For an election that was about as little as an election can possibly be about, last nights results brought more change to Ontario than many anticipated. And despite the set election dates we have in Ontario, Ontarians should not expect to wait until 2015 before casting their next provincial ballot.
But they can be forgiven for hoping for a brief respite from the election madness that many in the province have seen in the past year, with no fewer than three elections for those of us in Toronto.
Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals were returned with 53 seats, a mere one seat shy of his third consecutive Liberal majority. As it stands, he does join illustrious company in Ontario political history in becoming the first Liberal Premier to form his third straight government. But this will likely be cold comfort for McGuinty, whose Liberal party took a shellacking in losing 19 seats to the opposition, and losing their majority in the process.
Some wonder when the discussion will begin to locate McGuinty’s replacement – not because of the showing on Thursday, necessarily, but because after 8 years of governing, the Liberals would be wise to begin considering who best to succeed the Premier. For what it’s worth, I would throw my support behind Don Valley West MPP and former Education Minister Kathleen Wynne. She would make a phenomenal replacement for McGuinty when the time comes.
Tim Hudak, in his first election campaign as PC leader, was able to improve his parties fortunes considerably. He gained 12 seats across the province, all of them taken from the Liberals. While he fell short of his intention of becoming the next premier, it was a strong showing for a leader that many felt had squandered a sure thing victory over the summer and fall by political missteps and robotic public interactions.
Yet in order to Hudak to ever become Premier, his party must find a way to break into the 416 area of Toronto. Hudak was completely shut out of Toronto, unlike his federal counterparts who made important inroads in the 416 in the May federal election. (A fellow blogger writing at Far and Wide noted on Twitter last night that, in the final indignity for Michael Ignatieff, his former riding in Etobicoke went solidly Liberal.) And while some question whether Toronto mayor Rob Ford cost Hudak the 416, this doesn’t seem likely, since he opted not to endorse anyone. And for the foreseeable future, any questions surrounding his future as leader of the Progressive Conservatives should cease.
Andrea Horwath also made important gains for the Ontario New Democrats, although not likely as significant as many would have hoped. The NDP increased their seat count from 10 to 17, taking the remainder of the seats from the Liberals not claimed by the Tories. Also in her first general election campaign as a party leader, Horwath made strides towards improving NDP fortunes in non-traditional areas, and was successful in London-Fanshawe and Bramalea-Gore-Malton, just west of Toronto.
But despite the effort, and close races in Oshawa, Thunder Bay-Atikokan, and Thunder Bay-Superior North, the party was only able to gain seats in areas more traditionally NDP, such as Hamilton and downtown Toronto.
But all candidates ran a rather dispirited campaign. Talking points included HST for gasoline; the cost of home heating bills; the success of McGuinty’s Green Economy; the merits of incentivizing the hiring of new Canadians; and the potential of protectionist “Buy Ontario” policies. No party put forward a vision of Ontario that voters found all to appealing, and all the seat count determined is that more people were content, by and large, with the status quo than they were with what the opposition could muster as an alternative.
The Tories will likely see this as a referendum on Dalton McGuinty: and if that is the case, Hudak’s remark in his concession speech that the people of Ontario have put McGuinty “on a much shorter leash” would be accurate.The clear message is that while a majority of Ontarians do not trust Tim Hudak to be their premier, they are clearly displeased with how the Liberals have been running things since 2003.
I questioned last night whether Ontarians were upset enough with McGuinty to take away 18 or more seats and deny him a majority – I simply didn’t think it was possible. But as the poll results came in, the writing was on the wall. Victory for the Liberals, but with the compromise and concession the name of the game.
CBC is reporting that a disappointing 49.2 per cent of Ontarians showed up to vote: this number is up from 41.6 per cent which is what was being reported last night, but is still down from 52.8 per cent recorded in 2007. This makes 2011’s voter turnout the new record low.
While McGuinty now attempts to figure out how to govern a minority legislature for the first time in his political career, the best take away from the results can and should be a renewed interest in exploring proportional representation, or some other form of equitable vote distribution. And the biggest champion for this should be Tim Hudak.
Why? Just look at the numbers: 37.6 per cent for the Liberals translated into 53 seats. But for Hudak, an impressive 35.4 per cent generated only 37 seats. A 2.2 per cent differential equals a 16-seat gap? Only in a severely broken system would this be acceptable. Never mind for a moment that the NDP saw 22.7 per cent of the vote work into only 17 seats, which is just 15 percent of the seats available – and forget for a second that the Green Party garnered 2.9 per cent of the vote without a seat to show for it.
Everyone expects the parties on the left to be for more equitable voting, and rarely are right-wing parties in favour. Why would Stephen Harper, for example, be in favour of something that would dilute his seat count? But we have an amazing opportunity now where the Progressive Conservatives and the NDP should realistically be in agreement about an important political issue such as voting reform. Last night’s results show that both parties were robbed on account of the first-past-the-post system, not to mention the people who felt their vote was thrown away on account of not picking the winner in their riding. The antiquated voting system we use here in Ontario may go some distance towards explaining why so many chose to stay home yesterday and not exercise their right to vote.
This could be the silver lining from a dull campaign that leaves us with minority rule. And while proportional representation itself often leaves one with minority parliaments, at least it would have been equitable. Because a minority government gained under the currently inequitable system with less than 50 per cent voter turnout is a sad thing indeed.