As an Alberta resident, I could watch yesterday's Ontario election with a certain degree of distance. But as a Canadian, I watched it with concern, knowing that what happens in Canada's largest province impacts the whole country.
Yes, Ontario is just one of ten provinces, and its politics aren't Canada's politics. Still, Ontario is home to many of the nation's economic, cultural, and media influencers, and its 13.6 million residents do represent over 38 percent of the nation.
Yesterday was another important marker in the ever-changing Canadian political patterns. Here are my takeaways:
- Opting for stability: The polls leading into the election were all over the map, making predictions next to impossible. I went into the evening wondering if the under-reported "time for change" themes in many of the polls would end up producing surprising results. They didn't. It is clear that a focus on economic stability and familiarity with incumbent governments (a theme we have also seen lead to results in the B.C., Quebec, and Manitoba elections that some found surprising) is a more powerful motivator for voters.
- Discounting accountability: I thought the spending scandals acknowledged by the Liberals would result in a stronger voter backlash. It didn't happen. The principle of political accountability isn't as strong a value among the Ontario electorate as I thought it to be.
- Structural flaws? The vagaries of our first-past-the-post electoral system once again produced surprising results. The popular vote results that led to the McGuinty minority government in 2011 aren't very different from those that produced a Wynne majority government yesterday. It is easy for advocates of changing our electoral system to cite these results as evidence that we need electoral reform, but that trumpet has been sounded several times in the last decade without meaningful consequence. It is what it is.
- Self-interest: Those analyzing the campaign will undoubtedly blame the PCs and their leader Tim Hudak for their bold campaign promise of cutting 100,000 public service jobs. I noticed on my social media feeds that even apolitical friends who were part of the broader public service openly fretted as to whether a Hudak government meant either their job would be cut or their favourite social service would be gutted. The argument that this was simply downsizing government to the level it was at just a few years ago was never heard.
- Branding wins: Kim Campbell was right—election campaigns are not times in which complex policy matters can be intelligently discussed. Even a smidgen of familiarity with Ontario's fiscal situation would make clear that every party will have to engage in a policy of restraint immediately. Ontario's credit rating is likely to be downgraded very soon. This isn't to excuse the math errors which discredited the PC campaign, but it is to point out that no one's math really added up. In campaigns, that doesn't seem to matter. Effective branding trumps arithmetic.
- The time wasn't wasted: I've been a candidate more than once and a campaign manager even more frequently. There are few things more exhausting and adrenaline-draining than election campaigns. Moreover, the feeling on election night—especially when the results aren't what you were aiming for—can be among the loneliest moments a person can feel. You question yourself and there is some pain in realizing that not everyone who said nice things to your face followed through on their promises behind the ballot screen. So to every candidate and campaign manager from every party, wondering this morning if it was all worth it, do know that it was. Without your contribution and vision, our democratic system would not be possible. Whatever elation or disappointment you might feel regarding the election results, do know that sorting through our differences through ballots rather than turning to other kinds of weapons is a privilege that only a minority of human beings enjoy.