I suppose you’re wondering how we got here. Having Doug Ford as the premier of the province of Ontario, I mean. Given all the shenanigans in Toronto with his brother Rob Ford, not to mention the “businessmen running government” problems elsewhere in the world.
Well, I’m going to try to provide some context. I hope you’ll follow me on this journey. Quick intro about Canadian politics, for those unaware: We have 5 national parties. The Liberals, the Conservatives (not Progressive Conservatives, they merged with the Reform party in 2003 to create that party), the NDP (New Democratic Party), the Bloc Quebecois (not a factor in Ontario) and the Green party (who have one seat federally).
To understand the rise of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives, we first need to consider the fall of the Liberals.
FIFTEEN LIBERAL YEARS
Dalton McGuinty led the Liberal party to victory over the Conservatives in 2003, with 72 seats. In fact, the NDP lost official party status at the time (despite an increase in the popular vote), winning only 7 seats. (Eight are needed - they regained status in 2004 when Andrea Horwath won a by-election.)
McGuinty won again in 2007, with 71 seats. Then in 2011, with 53 seats - which was one short of a majority government (in the 107 seat legislature of the time). This is, I believe, where things started to deteriorate. I previously blogged about how the Liberals didn’t negotiate with teachers in good faith in 2012, manufacturing a crisis in education. There was also the “gas plant scandal”, where a campaign promise to cancel construction on two natural gas plants was eventually revealed to have costed over $650 million more than reported.
Premier Dalton McGuinty stepped down in 2012, replaced by Kathleen Wynne in February 2013. In the subsequent election in 2014 - she won a majority, with 58 seats. Making her the first gay woman to lead her party to a majority victory in Ontario. How did Wynne win, after everything that had happened? Part of it may have been the platform of her main opponent, Tim Hudak, leader of the Progressive Conservatives. He promised “a million jobs” while “cutting public sector” positions (among other things), resulting in his math being challenged.
Of note, the Conservative solution for 2018 seems to have been to run without any real platform at all. We’ll come back to that.
The deal breaker for the Liberals after the election was the selling off of a majority in Hydro One, a major electricity agency. They revealed this plan (which hadn’t been part of their re-election platform) in 2015, as a means of funding infrastructure, among other things. There’s a good explanation of what that meant at that link. No one seemed to like the idea, and the Canadian Union of Public Employees even sued the Liberals. (The suit was dismissed without trial.)
The argument that the Liberals were putting “short-term political gain before good policy” might have merit. Granted, I say that because on a more personal note, taking away teachers’ bankable sick days because “it looks bad on the books” was another odd decision (that seems to have backfired, more teachers need mental health days lately), and earlier in 2018 the Liberals paid out $31 million to Catholic Teachers, even though they weren’t even part of a court challenge about violating teachers’ Charter rights in 2012. This helped further alienate the Liberal party from public education workers.
The Liberals were going to have an uphill battle in 2018. Polls a month before the election even put the Liberals in third place. The people wanted a change. Meanwhile...
Tim Hudak resigned as the leader of the Conservative party after losing in 2014. (He would later resign his seat in the legislature, in 2016, to become an executive of the Ontario Real Estate Association.) It might even be more accurate to say he was forced to step aside - a new leader had not yet been chosen when he did. Jim Wilson served as interim leader of the party, until a leadership election in May 2015 chose Patrick Brown as the successor.
At the start of 2018, the Ontario election was seen as Patrick Brown’s to lose. Then January 2018 happened. Here’s the rundown:
CTV broadcast a story about sexual misconduct. Brown denied it, but six of his senior aides publicly resigned, and then he himself resigned the next day. Vic Fedeli was appointed interim leader, but said he would not be running for the leadership. Candidates instead included Doug Ford, Christine Elliott, Caroline Mulroney, Tanya Allen, and... Patrick Brown?
Brown later claimed his resignation was posted without his permission, the allegations were false, and he would end up suing CTV for $8 million dollars. (No results on that yet, as far as I know.) But Brown would need to be vetted by the party, which is when more stories came out about money impropriety, and an investigation was opened into his finances. Still, he was vetted, but then withdrew anyway, citing family reasons.
Patrick Brown is, of course, writing a book about all this, due to come out in November.
Having been led by an interim leader, a resigned(?) leader, and an interim leader, the Conservative leadership race continued - FOUR MONTHS before the election - with the other four candidates. The voting would be done by ranked ballot. Meaning if no one had 50%+, the lowest person would be dropped off, and their votes redistributed to the second choice, the process continuing until one candidate received a majority of electoral votes.
Christine Elliot won the popular vote. She also won the majority of ridings. She lost the leadership to Doug Ford, by one percentage point, 51%-49%. So now we have to get into THAT situation.
Ontario presently has 124 ridings (up from 107). As the prior linked article says, “regardless of whether a riding has 100 or 1,000 members, a candidate who receives 40 percent support from that riding gets 40 electoral votes”. (Any riding with under than 100 ballots counts as one vote.) There was apparently a delay in announcing Ford’s victory because 1,300 postal codes had been assigned to the wrong riding.
After an initial dispute, Christine Elliott conceded to Doug Ford on March 11, 2018. One wonders if it’s because sending the case to court less than three months before an election would be sub-optimal. So, in a leadership race between three woman and one white guy, guess who came out ahead.
Doug Ford could now claim to be cleaning up the mess of the party. Perhaps that’s why the Conservatives didn’t have a budgeted platform? At all?
To be sure, the Conservatives did make promises, and eventually revealed how much they would cost, but had no information about how they would pay for it. (Beyond eliminating “inefficiencies”.) I don’t really feel that’s a platform? And scrapping the minimum wage hike, offering cheaper gas, and firing the CEO of Hydro One (which is now in private hands, soooo... can’t do that) didn’t strike me as reasons to vote Ford either. Oh, he’s also planning to “scrap discovery math”, whatever that means, aside from meddling in my job.
Can a party shuffling through leaders, who had only 51% support for the guy who would be premier, really be blamed for not having a clear plan though? (One might hope?) Heck, an economist who looked into the Conservative promises said their plan would run larger deficits than the Liberals or the NDP.
Oh yeah, hey, the NDP - we haven’t talked about them yet. I mentioned Andrea Horwath above with the 2004 by-election. She won the party’s leadership in 2009, and the 2011 election saw an increase in seats, giving her added credibility.
Parts of the NDP platform for 2018 included buying back Hydro One shares, investing in transit, and dealing with student debt. Many thought Horwath did the best in the first debate held on May 7, 2018. Admittedly, Horwath’s financial plan did hit a road bump when a $1.4 billion dollar costing mistake was found, but she came clean and things eventually became a showdown between NDP and Conservatives. Wynne even conceded the election a week before, urging voters to elect Liberal so that the other parties wouldn’t get a majority.
Also in the week before, Rob Ford’s widow sued Doug Ford, stating that he mismanaged their affairs in the family business. Probably a calculated move, but honestly, I’m not sure who made the calculation, because it didn’t matter. (Ford of course said that the claims were false.)
I mean, who would you pick in this scenario, Ford or Horwath? One is a new leader by 51% of the party vote after a scandal, who makes promises that are occasionally impossible, with no plan for how to pay for them. The other is... not that. (Yes, I'm obviously troubled by how this played out. Alternatively, there is always Wynne, or the Green Party, or a host of smaller parties.)
But this is about individual ridings, you say, not party leaders. And the truth of it was, rural voters were going to go Conservative. I heard/read some of the interviews, referencing how they wanted change, and they liked how relatable Ford was. Or if not him personally, at least the PC candidate in their riding. Meanwhile, many urban voters were going NDP or Liberal. The question, at least in my mind, was how people in places like the outlying areas of Toronto would go.
Somehow, Patrick Brown’s election to lose had become Doug Ford’s election to lose. And the day of the election, I didn’t think he would lose. I was hoping he would be tempered by a minority government.
No such luck.
As Peter Lynn said on Twitter, “I hated that Doug Ford just assumed he could become premier out of sheer rich white male entitlement, without any particular experience or expertise, and I hated it even more that he was right”. As Scott Reid said in his column, “after the election of Doug Ford, do campaigns even matter?”
I fear that they don’t. That’s the thing that almost scares me the most about this whole debacle. Because I’m a white guy who doesn’t need medicinal drugs, so (I hope) I don’t have other things to worry about, like my livelihood.
Either way, here we are.
Doug Ford has already said he’ll repeal sex education, that he wants Toronto Pride to include police before he attends, and oh right, he has been endorsed by white nationalists (which fortunately the Conservatives disavow). Bright spots: Ford’s sticking with PM Trudeau after the US attacks from Trump, he seems to be surrounded by sensible people, and the voter turnout for this election was 58% of eligible voters, up from 2014. (Ford only won 40% of the vote, incidentally.) Guess we’ll see who ends up on his cabinet.
Oh, at the same time, Ontario elected their first Green Party representative. And in an interesting turn, it’s the Liberals who lose party status by being at 7 seats, versus the NDP in 2003.
In conclusion: The future’s looking shaky, at least as far as elections are concerned.
Random follow-up thoughts: Is our hatred of math translating into no need for costed platforms, and/or a greater rise of populist votes? To what degree is the “Backfire Effect” prevalent in politics? And of course, other people also have their own opinions on how Ontario got this result, feel free to compare and contrast.
Thanks for reading.