Paul's Internet Landfill/ 2011/ Provincial Election Post-Blather: Wrong About Everything?

Provincial Election Post-Blather: Wrong About Everything?

So I guess I should eat crow now.

How did the Conservatives lose?

I am still astonished that the Progressive Conservatives did not cruise to an easy victory. I am even more astonished that the Liberals won a third term. In my pre-blather I said that this was Hudak's election to lose, and I mostly stand by that. I think Ontarians still hate the HST, but neither the PCs nor the NDP was willing to scrap that tax (thankfully?). Meanwhile McGuinty and the Liberals came out swinging. They defended the HST and the Green Energy Act hard, and I suspect they succeeded in getting their message across.

Minority governments

I would never have expected a minority government. As a (former?) advocate for proportional representation, I guess I should applaud this result, but I don't. A minority government gives the ruling coalition a convenient excuse to jettison election promises willy-nilly (thankfully?). It means there is a good chance that we will go to the polls again in two years.

Politically, this result leaves Ontario in limbo. I have little sense in how things will turn out. If I was the Liberals I would be recruiting hard with the NDP and PCs to see whether I could get an MPP to cross the floor. Being only one seat short of a majority puts the Liberals in an awkward position.

If the parliament stays as a minority government, what will happen to the Green Energy Act? To the LHINs?

I guess you can blame me for predicting a Conservative majority. But this election was ridiculously close -- only 2% separated the PCs and Liberals in the popular vote. Once again, though, the insanity of first-past-the-post expressed itself: a 2% difference gave the Liberals 53 seats and the PCs 37 -- a 16 seat split This election could have gone the other way, even if the proportions of the popular vote stayed the same.

Budget Shenanigans

Here's something I did not know about until late in the election (when I heard it on Steve Paikin's show The Agenda: The Ontario government passed a law (The Fiscal Transparency and Accountability Act of 2004) that forces the Auditor-General to forecast Ontario's economic outlook six months before a provincial election. This is supposed to help prevent the situation where there is a new government that looks at the books, loudly proclaims that the previous government left the finances in a mess, and then gives up on its election promises. I do not know whether this initiative will be successful in practice; I suspect that ruling governments will try to game it. Nonetheless it is pretty impressive.

Fed Up or Apathetic?

This election set a new low in voter turnout: 49.2% Big surprise.

Honestly this seemed like a terribly quiet election campaign. There were few election signs out. Unlike the federal election (or even the municipal election/LRT debate before that), few of the people I know seemed to care about this election. Maybe we are all tired of elections. I know I am.

On the other hand, this was an important election. In my mind provincial politics matters more than federal politics, because the province passes a lot more legislation that directly affects me.

There were a lot of important issues this election:

but none of them caught the public's attention.

Lies, Lies, Lies

As you might have guessed, I listened to a lot of The Agenda podcasts this election season. There were several shows which featured former politicians, including one memorable one which featured four former Ontario premiers: David Peterson, Bob Rae, Mike Harris, and Ernie Eves.

I was shocked by how human Mike Harris came across. He and Eves claimed that they actively worried about the effects their deep cuts would have.

I was also shocked at how cordial these four premiers were about each other. Rae and Peterson talked about how they consulted with Bill Davis. Bob Rae and Mike Harris consulted about federal issues, and it sounded like they worked at the same law firm (Goodmans?) after they had gotten out of politics.

The premiers talked about the challenges of running the province. They seemed remarkably non-partisan about their experiences. In fact, Harris expressed regret about having to go on the campaign trail and poke holes in the platforms of his opponents.

And yet... whenever I attend an all-candidates meeting or listen to a roundtable with active politicians, I expect nothing but lies. There is no point in asking candidates direct questions -- they will deflect the questions. There is no point in trying to force politicians to make promises. There is no point in getting candidates to say anything meaningfully good about their opponents (during the Record all-candidates debate for Kitchener-Waterloo, somebody tried the "Say something positive about an opponent" trick, and everybody chose to say something positive about unelectable independent Peter Davis).

This behaviour is two-faced. It is to the point where you can't expect a politician on the campaign trail to speak honestly about anything. They are allowed to parrot talking points from Central Office, and that's it.

They do this because saying anything substantive could blow up in the press and cost them votes (we saw this with Dave MacDonald's campaign in Kitchener Centre). But it is bad for democracy overall.

Local Candidates

I went to an early all-candidates meeting for Kitchener-Waterloo. After that I decided not to bother with any others; I found the candidates disappointing.

Once again I found Elizabeth Witmer a conundrum. On the one hand, she has the guts to attend all-candidates meetings put on by the Social Planning Council and other left-wing groups. She certainly is slick and experienced, and she comes across as being a caring person. In fact, I am endlessly astonished that she is a Progressive Conservative at all -- she keeps talking about education and child care and maternal benefits and all kinds of other initiatives embraced by the left. The only PC talking points she seems to believe in is the problem of government debt, and her desire to get people out of poverty by giving them jobs as opposed to social services.

Here's the thing that bothers me about Witmer: she was education minister. She was health minister. She stood around and let her party dismantle health and education. I am sure that she would argue that the cuts and the fake crises in education came before her watch, and that the Liberals have had eight years to inflict damage in Ontario. I don't buy it. She's a classic example of campaigning from the left and governing from the right.

None of the other candidates for Kitchener-Waterloo struck me as being serious threats to Witmer. In particular I am disappointed by JD McGuire, the Green Party candidate. This is the third election in which he has run, and he still answers a majority of questions in all-candidates meetings with "I don't know, but I will talk to people". He has run for office three times. Has he not talked to people yet?

In Kitchener Centre I feel that Liberal John Milloy ran a strong campaign. He was sharp and forceful in his campaigning. Local weatherman Dave MacDonald almost took the riding. I wonder the degree to which some comments questioning the dogma of climate change hurt him -- he only lost by 300 votes or so.

Overall I felt the candidates in Kitchener Centre were stronger than those in Kitchener-Waterloo.

Goodbye Greens

The Greens did terribly in this election. They got something like 2.9% of the vote. In listening to The Agenda podcasts, I was comforted that the Greens were taken seriously enough to appear as guests on many of Steve Paikin's election roundtables. Those heady days are over.

Of course, this hurts my argument that there is no rational reason to vote for a candidate that cannot win. I guess it also hurts my reasons for declining ballots. Maybe if the Greens kept their share of the vote high people would have continued to take them seriously. Once again, one of my core beliefs is wrong. Surprise, surprise.

Corporate Bribery

One thing I realized in this election is the degree to which we cannot expect corporations to stay in Ontario unless we grease their palms with money. The Samsung electricity deal is the most blatant example of this, but there are others. We bailed out the car companies, and now Ontario remains strong in automobile manufacturing.

Something feels yucky about this practice, but I can't articulate exactly what is wrong. Companies will locate their manufacturing wherever they get the best deal, and without these gross incentives I guess Ontario would be left out. In a free market there should be no jobs in Ontario, I guess.

There was a lot of talk of reducing corporate tax rates in this election. It's disillusioning to think that this is all about bribery.

Declining the Ballot

I admit it. I did not decline my ballot this year. Instead I tried to stop Elizabeth Witmer from winning her seat by voting for the Liberals. I was haunted by the failure of the federal 2008 election -- the Liberals under Stephane Dion were running a pretty good environmental platform. Instead of voting Green we should all have voted Liberal instead. But I voted Green, and now environmentalism is off the agenda because the federal Liberals got trounced.

In a similar way, the provincial Liberals have tried some bold environmental policies. I am not sure those environmental policies are sound, but under a PC government they would have all been thrown away and replaced with nothing. I don't like the Liberals that much, and I don't like being a mainstream sellout, but I did not want the Liberals losing by 17 votes again. At the end of the day, First-past-the-post won again.

Am I a hypocrite? Sort of. I still suspect that it is better to decline one's ballot than to vote for the Greens or NDP or another party that has no hope of getting a seat (with the caveat I noted above). I knew that Witmer was likely to sweep the riding easily. Although I am sure that Eric Davis is a good and competent person, I did not like him as a candidate, and I did not see much evidence that he was campaigning hard.

Wow. I can't defend my choice at all, can I? My original statement was that the only sensible choices in a FPTP electoral system are the candidates who are most likely to take the riding, and that I hoped there would be enough Liberal support to somehow sweep Witmer out of power. But despite all this, I am not sure I feel as horrible for voting Liberal as I did voting Green in 2008.

My talking point is that people who have something to vote for should cast their vote that way, and everybody else should protest by declining their ballots. I hope I did not contradict that view too much with my voting choice.

Now what?

I have no idea. Personally, I think I am in a lot of trouble. Maybe this is the best outcome I could have hoped for, but life is going to get hard over the next few months.