It is anyone’s guess what will happen in the Ontario election on June 12th. For the first time in a long while, Ontario voters have a stark choice. Premier Kathleen Wynne for the Liberals brought down a budget full of goodies that the NDP would be expected to support: creating jobs through spending on infrastructure and public transit, initiating a new Ontario Pension Plan, raising the wages of support workers, pushing for northern development in the Ring of Fire, raising the taxes of highest income earners. Andrea Horwath, leader of the ND., announced that, as the Liberals have a track record of not fulfilling their promises and couldn’t be trusted, the NDP couldn’t support them. What the NDP actually supports is not clear. Horwath’s pulling the plug on such an NDP-friendly budget, however, split the labour movement: some leaders applauded her position while others were appalled. In the circumstances, Premier Wynne went to the Lieutenant-Governor who dissolved the Legislature. Tim Hudak, the Tory leader who has champed at the bit for another election since he lost the last one, has come out with a hard right platform. He’s going to create one million new jobs, by laying off 100,000 public servants, cutting corporate taxes to the lowest level on the continent, cancelling all the planned light rapid transit construction in Toronto and the GTA, and amalgamating the TTC and GO Transit. Oh, yes, and he is going to balance the budget within two years and prohibit deficit spending in perpetuity.
I am not a political commentator with any expert opinion on Ontario politics. This is, however, a very important election. The NDP has opted out of its traditional role as the conscience of the opposition, using its leverage to win concessions from the government. Horwath seems to think that hewing to the centre will enable her to form a government. The Liberals are hoping the NDP vote will split and that, despite a general desire to “punish” the Liberals, the electorate will vote Liberal and not risk a return to the ideological right-wing Tories of the Mike Harris variety. The Tories have decided that their hard right agenda may give them a mandate for a conservative revolution and, if they lose, at least they will have tried.
As the Toronto Star noted last Friday, the main issue in the campaign is “a great debate…. What’s the best way to get business to invest in the province? Tax cuts or government incentives?” The Liberals are opting for deficit financing and an expansionist policy. The Tories intend to cut hard, reduce the deficit more quickly, and rely on the private sector to pick up the slack. Neither extreme may be ideal, and neither party may be what we want. The electorate, however, must make a choice.
Polls have a mixed response and a mixed reputation. But sometimes following the polls is an interesting way to see trends leading up to the election. A friend referred us to the poll aggregator, threehundredandeight.com, which is featuring detailed analysis of provincial polls in this Ontario election. The site looks at all the major polls as they come out, and has a model offering projections for all the parties, providing both a range of projected popular vote and a range of projected seat victories. There is a difference. As ours is a “first past the post” system in which the party winning most seats has the chance to form the government, seat victories do not necessarily reflect the popular vote. It depends on where partisans are concentrated, how many actually come out to vote, and how the vote splits between the parties within each riding. The threehundredandeight.com breakdown is global and by region showing the GTA/416, GTA/905, Central Ontario, Eastern Ontario, Southwestern Ontario and Northern Ontario. Apart from the figures, the commentary which attempts to identify the trends is intelligent and informative. Who knows if the polls are correct? Or if some are better than others? Knowing the polls and reading the commentary, however, is not a bad way to keep ourselves informed about where this election is going. Then, of course, we must vote.