Ontario’s October 6th election will reinforce—or undermine—the impact of the spring Federal election on the future of Canadian politics. Canada’s largest province will confirm whether the Conservatives will hold the upper hand, whether the left will unite, or whether the Liberals will survive as a viable centrist alternative in English-Speaking Canada.
The stakes are high though the election is boring, even by Ontario standards.
(It may not be fair that Ontarians have so much political power and can’t talk politics with either the passion or clarity of Quebecers or British Columbians. Nevertheless, big change in Canada doesn’t happen without Ontario’s permission.)
The circumstances are different this fall, but only slightly so. The incumbent Dalton McGuinty is a Liberal. However, from day one, the polls put the Conservative leader Tim Hudak ahead, with New Democrat leader Andrea Horvath in a strong third position. The Ontario economy is every bit as vulnerable to events in the US and Europe and fear of a second recession is widespread. Ontarians voted consciously for a “strong stable” government this spring and are being urged to do so with equal urgency by Dalton McGuinty this fall.
The economic platforms of all three parties are ridiculously optimistic, but fear is the dominant force behind both front runners. McGuinty insists he can reduce the deficit without hurting anyone. Hudak claims he alone won’t raise taxes. Horvath, the ingénue, is the only serious gambler in the race: she’s unafraid to promise generous tax relief to voters, tax increases for business, and numerous new spending and subsidy programs for health, education and social services, and Ontario job-creation.
Horvath is growing in the polls and could become the election issue. She’s not Jack Layton. Indeed, in Ontario, she could be more successful. There’s something unqualified, homespun, and constructive about her message.
She may be an economic illiterate. However, her opponents haven’t demonstrated over their careers, in their platforms, or in their rhetoric abiding respect for economics or fiscal probity. Nothing in the NDP platform is more extravagant than McGuinty’s green energy subsidies. And her biggest difference with Hudak on tax policy is that she proposes to raise new taxes to help pay for her cuts.
As her polling numbers improve, Tim Hudak will have to make a fateful decision: does he take Stephen Harper’s “strong stable” message away from Dalton McGuinty and talk about the dangers of another Liberal-NDP coalition? Does he set aside his palpable fear of appearing too conservative and make a serious conservative case against both McGuinty and Horvath?
Certainly, if the NDP gains the balance of power there is no likelihood that Ontario will regain control of its finances or be able to back further measures by the federal government to stimulate private investment and restrain public spending.
By the way, on Monday, The Globe and Mail reported that if Ontario was an independent country its accumulated public sector debt-to-GDP ratio would be over 80%, slightly higher than Spain’s and slightly less than Portugal’s.