Saturday, October 8, 2011

Election Reflections

Well there you have it, Ontario. The election is over and the results are in. A minority Liberal government has been tasked with navigating the province through what promises to be tumultuous times.

Having followed the campaign for the past several weeks, I wanted to share with you my take on the results and what it all could mean. Ready?

1. The Liberals (part 1)

For most of this year, the Liberals were expected to lose. More to the point, they were there for the taking. Ontario voters appeared to express a desire for change and the government looked tired. And yet, they survived - albeit with a minority.

A lot has been written over the past week about how the PC's dropped the ball and squandered their chance (see below for more on the Hudak campaingn). However, to focus solely on that aspect takes away from what must be seen as a very well-run Liberal campaign.

- they presented a vision
- they stayed on message
- they did not shy away from their record
- they recognized that voters had begun to move away from the change story and towards one of stability

Taken together, this approach gave voters a clear sense as to what to expect from the government. They provided clarity at a time when so much around us in constant flux. Yes, they lost seats and were moved into a minority position, but I bet if you asked any Liberal in June whether they would be happy with such a result, they would have said yes.

2. The Liberals (part 2)

After the champagne and victory speeches, some Liberals will be looking at these results and wondering if history is repeating itself. For all of the talk about preventing the conservative hat-trick, the Liberals should be a little worried about the map and where they see their support coming from.

Like their federal cousins, the Ontario Liberals are becoming an urban party dependant on the big cities for electoral success. They are in danger of slowly getting hemmed in, ceding more and more of the province to their rivals. All it takes is a scandal, a stuttering economy or some other event to tilt things against them. Watch this space.

3. The Progressive Conservatives

On any other day, someone who in their first campaign as leader increased his party's seat total and limited his principal opponent to a minority would be celebrated. Not so for Mr. Hudak.

The PC party ran a bad campaign, there is no way around it.

- they took themselves off message by making the first week about "foreign workers", a position which likely affected them in the 416 and 905 areas of the province
- they defined the election as a referendum on McGuinty, and did not spend equal time articulating what a PC government would look like
- they failed to appreciate how the dialogue on the global economy was affecting the voter

Of these three points, I believe the "we're not McGuinty" strategy was the most ill-advised. In employing it, they incorrectly assumed that simply by biding their time they could form the government; that they did not need to offer a vision.

Raise your hand if you can name three things a Hudak government would do. Exactly.

4. The NDP

The NDP increased their seat count and used the campaign to generate more exposure and awareness about their leader, Andrea Horwath. So far so good. And now they hold the balance of power, though with only one seat separating the Liberals from an outright majority the NDP position is not as consequential as say Jack Layton's when Paul Martin was PM.

That said, it will be interesting to see how the NDP plays their cards; where they decide to push and seek concessions in exchange for support. How they react to deficit reduction, environment policy, transportation policy will be interesting to watch.

5. The Voter

The low turnout was more than disappointing. It was wretched. Any reader of this blog will know that engagement by the voter is of tremendous importance to me. With so much happening in Ontario, Canada and around the world, one would hope that voters would see fit to take more interest.

Sadly, they did not.

Election fatigue likely played some part. However, seeing our Canadian complacency once again rear its ugly head reminded us of the need to consider how best to wake the Canadian voter and tune them into the issues such that they are prepared to get engaged.

6. The Harper Government

The federal Tories had far too much skin in the game in this campaign. They were visible, audible and clear about the result they wanted. And in the end they did not get it.

A federal government should never be so vocal and involved in a provincial campaign. It will be interesting to see how their not-too subtle cheering will affect relations between the Toronto and Ottawa.

The thing is, it was amateurish. They have to work with whoever wins, so why be so blatant as to your preference? It is persistent curiosity of mine; how can a party that is clearly very strategic and focused in so many areas remain so susceptible to such base partisanship? It's like they can't help themselves.

I half-joked on election night that a Liberal minority with the NDP holding the balance would resurrect the Tory "socialist" lines. Here's hoping I am wrong.


In August I wrote a piece on the upcoming provincial elections and the role the provinces would need to start playing as the de facto official opposition. That time starts now.

Ontario has stayed Liberal, as has PEI. Manitoba has stayed NDP and Newfoundland & Labrador will stay PC. The pieces on the board are getting in place so that everyone knows who they need to work with.

As the political landscape starts to settle, it is time for everyone to turn their attention towards governing; towards addressing the multitude of things on our public policy plate. There is a lot at stake and it goes beyond politics. I hope everyone is up for it.

1 comment:

  1. Congrats Ontario! (with the exception of the low voter turn out)

    To expand on NL, because the rock rocks and it's my home....

    Dunderdale will win the election, most likely with an NDP opposition. Personally, I believe if she wants to stop bleeding support to the opposition parties, Dunderdale will have to be seen as distancing herself from Harper, which in turn means it's another voice to the Harper unofficial opposition.


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