ONTARIO VOTERS ARE HARDLY THRILLED BY THEIR CHOICES IN TOMORROW’S PROVINCIAL ELECTION AND WE’RE EXPECTING ANOTHER RECORD LOW TURNOUT AT THE POLLS. BUT INSTEAD OF QUITTING ON DEMOCRACY, HERE’S ANOTHER ALTERNATIVE
So here we are, the home stretch of Ontario’s latest election campaign, and right on cue the major media outlets have begun their customary endorsements of candidates, defending their selections in the editorial pages and offering reasons why you should vote for them. The words “hold your nose and vote for” have been busier then a mall Santa on Christmas Eve and given that tomorrow’s voter turnout is expected to be on the wrong side of a record low, just about anything could happen. Tim Hudak’s Conservatives could replace the governing Liberals with a majority or Kathleen Wynne could well return to office with a minority government (meaning we’ll be in this exact same spot in another two years or less). Voter turnout in 2011’s Ontario election was an anemic 49.2%- breaking the previous record low of 52.8% set in 2007-and this year’s turnout is expected to preserve the trend of declining voter participation.
And who can blame Ontario voters? This is perhaps the most underwhelming provincial campaign in recent memory and I’ve both spoken to and heard a lot of voters who are ready to throw their arms up in exasperated defeat, ones who can’t bing themselves to vote for the detested and despised “other party” but have completely lost both faith and confidence in their regular party of choice. If Elections Ontario allowed pollsters to list “none of the above” as a polling option, you could bet that the Big Three Party leaders would all be trailing the Invisible Man by a country mile. I would never presume to tell someone how to vote (and I don’t believe any media organization should either) and as a political independent, I can’t sympathize as much with voters who have spent the majority of their lives voting one way but now face voting another out of disgust and disillusionment. But I do have some advice that I’d like to share after a quick recap of why we find ourselves in this situation.
Kathleen Wynne and her Liberals are dragging more baggage in this election than Jacob Marley in a Christmas Carol. Everything from Dalton McGuinty’s litany of broken promises on taxes (“I will not raise your taxes,” “Ok, this time I’m serious, I won’t raise your taxes,” “OK, I can’t say it again with a straight face, but look, I keep getting elected so whose really to blame here?”) to a non-stop parade of scandals, from eHealth to the Ornge Helicopters fiasco to the current gas plant nonsense. I’ve argued that the reason McGuinty was re-elected twice since he started lying to Ontario voters in 2003 was that he faced weak competition who giftwrapped the subsequent elections for him (whether it was John Tory inadvertently galvanizing Ontario’s Islamaphobia against the Conservatives with his multi-faith schools in 2007 or Tim Hudak’s 2011 economic platform that was so bland that even the staunchly conservative Sun Media refused to endorse him). And while Wynne has been able to deflect some of that pressure by pointing out she wasn’t in charge when Dalton was doing his best impersonation of Pinnochio, she was still pretty high up on the food chain for some of it. In the eight years McGuinty was Premier, the Liberals doubled Ontario’s debt and saying that the Provincial Liberals have a spending problem is like saying that Rob Ford only likes seconds once in a while. Wynne promises to balance the budget by 2018, but the simple fact is that the Liberals never passed a balanced budget under McGuinty (even before the Great Recession of 2008) and they have zero economic credibility as a result of their overspending and fast and loose approach to campaign promises.
And that sound you heard during the opening days of the campaign? That was the sound of any Public Sector employee in Ontario who was even remotely considering voting for Conservative leader Tim Hudak changing their mind at warp speed. Hudak came out of the Blue corner swinging, offering an economic platform of severe job cuts and austerity measures to cure Ontario’s addictions to deficits and combat it’s enormous debt. Hudak’s formula (and platform) is pretty straight forward-the money Ontario would save by cutting 100,000 public sector jobs over the next two years (some through attrition, though no one knows how many) would cover a proposed 30% cut in the corporate tax rate, and that tax break combined with other deregulations would allow a slumbering private sector to awaken like a hungry, angry bear, creating a million private jobs over the next eight years. But Conservatives are usually the first ones to tell you that governments can’t guarantee job growth in the private sector, and one only has to look at our neighbours to the south to see that even when they have money, it isn’t unusual for companies to stubbornly refuse investing in a larger workforce (American corporations are enjoying record profits despite the lingering effects of the 2008 collapse, yet employment levels remain largely stagnant). And you can ask our friends in Europe how deep austerity cuts usually only result in swollen unemployment and stressed social safety nets. Ontario is already one of the most hospitable places for corporations in North America and big companies are the last people who need a tax cut, let alone a 30% one. The truth of the matter is that corporations hate spending on labour (and would scrap the minimum wage in a heartbeat if they could) and the Conservatives haven’t offered any backup plans if some corporations decided to simply pocket the tax savings. And while Hudak pledged not to include doctors or police officers in his cuts, he almost eagerly admitted that teachers would find themselves in his pink slip crosshairs (what is it with Conservatives and teachers?). Just to put his proposed cuts into perspective, the number of jobs Hudak could lay his hands on is about 650,000, so his cuts would result in a sudden reduction of over 15% of the public sector (which would wreak incredible havoc on the services affected), and between 1.5 and 2% of the province’s entire workforce. While the PS is admittedly more swollen then Justin Bieber’s ego, the idea of putting a tens of thousands of people out of work over the next two years doesn’t sound like it’s merely throwing a monkey wrench into a fragile consumer economy so much as it’s dropping an anvil laced with nitro glycerin on top of it. The math Hudak used to formulate his platform (which has been endorsed by a very, very far-right, anti-union American economist) has already been questioned by a number of experts and he’s already found himself on the defensive over reductions to local spending, primarily Phase 2 of Ottawa’s LRT (part of his plan includes reduced funding to municipalities). It’s no surprise that labour unions began mobilizing against Hudak as soon as the writ hit the fan and this is the first time I’ve seen advertising that doesn’t endorse any one particular candidate or party, but rather implores you to vote against one, in this case Hudak’s Conservatives (the City of Ottawa recently ordered that particular advertising removed). Hudak’s cuts have been described as more draconian then former Ontario Premier Mike Harris’, whose reign was filled with more strikes then a Major League baseball game, and he’s been described as a meaner sequel to Harris himself.
And what to say about Andrea Horwath and the NDP? She’s easily the biggest riddle among the three. Already burdened by criticism for failing to capitalize on the Orange Wave that lead the Federal NDP to record success in the last national election, Horwath decided to trigger all this despite low poll numbers and an empty warchest. Labour unions, the NDP’s main source of support, actually implored her to back the Liberal budget last month. Instead she voted against Wynne’s Liberal government, triggering an election that could see a very union unfriendly Conservative party take provincial power. The NDP platform is little more then a collection of vague offerings beyond raising the minimum wage by an extra dollar over the next two years while giving tax breaks to small and medium sized businesses . You may not like the Liberal or Conservative platforms, but at least they have one. I still can’t make head or tails of the NDP’s pledges. And wouldn’t it stand to reason that if you were the party propping up a government, that you would use that position to your advantage by trading support for concessions that align with your agenda rather then triggering an election when your support is low and your cash even lower? What does Horvath tell the NDP faithful if they wind up with fewer seats and less influence this Friday as a direct result of her decision?
So it’s easy to see why so many voters are willing to throw in the towel. It looks as if plenty are planning on spoiling their ballots or staying home altogether. This truly is a case of choosing the least evil. So my advice? Forget the talking heads. Ignore the party leaders. Not one of them has earned your respect or admiration. Instead, use the remaining time to check out what your riding’s candidates have had to say. And don’t let yourself get blinded by the party mantras that so many like to retreat behind. We all know what Kathleen Wynne plans on doing for the province, but what about Ottawa? What about your riding? Would a Conservative government pledge funding to prevent millions of litres of raw sewage from flooding into the Ottawa River every time it rains? And look beyond the rhetoric. After all, the Liberals have promised for years to help clean up Ottawa’s river yet haven’t delivered. It may well be time to abandon the Big Three altogether. Don’t ignore independent or non-mainstream candidates. Worse things could happen then electing either the Conservatives or Liberals to a minority government and allowing a handful of independents to hold the decisive balance of power. After all, what sort of message would it send to the Three Party Leaders if a sizeable chunk of Ontario voters rejected them and their party lines? This is the only time politicians truly listen or care to what the electorate has to say, so instead of staying home or spoiling your ballot, use your vote to send a message. People constantly complain that the system is broken, that it’s stacked against the “little guy,” and those arguments have plenty of merits, but every once in a while we have a chance to shout at the bureaucrats who like to talk over our heads. Every once in a while they need us, and here in Ontario, tomorrow is that time. So vote. And make it count.