Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Election Eve

There is a provincial election tomorrow--if you live here, no matter how much effort you put into being politically blind, you'll know it. Lawn signs are everywhere; TV ads are everywhere; disdain and distrust is everywhere as well, at an all-time high as far as I can tell.
If you believe the polls, this election is too close to call. Then again, I've found that all but the most marked routs are "too close to call" in the week before the election...I think the media has a vested interest in saying this, for the dramatics that are in it. Landslides are boring.
Regardless, we're told this is a two-horse race between the Progressive Conservatives, led by Tim Hudak, and the Liberals led by Kathleen Wynne. Andrea Horwath's New Democrats are polling a distant third and the Green Party is barely on the radar outside Guelph, probably the most environmentally conscious city in the province, where it's running second behind the Liberals.

The None of the Above Party is also on the ballot, at least in eight ridings. More broadly, there is a movement afoot to decline your ballot on the grounds that the three choices on offer are not acceptable.

Longtime readers will know I have a problem with that philosophy. My firm belief is that if you can't find a party and leader you're willing to vote for--given the marked differences between the four major parties--you're either looking for someone whose values perfectly align with your own, in which case you should be running yourself...or you just don't know what you want. Unless you are utterly clueless and vote because you like the pretty blue or red signs--stay home, if that's true--I urge you to vote.

That's not to say that either Hudak, Wynne, or Horwath has been particularly inspiring, or indeed even all that engaging. The single televised debate did not produce a single quote geared towards changing anyone's mind; it seems that SOP these days is to preach to your respective choir, and that's one of the saddest things about politics in general. Another is that, notwithstanding what I said earlier about people being perhaps a little too picky, it's true that often you have to hold your nose and vote for the least worst candidate--if you want your vote to mean anything, that is.

In as non-partisan a fashion as I can make it, here's the situation in Ontario. We've had a Liberal government in power here since 2003, and again without being partisan at all, it shows. Old governments grow stale and are often beset by scandal. The most notable incidents of wrongdoing centre around gas plants, the  mismanagement of an electronic health record program and the province's air ambulances. Ontario has also faced the loss of hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs during the Liberals' tenure. Thanks largely to some of the highest electricity prices in North America (which have tripled under McGuinty and Wynne), companies are deserting the province in droves.  The unemployment rate is 7.4% and edging higher. And our provincial debt is, by some measures, worse than that in Greece.

This would normally be a prescription for a change in government, more than likely to the PC party. Ontario was solidly PC for most of my childhood--Bill Davis, the longtime (1971-1985) Premier, was a legendary conciliator who was almost universally respected even by people on the opposite side of the aisle, and since when does that happen anymore? Then we began flipping back and forth between Liberal and PC with one brief NDP excursion in the early nineties. (I'll never forget the Toronto SUN's headline the day after Bob Rae was elected Premier: "WELCOME TO HELL".)  In hindsight it wasn't much worse than your average global recession, although there are people today who blame Rae for all manner of ill, just as there are people who blame his successor, Mike Harris, with ruining the province when he turned it hard right.  The truth (as I see it) is that we are where we are because of many factors, some of them within political control and some well outside it.

Ar any rate, conventional wisdom says Tim Hudak should be the next Premier. Except he has run a campaign that has alienated at least as many voters as it has attracted. He pledged to cut 100,000 civil service jobs, and it wasn't until much later in the game that he clarified the cuts would be by attrition and not in the form of mass layoffs of teachers and nurses and such. He also infamously pledged to create a million jobs over eight years. Four issues here:

One, eight years is two terms, which I find just a tad arrogant: we're campaigning for one here, Tim.

Two, he meant person-years of employment, not actual jobs

Three, the definition of a "job" is no longer what you may think it is, as I recently mentioned: part time minimum wage jobs with no pensions or benefits are better than nothing, I suppose, but not by a whole hell of a lot.

And four, Conservative governments, particularly the sort of Conservative government Tim Hudak represents, have historically held very strong opinions on government creation of jobs. It seems more than a little odd to hear Hudak touting a job creation plan that on the surface at least (definitely not in the details) could have come from the NDP.

Kathleen Wynne, under attack from both sides, has held her own, again if the polls are to be believed. Her radio spots convey (to this voter, at least) just the right blend of authority and compassion and the budget that precipitated this election was the most progressive this province has seen in decades. But there's the matter of all those scandals. While Wynne is not Dalton McGuinty--if Dalton were still around, I believe the Liberals would be routed tomorrow--it's not as if she came out of nowhere. Sources differ, of course, on how much Wynne knew or did; there are a couple of matters under investigation, which in itself puts a cloud over Kathleen's campaign.

And Andrea Horwath? She forced this election by not supporting the Liberal budget (because, she said, she didn't believe Wynne would keep her promises)...and yet her party was flat out of the gate, and has been outspent by the other two. (Money isn't quite the factor in Ontario elections that it is in America, but it is a factor. The Conservatives have scads of it and the Liberals aren't far behind, while the NDP, the party of the little guy, is little-guy poor.)

The Green Party, which has never held a seat in Ontario, has been a non-factor in this campaign, to the endless chagrin of a friend of mine. Truth be told, the chicken-and-egg problem they face annoys me as well. They are never included in the televised debates on the grounds that they don't have a seat; they'll never get a seat unless and until they are included in the televised debates. They have many policies I support, including defunding the Catholic school system (which, done properly, could secure all manner of savings in education). Just one appearance would win the Greens at least a few seats, I am convinced. But alas, not this time.

There are three very different visions of this province at stake tomorrow. Which one is closest to yours?  Whatever it may be, get out there and vote. It doesn't take long, it's painless and while far from perfect, it's what we citizens have.

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