Sunday, December 8, 2019

What makes Ontario voters tick?

#onpoli - a TVO newsletter
Thursday, November 14, 2019

Hello, #onpoli people,

Canadians in other parts of this great country often find Ontarians a bit arrogant. Perhaps our fellow citizens are right that we could do with an extra dose of modesty. But let’s face it: We’re pretty darned important.

At least, we’re important when it comes to securing political power in this country. Ontario has more than a third of the seats in Parliament, which makes it hard to win an election without doing well here. In fact, in nine of the past 10 federal votes, the party that has won the most seats in Ontario has gone on to form the government. (The one exception was 2006, when the Liberals winning the highest number of Ontario seats wasn’t enough to keep Stephen Harper out of the Prime Minister’s Office.)

So as much as it might irk Canadians outside the province, Ontario is a hot topic in political circles following the Oct. 21 election results. It should come as no surprise, then, that #onpoli podcast hosts Steve Paikin and John Michael McGrath have been spending some time this week looking into the message that the province’s voters have sent to the Liberals, Conservatives, New Democrats, and Greens.

Should Conservatives drop their fixation with smaller government?

Taking a look at the disappointing showing of Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives in the province and the Ford government’s retreat on planned spending cuts, John Michael McGrath concludes that the right’s decades-long focus on shrinking government is out of sync with today’s voters:
“The Liberals actually provide a lesson for conservatives here: for most of my adulthood, the party of Jean Chr├ętien and Paul Martin was proud (to the point of obnoxiousness) of their role in ‘slaying the deficit’ and balancing the federal budget. But 2015 was a generation removed from Chr├ętien’s first election win, and Justin Trudeau correctly judged that deficit-fighting wasn’t paying dividends for the Liberals anymore and that voters weren’t quite as terrified of the prospect of deficit spending as they once had been. Objective factors changed — Canada’s fiscal situation went from terrifying to managed — and so the Liberals changed with them, and they won.”
In a follow-up article, John Michael also suggests ways the Conservatives could offer compelling ideas on issues such as child care, housing, and climate change while still staying true to their values.

Why the NDP was such a bust in Ontario in the 2019 election

After winning 40 seats in last year’s provincial election, the NDP had high hopes for Ontario going into the 2019 federal campaign. However, Steve Paikin writes that after the New Democrats managed to hold on to only six of 121 Ontario seats in the October vote, party insiders are trying to figure out what went wrong.

According to NDP sources who talked to Steve, a number of factors came into play. They include an inexperienced leader in Jagmeet Singh; fear of a Conservative government, leading to strategic voting that favoured the Liberals; and perceived double standards around how the “guy with the turban,” as one New Democrat described Singh, was asked to respond to Quebec’s controversial religious symbols ban while other leaders “got a pass on it.”

The Ontario NDP are trying to figure out what October’s results mean for their chances in the next provincial election, slated for 2022. However the party chooses to react to what happened on the federal scene, Steve writes, one thing seems clear: Current leader Andrea Horwath isn’t going anywhere.
“Horwath has already led her party through three general elections. … She has certainly grown in the job since she won it 10 and a half years ago, appearing more confident and communicating better. Her performances during question period (clips on the nightly news presumably being how most people see her) are calmer, stronger, and less annoyingly sanctimonious than those of other NDP leaders in the past.”
Assuming she stays on, she’ll be only the third Ontario NDP leader to helm her party through four elections.

The next Liberal leader’s daunting task

While the federal Liberals are looking strong in Ontario, winning 79 out of 121 ridings on Oct. 21, the same cannot be said for their once-powerful provincial counterparts. Taking stock of the Ontario political landscape, Steve writes that whoever wins the provincial Liberal leadership next March “will undoubtedly take on the most daunting mission of any leader the party has had since George Brown became its first standard bearer in 1857.”

Steve lists a litany of problems, including a lack of cash, a small membership, and serious challenges in finding people willing to run under the Liberal banner. He also paints a picture of a party that is struggling to mount a decent ground game in much of the province:
“There are 124 ridings in Ontario, and I’ve heard estimates that the Liberals are just plain dead in one-third to one-half of those ridings. That means no riding association president, no treasurer, no money in the bank, no volunteers. The situation is dire.”
For those reasons and more, Steve says he’s almost startled that five people are actually running for the leadership. He wonders if this will ultimately be a contest where the winner winds up envying the losers.

Elizabeth May’s Green party legacy

The outgoing federal Green party leader sat down for an interview with Steve this week on The Agenda. While she didn’t address the party’s performance in Ontario directly, she did go over some factors that hurt Greens across the country, including in this province. Two things she blames for the party not winning as many seats as hoped: our electoral system, and the NDP.
On The Agenda this week, Elizabeth May explained to Steve Paikin why she believes now is the right time to resign as leader of the Green Party of Canada.
That’s all for this week. Stay in touch by writing to us at

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