In This Provincial Election: (sigh) The Liberals
Much to our chagrin, the only endorsement we can make.
Endorsements are almost always a tricky business. We can recommend that you vote for a particular candidate or party; we can even recommend that you vote strategically—and here at Torontoist we are often forced to do so—but the choices are rarely easy or clear. Under our current electoral law at all levels of government, this problem is massively compounded by our first-past-the-post system: the fact that whom individual citizens vote for, and whom the majority of citizens vote for, often bear little resemblance to the governments that then ostensibly represent them.
In Ontario right now, the consensus seems to be that we have some pretty bad options from which to choose. Nobody is particularly enthusiastic about any of the alternatives—thus we have, for instance, the Globe and Mail’s completely witless endorsement of the Progressive Conservative Party, but only a Progressive Conservative minority government.
A minority government is an outcome, however, not a choice that people can make: you can’t ask an individual voter to vote for a minority government, of any party. You can only recommend a vote for a candidate or party, and hope that the election’s outcome reflects as best as possible the intentions of those who cast the ballots.
In this election, and from this bad lot, we can make only one choice: Kathleen Wynne.
Tim Hudak’s campaign has shown precisely the sort of premier he will be: one who will lie to your face and not care that he is doing so. We know this because he has spent most of this campaign lying to your face about his Million Jobs Plan: a plan that will not provide a million jobs—one that the very economists Hudak claims vetted it have explained will not create a million jobs, or anything close to a million jobs. (Given that there are only about half a million unemployed adults in Ontario anyway, it is unclear who might be working at all of these fantasy jobs.) When Tim Hudak was asked why the plan he claimed would create a million jobs would not, in fact, do that, his response was to say, in essence, that it would so create a million jobs.
Perhaps though, Hudak’s plan makes more sense than it seems to at first glance. After all, between the 100,000 public sector jobs he promises to cut and his proposed cuts to infrastructure and social spending, which would result in further job losses, it’s true that the ranks of Ontario’s unemployed will grow considerably under a Hudak government. His fantasy jobs might just come in handy. You know, if they existed—which as the economists have pointed out, they will not.
When you take billions of dollars out of the economy in an austerity campaign, the result is fewer jobs. We know this because we have conveniently (if unfortunately) had the recent opportunity to see multiple austerity campaigns implemented across the First World, which gives us valuable evidence to weigh before we consider adopting one ourselves. Every single time they have been attempted, austerity programs have resulted in job losses and economic slowdown.
In 2011, Torontoist endorsed “Not the Tories,” because Tim Hudak was an awful politician making awful promises and blatantly lying to the public then as well. But we cannot make that endorsement this time, because this time we are not faced with a set of equally average-to-mediocre choices. The primary culprit for this situation is Andrea Horwath.
Horwath is the reason we are in this campaign in the first place, she having decided to vote down the Liberal budget—probably the most progressive Ontario budget in decades—in what we can only describe as an opportunistic, quixotic, and downright venal power play. Throughout this campaign, she has tacked so far towards right-wing populism that the NDP have essentially ceded the progressive end of the spectrum to the Liberals, a situation unprecedented in Ontario politics. Numerous lifetime NDP members are openly saying they no longer recognize their party, and Horwath’s leadership is what got them there.
Moreover, Horwath’s policies are simply ridiculous—as in “they are worthy of ridicule.” She has promised billions of dollars in new spending, along with a reduction of hydro rates and “rebates” to Ontarians. To pay for all this, she suggests a 1 per cent raise in corporate tax rates that will not even come remotely close to footing the bill—it won’t even pay for half of the party’s infrastructure promise on a yearly basis, let alone all the other new spending and revenue cuts they’re promising. As for finding “efficiencies” in government: that’s something we have all learned, at great length and via several governments, is very difficult to do. Without any specific promises as to how she’d go about it, the promise is worse than meaningless.
When this election was called, Andrea Horwath needed to justify voting down a promising budget by providing a better alternative. It is, perhaps, an understatement to say that she has not done so. We can only hope that this election results in the NDP realizing that Horwath is bad for their party and bad for left-wing politics, and giving her the long walk in the political wilderness she has earned.
Typically at this point in the conversation, one has to discuss the merits of smaller parties, such as the Greens, or of declining your ballot. Again, we return to the difference between outcome and choice. The outcome of you voting for a small party as a protest vote is this: you will, for a moment, perhaps, feel better about yourself and your sense of integrity in the face of electoral realities. But as we wrote in 2010, when endorsing (also reluctantly) George Smitherman for mayor: we have to live with the results of our votes for years. It’s not just a question of how it feels on election day, but a matter of policies that affect millions of your fellow residents.
Protest votes are born of good intentions, but in this case they will have no practical impact. There will be no watershed realization that smaller parties should be more widely recognized, no pundits opining about a mass declining of ballots. There are moment in history when these actions can have sufficient momentum to shift a political system, but this election shows no sign of being one of them. If you want to treat your vote as the valuable resource that it is, then these courses of action are not acceptable. The consequences for the most vulnerable Ontarians, the ones who will be most affected by policy changes, are too great.
(An aside: We actually quite like the Green Party platform, and if there was a single riding in Ontario where the Green Party had any realistic chance of winning a seat we would encourage you to vote for them there. Unfortunately, as of this writing there does not appear to be a such a riding: not even in Guelph, where party leader Mike Schreiner is running. And that, frankly, is the Greens’ own fault. As a party they have refused to seek out constituencies and make them their own, in what can only be described as their own particular form of egomania. Too many Green supporters complain that the press does not pay their party proper respect, as if the Green Party’s failure to coalesce as an electoral force is part of a media conspiracy rather than the fact that they have not done the hard work of actually going out and finding distinct electoral groups and earning their support. And no, “people who are dissatisfied with the current political landscape” doesn’t count as such a group, because most of those people don’t vote.)
And so, finally, we come to the Liberals. We do so entirely reluctantly, but without any other viable choice.
There is a very real case to be made that the Liberals should be turfed out of office. They are complacent, they are very probably at least a little crooked, and they are—ahem—”electorally pragmatic,” to say the least. Their mismanagement of various aspects of the province’s finances (Ornge, eHealth, MaRS, the gas plant shutdowns—you know the list as well as we do) would in any election where there was a reasonable alternative rightly doom them to electoral abandon. Kathleen Wynne cannot simply handwave all of this away by saying “Dalton McGuinty” and gesturing at voters frantically to look away from the various messes her party has created. The Liberals own all of the aforementioned scandals and more besides, such as attempting to strip teachers of their collective bargaining rights with Bill 115, or the utter fiasco that has been the Liberals’ meddling with and flip-flopping on Toronto transit policy.
We knew practically all of this in 2011 and we didn’t call for them to be turfed then, because what the Liberals offered then, and offer now, is a predictable status quo. Which is to say: a mix of mildly progressive policy—and the occasional boldly progressive one, as with the pension plan proposal, which addresses senior poverty in this province in a dramatic way—a certain level of fiscal management failure, and naked, unapologetic vote pandering. The Liberals are the devil we know, and in the absence of any evidence that the Progressive Conservatives or NDP will be superior fiscal stewards, or any less cynical in their electoral calculations, that is the devil with whom we should stick.
The events of the past few years and the recent campaign have confirmed this: all three parties were in favour of shutting down the gas plants. All three parties fell over themselves to promise Scarborough a subway in the recent by-election in Scarborough-Guildwood—even though all expert opinion was opposed to said subway—because they wanted votes and they did not care about anything else. The only difference between the Liberal party and their challengers in this regard was that the Liberals were in charge at the time. As for fiscal stewardship, no party that has made the mathematically bankrupt promises that the Tories and the NDP have made should be taken seriously. (The Liberals, to sort-of-their-credit, at least admit that their fiscal plan will require a relatively robust level of economic growth to work.)
And there is one very strong point in favour of the Liberals, which is Kathleen Wynne’s promise to allow municipalities to implement ranked balloting for municipal elections. (The NDP is promising this as well; their promise is limited to Toronto and came several days after the Liberal announcement.) Ranked ballot voting provides a more democratic and fair voting system that would allow us to endorse smaller parties and lesser-known candidates without having to grimace at electoral realities: it allows you to vote less strategically and more idealistically at the same time. That’s what we should all want, and ranked ballot voting for municipalities is the first step towards normalizing this behaviour to the point where we can hopefully, down the road, extend it to provincial voting as well. (Not for nothing has Tim Hudak, leader of a party whose only chance at power in this province is convincing an engaged minority to turn out in the right ridings, refused to support ranked ballots.)
We cannot stress the importance of ranked-ballot voting enough. First-past-the-post voting is what has caused our now-endless string of minority governments; it forces us all to vote strategically every single time because in first-past-the-post in Canada, you must always vote against the worst evil rather than for the best candidate. First-past-the-post voting allows parties to chase the lowest common denominator endlessly and with not even a pretence of shame; it makes our politics base and inter-party co-operation (which every voter says they want more of) less likely. It, more than any other one thing, is responsible for driving people away from politics. It needs to end. Ranked-ballot voting, in comparison, offers a superior (if not perfect) system that allows voters to express positive opinions through their vote. It is simple, and it also still allows people to feel connected to their own local candidate—which is important for reminding people that ultimately, our representatives are just us, writ large.
So this is our endorsement: hold your nose (you will probably have to) and vote Liberal. As long as the Conservatives and NDP refuse to present honest, fair, plausible electoral platforms and campaigns, and instead rely on flimflam and pandering, we cannot endorse a change of administration, because they provide us absolutely no confidence that they can be better than what we already have, and make a strong case that they will be worse.
We might deserve better than that, but until the opposition parties are taught to be better, they never will be.