It’s election season once again in Ontario, and Richard Anderson looks at the current state of play:
I know most of you can’t stand Ontario politics.
Especially those of us who live here…
It’s insular, petty and involves a cast of characters you wouldn’t want to meet wandering down a dark alley. Still it’s the largest province in Confederation so attention must be paid, however grudgingly.
The last decade of provincial politics has revolved around the astonishing acrobatics of the McGuinty-Wynne Liberals. They have lied, overspent and borrowed to an extent without precedent in English speaking Canada. Those of us who remember the Bob Rae years had assumed that they had seen the worst. Apparently it wasn’t. After a brief house cleaning under Harris-Eves we were returned to spendthrift form. The provincial debt has doubled in ten years. Nothing else in Ontario has grown anywhere near as fast.
A political party that was this incompetent, this obviously corrupt, would you think be headed for certain defeat at the polls. Transforming the engine of the Canadian economy into its busted leg took some doing. A treasure trove of natural resources, close proximity to the largest American markets and a highly skilled workforce. Ontario has, what seemed until recently, to be nearly indestructible advantages. A pack of Gibbonese monkeys could be running the show at Queen’s Park and the economy, somehow, would still keep moving along.
But no one saw Dalton McGuinty coming. How could they? With the personality of a mediocre non-entity and the political cunning of a dishonest child, he won two majority governments and narrowly missed a third. How has been something of a mystery. The Dalt had certain inborn advantages. His sheer nebbishness made him seem unthreatening. Yet here we stand at the bottom of a deep hole he himself dug. There were, of course, his weak and bungling rivals. Ernie Eves looked and sounded like an unenthusiatic version of Gordon Gekko. John Tory’s ability to self-destruct is near legend. Tim Hudak isn’t a real boy at all.
Yet the greatest advantage that Dalton McGuinty had, and which Kathleen Wynne retains, is the electorate. There is no greater advantage to a scheming and incompetent politician than a disengaged and misinformed electorate. That describes the voters of Ontario almost perfectly. This might seem a tad puzzling to some. Generations of Canadian voters have been been able to hold their governments to rough account. Semi-literate frontier farmers were able to follow the twists and turns of the Pacific Scandal and send John A, temporarily, packing. Today the ordinary voter sees greater crimes and follies with nary a batted eye.