The first question voters tend to ask themselves when an election is called is, “Do I want the current government re-elected?”
Ontarians answered that question on Day One of the campaign, and nothing has transpired over the ensuing 24 days to change their blunt conclusion: “No.”
As polls have consistently shown that more than 80 per cent of Ontarians want a change in government, we at TVO have spent the last few weeks trying to figure out what the next ballot questions should be.
And with the shocking events of this past weekend, I think we know now.
Last Friday morning, Andrea Horwath tried to frame the ballot question thus: Kathleen Wynne isn’t going to be the premier after June 7. It’s going to be Doug Ford or me. You all know in your hearts that Ford isn’t up to the job — he just doesn’t know enough. So, pick me.
The day before, the Progressive Conservative leader tried to frame the ballot question differently. He called a press conference and sat with many of his better-known candidates at his side, as if to say: I know you have some doubts about me. But look at this team. What we have here, my friends, is the makings of an all-star cabinet. So pick me, and this is the team you’ll have running the government.
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And then, finally, on Saturday morning, with journalists and even local Liberal candidate Michael Coteau showing up at a school in Don Valley East (for what Coteau said he thought would be an announcement about education), Kathleen Wynne threw what could perhaps be best described as a last-minute Hail Mary pass.
In an unprecedented move, Wynne admitted that, with five days still to go before June 7, she had no chance of being re-elected — and so she urged wavering Liberals to come home one last time, to ensure that there would be enough Grit MPPs in the legislature to keep what she hoped would be a minority government in check.
While loyalists in the schoolyard hugged Wynne and told her how much they loved and admired her, social media exploded.
“In the 40 years I have been in this business and the 20 plus campaigns I have been in, I have never seen this from the Leader of any Party,” wrote Marc Kealey, a Liberal activist and health-care consultant, in an email blast. “This selfish, feckless, dis-loyal and contemptuous Kathleen Wynne has thrown the fortunes of HER Party down the drain and the aspirations of thousands of campaign workers and loyalists who believed (sadly) in the Liberal brand. She and all her inner circle (who should and will pay dearly for this in future) ought not only be ashamed of themselves for advising this course of action, but they will go down in history as the stupidest political apparatchiks in Canadian political history. Watching these Wynne mis-anthropes scuttle this once great political machine makes a mockery of the system in the fourth largest economy in North America. Shame, shame double shame.”
Paul Rhodes, one of Mike Harris’s original Common Sense Revolutionaries in the 1990s, tweeted: “I’ve worked for leaders who lost. Each one campaigned with dignity and honour until the last day. Ontario Liberals should be ashamed.”
But others gave Wynne credit for reading the writing on the wall and responding accordingly: “What an amazing and incredible woman, filled to the brim with integrity,” tweeted Alex Forgay, a University of Toronto student. “Someday, when @ontarioisproud and @fordnation's hateful smears are forgotten by history, she will be remembered as a great leader and inspiration.”
Or, as the York Women’s Network put it on Twitter: “Done with grace and class.”
The strategies of the two opposition parties are obvious. Given her nearly decade-long stint as NDP leader, Horwath’s knowledge of provincial affairs is demonstrably superior to Ford’s. Policy and the mechanics of government are just not Ford’s strength — as evidenced by his inability to explain how a bill becomes law at Queen’s Park.
But Ford’s claim to superior bench strength is true, and the outrages that a number of NDP candidates have committed on social media seem to drive that point home.
However, the trouble with Wynne’s strategy is that, if it works, it will almost certainly take votes away from the NDP — making a PC majority even more of a sure thing.
Surely the Liberals know this — and that raises some troubling questions about why Wynne would want to help Ford become premier. The fact is, Ontarians can’t vote for a minority government, which is what Wynne, citing a lack of faith in either of the other alternatives, wants. A minority-government option isn’t on the ballot. A “hung parliament” could be the outcome on election night, but it’s not one that voters can deliberately produce.
In prior elections, many NDP supporters, having realized that their party couldn’t form government, abandoned the orange team and voted red, in hopes of depriving the Tories of victory. Why Liberal supporters shouldn’t take the same approach now that their team is in third place and the New Democrats have the best shot at stopping the PCs is another question Wynne has yet to answer.
The past six months have featured one unprecedented event after another in Ontario politics. It started with former PC leader Patrick Brown’s resignation and Doug Ford’s surprise leadership victory. Then there were multiple leadership debates, and scandalous tweets and Facebook posts from several candidates, And now a sitting premier has admitted that she’s got no chance of winning with several days still to go in the campaign.
It’s all quite incredible, and it makes one ask: What can election night, June 7, do for an encore?