Ontario: That wasn't so bad

Paul Wells explains why the Ontario election has been one of the best political campaigns he's seen in a while

I think the Ontario provincial election campaign that will conclude with today’s vote has been one of the best political campaigns I’ve seen in a while. That assertion will upset some readers. It’s fashionable to accuse each election of sinking to new lows. This usually requires a willingness to ignore fairly recent history.

In the present case, articulate party leaders provided reasonably detailed visions of contrasting paths out of Ontario’s current straitened circumstances. They were mostly civil to one another, although no leader of a major party chose to live on the fantasy planet where criticism of opponents is forbidden. Occasional crap like this door hanger depicting Tim Hudak as a happy murderer was the exception.

If Ontarians have paid any attention to this campaign, they have a reasonably clear understanding of the differences in attitude toward the proper role of government represented by Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals and Tim Hudak’s Conservatives. They understand they have an uninspiring but reasonable alternative in Andrea Horwath’s NDP. That’s a pretty good outcome. A few further thoughts:

• If the Liberals don’t win, I hope they won’t put the back of a wrist to their collective forehead and swoon at the cruelty of heartless Ontarians. The Liberals have given Ontarians a hell of a lot of reasons to kick them out. Matt Gurney makes the case for the prosecution as succinctly as it can be made.

• If the Liberals do win, it is a very personal victory for Kathleen Wynne, who has been at the centre of her party’s message and image. She has played this role very differently from the way Paul Martin played his in federal politics after 2002, and since many of the same advisors worked on both campaigns, the differences will be worth examining.

• Hudak’s appalling cock-up on his million-jobs claim does not appear, in itself, to have been fatal to the Conservatives’ chances. On his second campaign, Hudak stayed in the game to the end. But Conservative campaign staffers should take note, internally, of whoever concocted and cleared the part of the platform dealing with the Conference Board job projections. That person or those people should be spared the trouble of working on future political campaigns.

• Hudak represents the frustration of a lot of conservatives — disproportionately Ontario-based conservatives who got their first exposure to politics in the Reagan-Thatcher ’80s — who feel, even today, that Stephen Harper is all hat and no cattle. Where are the bold moves? they sometimes ask. Where is the aggressive pruning of the state? When can conservatives feel conservative again? To scratch that itch, Hudak has had to make promises, such as the vow to cut civil-service employment rapidly, that will make it hard for him to hold on to power as long as Harper has federally.

• The polling industry didn’t look great in all this. Neither did mine, thanks to a Hudak un-endorsement by the executive of a newspaper employees’ union (I’m a member) whose authors did not bother to check with members. Vote as you like. You were going to, anyway.


Ontario’s creaking workforce is likely to upset everyone’s plans, no matter who wins

Paul Boothe: What a real fiscally conservative plan for Ontario would look like