Saturday, October 8, 2011

Teflon McGuinty fools us again, but he’s on a shorter leash

Corruption.  Hundreds of new taxes.  Public funds mismanagement.  Flat-out lying to voters.  This is the record of Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal government, but Ontario voters have returned McGuinty to the Premier’s office, albeit with a minority.

When the Ontario election officially kicked off on September 7 it was a campaign that was the Progressive Conservatives’ (PC) and Tim Hudak’s to lose.  Polls were consistently showing Hudak would form a majority government (at best), or a minority government at worst.  The surveys demonstrated early-on that voters would vote for anyone but McGuinty.

What happened?

Special interests lobbied for McGuinty
The PC’s knew that the “Working Families Coalition” would be active.  The WFC is nothing more than a lobbying organization for the Liberal Party, and it was proven in court that the heads of the WFC have direct financial ties with the McGuinty government and Ontario Liberal Party.  They launched a $10 million ad campaign to demonize the Conservatives in print, television, and radio.

The Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association also used $3 million of its members’ dues to advertise against the Conservatives and promote the Liberals.

The Tories, capped by Elections Ontario spending limits, could not compete with that kind of cash flow.

Conservative base wasn’t motivated
Several conservatives remarked throughout the election that the PC platform was not “conservative enough” or that it was a “Liberal-lite” platform, absent of the real changes needed to fix McGuinty’s problems.  Because of this, who knows how many conservatives failed to vote, or voted in protest for a fringe party?

Sun News Network’s specific refusal to endorse any party was also revealing.  They too felt the PC platform was not conservative enough – not the specific, important change Ontario needed to get back on track.

The Liberals and NDP plagiarized the PC platform
The release of the parties’ platforms is also important.  The PC’s were the first party to release their platform, and they did so early – in May 2011.  This was probably an attempt to dispel any possible accusations of the Tories having a “hidden agenda” if they waited to release their platform later in the campaign.  Hudak was thus able to say “here’s our plan for Ontario,” and gave Ontarians ample time to consider the full platform – there in print and online – months before they had to vote.

However, it also allowed the other parties to plagiarize Hudak’s platform.  The NDP released their platform a month later with some policies strikingly similar to the PC’s, as did the Liberals when they released their platform in August.

It allowed the PC’s early advantage to be clouded by both the Liberals and the NDP saying “hey, we have the same ideas as those guys.”

Voters are Irrational
I cannot state it any simpler.  Voters should have easily weighed the options of McGuinty’s government versus a change in direction.  They should have considered Ontario’s doubled debt – a tax on the next generation – Ontario’s significant deficit spending, and the hundreds of new taxes introduced in the eight years of McGuinty’s reign.

Three times now – in 2003, 2007, and 2011 – McGuinty has “promised” to not raise taxes.  In 2003 and 2007 he broke those promises, each time saying “oops, I lied” and getting away with it.  With this track record, we can only imagine what taxes he’s going to bring in next.

For whatever reason, voters felt McGuinty’s tax hikes were better than the PC’s or NDP’s promises.  That voters chose one over the other should speak volumes to the losing parties.

Mini-scandals distracted focus
Although there were no full-fledged scandals in this election, there were at least a few which could have been avoided or handled differently.  The first was the handling of McGuinty’s decision to give businesses that hired “foreign workers” (in fact new Ontarians) $10,000.  It was an issue, to be sure – why is someone living in Ontario worth $10,000 more than someone born and raised in Ontario? – but it should have not been labelled or pursued in the way it was.

Late in the campaign there were also accusations of a homophobic PC flyer being circulated in a riding.  The flyer contained quotes from a Toronto District School Board guide on eliminating homophobia in schools, with suggestions such as opening a “kissing booth” or allowing kids to cross-dress and role play – as early as grade one.  Instead of the flyer being seen as homophobic and grossly irresponsible policies of the McGuinty government, reporting on those policies somehow made Hudak homophobic. Whoever created that spin deserves a medal.

Respectable gains were still made
Did Ontario conservatives lose what should have been their election?  Yes.  Were there still incremental gains to be proud of?  Absolutely.

In Ottawa South, my riding and the riding of McGuinty, he had the worst showing since first being elected in 1990.  Jason MacDonald, the PC candidate, canvassed the entire riding and generated significant support.  The NDP and Green Party also gave a respectable showing in the riding.  Two fringe party candidates – Jean-Serge Brisson of the Libertarian Party and John Redins of the Party for People with Special Needs – also managed to receive just under 500 combined votes, despite never stepping foot in the riding or even indicating their presence with lawn signs or a campaign office.

We need only reflect back upon the 2004 federal election, where Stephen Harper’s Conservatives were supposed to easily take down Paul Martin’s Liberals and form the next government.  They did not, but they reduced Martin’s government to a minority and gained 21 seats across Canada.  The election result made Harper consider whether he should remain leader, but his membership was behind him, and only two years later he formed a minority government.  (And look where they are now.)

Or we can consider Mike Harris’ first election as PC leader.  His party was only able to gain three seats – growing from 17 to 20 – but the next election saw Harris form government with 82 seats by blasting the NDP into third place.

Sometimes change is slow and incremental, not a sudden leap in the opposite direction.

In his two years as leader, Hudak has reduced McGuinty’s government to a minority and significantly increased his vote count – only two percent away from McGuinty’s, in fact.

What Hudak needs now is support and optimism, not depression and anger.  Ontario conservatives need to get involved in their local riding association and begin cultivating the conservative base needed to take the next election.  The next platform needs to present real conservative ideas that cannot be dismissed as a “Liberal-lite” agenda, but instead one that really is the change Ontario needs.