Queen’s Park Watch: Blue Toronto?
Bulletins from the provincial legislature, and thoughts on Queen’s Park’s sometimes tense relationship with Toronto.
In the last year, Rob Ford and Stephen Harper proved that a surprising number of Torontonians are ready to forgo light rail and public broadcasting in favour of tax freezes and giant prisons. Could we also be the lever that flips Queen’s Park into the Conservative camp?
Even before Toronto’s rightward shift, Ontarians were a fickle bunch. Between 1990 and and 2003 we careened drunkenly around the political map, ping-ponging from Liberal to NDP to Progressive Conservative and back to Liberal again. Now our mercurial electorate looks to be flirting with another change, and the likely beneficiary of our collective whimsy is Tim Hudak and his Tories.
The week brought more news to make provincial Liberals wince, in the form of a poll showing that Dalton McGuinty is disliked more than any premier except for Quebec’s scandal-plagued Jean Charest. There’s nothing new here; McGuinty and team have been getting beat up by the pollsters for a while now. However, with provincial elections less than four months away, the Grits are whistling past the graveyard if they say they’re not worried about public opinion.
But before the PCs get the key to the premierial minibar, they’ll need to make big inroads into the Big Smoke. Some 41 of 107 ridings are in the GTA, and at dissolution of the legislature 32 of those were held by Liberals and only four by the Tories. Can Hudak pull off a swing of the requisite size?
Quite possibly. Even apart from the recent elections that saw voters in a reactionary mood, the Liberals aren’t helping themselves with Hogtowners.
For example, while the Grits bent over amiably when Rob Ford wanted to ditch Transit City in favour of a solo subway line, they also refused the mayor’s request for $150 million to cover a few expenses. The rebuff prompted a threat from the irascible Etobicokan to unleash the fury of Ford Nation at the provincial polls.
The enmity of the right may be a given for the deemed nanny-stater, whose “Premier Dad” nickname is even being used by the far-from-conservative Toronto Star. However, McGuinty also aggravated civil libertarians and just plain folks when he implemented the strange, secret and possibly unconstitutional law that protected the fence separating the hoi-polloi from the VIPs at last year’s G20 summit. It didn’t help that then-industry minister’s Tony Clement’s cottage country constituents were showered in summit cash while Toronto got flaming cop cars, rubber bullets and mass arrests.
The Grits even found issues that enrage across political lines; witness the recent brouhaha over Ontario Provincial Police wage hikes and the alleged lift it gave to police salaries in Toronto. This negotiation pissed off everyone, from right wingers who see it as kowtowing to unions, to lefties who think law enforcement is already too expensive.
The economy is the elephant in the room, except instead of sitting quietly and being ignored it’s trumpeting around smashing the furniture while everybody hits it with sticks. The economic crisis and recession may not have been McGuinty’s fault, but like every other incumbent politico he got run over by it anyway. Hard times plus the Liberal’s natural predilection for spending have led to a series of deficits, which all parties are pledging to eliminate in the next six years. Interestingly, this week’s report from RBC Economics says that Ontario is on the brink of a real economic expansion. It remains to be seen whether the Grits can make hay out of this, because by the time eco-prognostications make their way into your paycheque the election will likely be long over.
All this is having an impact on voters here in the centre of the universe. A March poll found that the Liberals and Conservatives were virtually tied for popularity in the GTA, with the Tories substantially ahead in Scarborough and North York.
The wild card in the city may be the NDP. While it’s unlikely that Torontonians will embrace New Democrats with the enthusiasm of Quebeckers, who in the federal election would have sent a jar of cashews to the House if it were painted orange, they could prove to be a spoiler for the Tories in some ridings if Liberal voters move left in large numbers. More likely, however, they’ll give Hudak a boost by splitting the left-centre vote in battlefield ridings like Eglinton-Lawrence and Don Valley West.
The Tories will be salivating at the prospect of imitating their federal counterparts and grabbing a raft of seats in the GTA. And they may just do it, unless the Grits can come up with something more compelling than hauling Mike Harris’s gruesome axe-wielding corpse out of its political grave and shouting, “Is this what you want?”
Should be an interesting summer.