face of all these scandals. She waited. She waited until the Liberals unveiled a budget that was very friendly to many of the NDP’s political priorities—a budget many in her party were inclined to support, and many unions asked her to support. She blew the call on choosing how and when to bring down the government, and then she blew the election she had chosen to instigate.
Horwath can talk all she wants about how she increased the NDP’s vote share by a whopping 1.5 per cent: this is meaningless, because you don’t call an election for the sake of 1.5 per cent of the vote, especially if you are ostensibly a progressive party taking the risk that you will hand power to conservatives in the process. You do it because you think you have a chance to become the dominant party of the left and centre-left in this province.
Except that isn’t the campaign Horwath chose to run. Instead, she pushed the NDP so deeply into the centre that her political rhetoric became, on an economic level at least, right-wing populism: talking about “rebates” for every citizen, promising to find “efficiencies” in government.
Nobody needs the NDP to talk about these things. We need the NDP to talk about people who need help. About people who have been left behind. About communities in need. We need a party that says “screw the money, we’re the richest society that’s ever existed in every practical sense that matters, we have to find a way to make things better for everybody.” We need, frankly, ambitious and unapologetic socialists who can serve as this province’s conscience. That doesn’t mean that New Democrats can’t also be brainy wonks who want to examine the nuts and bolts of policy (we can always use more of those in every party). But we need them to stand up for what’s right.
We don’t have that now. Horwath did not indicate any willingness to resign as party leader once the results were in, and there are plenty within the party who want her gone. It is entirely possible that a civil war is brewing within the NDP’s ranks. For their own benefit, and the benefit of the province, they need to figure out who they are and who they should be: they need to rediscover their basis in social justice, they need to find a place for genuine urbanism within their platform, and they need to do these things sooner rather than later.
THE PROGRESSIVE CONSERVATIVES
This was an embarrassing and entirely deserved loss. Tim Hudak ran on lies, and easily debunked lies at that, and the province’s voters called him on it. It was a slash-and-burn campaign chock-full of name-calling and hypocrisy.
Substantively, the Tories’ problem is this: they have forgotten that they are not just conservatives but Progressive Conservatives. Ontario is not Stephen Harper Reform territory, and was never likely to embrace that particular approach to right-wing politics. The reason the Tories keep losing is because voters suspect—correctly—that the party has become too radical for their tastes. Ontario is growing more diverse and more urban, and Tory policies keep failing to take heed of these developments. (This election has also torpedoed the notion that the Tories can win an election by targeting a number of key ridings and forgetting everybody else.)
Logistically, there is the ongoing challenge that anybody who is talented and politically conservative in this province will prefer to work for the federal Conservative party rather than for its provincial counterpart—the Tories have an upwards skill-leak, and this may not be rectified until the current federal government is ousted.
And that is a problem, because Progressive Conservatives are necessary. The Tories don’t own the concept of fiscal responsibility—although they like to pretend they do—but we need a party that can take a look at the ambitious spending plans of left-wing parties and say, “Fine, but how do we pay for it?” The Liberals will need fiscal critics as much as they need social critics, and we need a viable conservative party to play that role in the legislature.
That is how the Tories can become relevant again. Stop going to war against the unions, and instead try to work with them again. Stop pretending that every public sector cut only affects a nebulous somebody-else. Instead, be the party that takes the bold ideas of other parties and figures out how to make them work—and how to govern smarter, better, and more prudently. We all need them to do that.
ONE FINAL NOTE
We will keep this brief, for we can only hope that we will never have to have this conversation, as a province, ever again. When she gave her victory speech the newly elected premier of our province invited her wife up on stage to join her, and everyone cheered. In a very important sense, it was just no big deal at all—even though, of course, historically, it was. It matters so much that that’s our home now.