Well, that happened. As Elizabeth said to me when I got up this morning, at least it means we see the back of Tim Hudak. Aside from that, not a lot of encouraging news from the polls. We have set our acceptable political standards to a much lower notch, and we clearly don’t think it’s a bad thing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on party purposes. Noted.
Premier Kathleen Wynne didn’t win the election so much as Horwath and Hudak lost it. Horwath was cut off at the knees by her own party (and organized labour), while Hudak tried on a set of fiscal conservative policies for size … and they didn’t fit at all. Things must have been more desperate inside the Liberal war room earlier in the campaign, if they felt they had to get the Ontario Provincial Police and the media unions to both declare for Wynn (if any two organizations should stay out of politics, they’d be the ones). And yet, once the votes were counted, they clearly didn’t need to force those two organizations out of their traditional neutral stances after all.
And, to top off the sudden acceptance of a much lower standard of political conduct by the provincial government, we get to watch (and suffer financially) as the province introduces a mandatory pension scheme on the false basis that Ontarians aren’t saving enough of their own money for retirement. That’s going to be fun. I wonder what the job market is like in Alberta…
Paul Wells offers his take on the election:
Kathleen Wynne’s victory is historic, it is almost all hers, and its meaning is a little opaque, because there is a tension between her platform and her record that will be resolved only by her actions, now that she has the length of a majority mandate to show Ontarians what kind of premier she wants to be.
Historic: She is Ontario’s first elected woman premier. Almost all hers: People who make a living proclaiming their knowledge of strategy said she was crazy to put herself at the centre of her party’s messaging and communication to the extent she did. She voiced her own attack ads. To voters upset about the mess McGuinty left behind, she offered her person as sufficient guarantee that the past would stay past. It’s what Paul Martin attempted in 2002-2006, but Wynne offered none of Martin’s creepy intramural fratricide and never benefited from the fast-burning personal popularity that seemed, at first, to be Martin’s greatest asset until he ran out of it. The funny thing about a cult of personality is, sometimes it works better if you don’t have quite as much personality. Rule One in Bill Davis’s Ontario is, don’t get on people’s nerves.
But there are a lot of Conservatives in Ontario who have forgotten the province was ever Bill Davis’s. There are a lot of people who accreted around Mike Harris in 1990 like barnacles — the Little Shits, Frank magazine used to call them — and they’ve never really grown up. They were at Trinity College or Upper Canada College or Hillfield Strathallan or some other dreary Anglo-Saxon dumping ground in the early ’80s when Ronald Reagan came on TV and fired the air traffic controllers, and they’ve spent the rest of their lives looking for an excuse to play Ayn Rand Home Edition. It even worked in 1995, when Mike Harris came back from his 1990 drubbing and years of the worst recession, combined with the worst government, Ontario had seen in ages. Harris’s “Common Sense Revolution” worked because by 1995, thanks to Bob Rae, common sense seemed revolutionary.
But back to Wynne. She ran on activist government, and celebrated victory by congratulating those who want to “build up Ontario.” But Ontario can’t afford the Ontario it’s got. Wynne’s own platform quietly acknowledges this. Hard public-sector wage freezes and a new program-review exercise won’t feel much like building up. If she abandons them for more spending, she simply postpones harder choices. She has proven herself a redoubtable politician; now she had better be a very good premier, because she’s put herself in a fix to get the mandate she just won.
But that’s a high-class problem, one she would not trade for the simpler life Hudak can now look forward to. (A word on the NDP’s Andrea Horwath: she is in trouble with some New Democrats for forcing this election and losing the bargaining power she had in a minority-government legislature. But the balance of power is not a comfortable place to be after a while, and Horwath was well into the zone where, every time she propped Wynne up, voters would wonder why. The NDP should cut her some slack.)