There are two big political questions about the Province of Ontario – the first is, will there be a provincial election in 2014? The second is, if so, what will the results be? Trying to answer either of these questions is a fool’s game, but this fool is game to try. So here goes nothing.
There will be no provincial election in Ontario in 2013. Despite my prediction from last year (where I indicated that there would be a provincial election in 2012), I don’t think that the stars are going to align for an election in 2013 – which I know goes against conventional wisdom, along with my own gut feelings which I experienced throughout a majority of 2013. My view is that the Liberals are in seriously trouble, thanks to the gas plant and ORNGE scandals primarily – but also in part to the lack of aggressiveness on the part of the Wynne government to tackle much of anything in terms of issues throughout 2013. Finance Minister Charles Sousa has been a real disappointment to me in 2013.
Tim Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives
Despite Ontario’s general malaise with the Liberals, polls suggest that they would still be returned to a minority government if an election were held today. That really says a lot more about their chief opponents than it does Kathleen Wynne’s government. The Progressive Conservatives appear to be mired in the politics of confrontation – and completely lacking in direction, other than expressing their desire to steer Ontario towards serious confrontations with both public and private sector unions. I can’t believe that PC Leader Tim Hudak thinks that this is a winning strategy for his Party – but nevertheless, Hudak’s hard-right turn appears to be on offer from the PC’s. Many in Hudak’s own party are growing increasingly worried that this isn’t going to be a winning strategy for the PC’s – and I agree with them.
That being said, Hudak is sure to pick up a good number of seats in Ontario – especially in rural areas, where his party is dominant. For Southern Ontario rural voters, the perception has been that they’ve been abandoned by both the NDP and the Liberals – and I think that there’s a lot of merit to that perception. Only the Green Party really offers an alternative direction for rural voters in Southern Ontario right now – and let’s face it, the Greens just aren’t as organized as they could be to take advantage of this situation. Nevertheless, the Greens One School Board policy is sure to resonate with rural voters – if the Greens play it up.
In Northern Ontario, the Liberals are done like dinner – thanks to the perception of an indifferent and at times actively hostile Queens Park (thanks in part to the Liberal’s decision to sell off Ontario Northland). Look to the NDP to capture those last remaining Liberal-held Northern ridings, including my own Sudbury riding – if an election is held.
NDP – Won’t Pull the Plug
But I don’t think we’ll have a provincial election, because the NDP’s polling elsewhere in the province leaves a lot to be desired. Although the NDP’s Leader, Andrea Horwath, is personally quite popular, her party remains mired in the low 20s in opinion polls. With little chance for growth in rural Southern Ontario, the NDP’s best bets are to take on the Liberals in certain key urban areas – and winning any of them are going to be difficult for the NDP – especially if Ontarians are forced to pick between a Wynne and Hudak government. It’s that vote-collapsing nightmare scenario for the NDP which will likely stay Horwath’s hand throughout 2014.
But If There Is an Election…
So, my answer to question No. 1 is No. But let’s ignore that for a moment and explore question No. 2 – if there were an election, who might win? First, I’ll answer a related question: I believe that the PC’s would gain the largest share of the popular vote – this because they can count on rural support to a greater degree than any other party. However, in our archaic First-Past-the-Post electoral system, getting the most votes doesn’t mean that you get to govern.
The Liberals: Taxes and Transit
2014 is going to be a critical year for Kathleen Wynne. She’s either going to start making a decent impression with voters (after wasting 2013) on issues like pension reform –or she and the Liberals are going to fall flat on their faces (which might not necessarily translate into a significant loss of support, given the popularity – or lack thereof – of the other two parties). I think that it’s going to be the latter, because Wynne seems intent on trying to climb the hill to electoral success by championing a tax increase.
Late in 2013, a report came out which suggested that transit improvements in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) could be funded by an increase to gas taxes between five and ten cents per litre, and potentially an increase to the HST. The report indicated that for the sake of equity, these tax increases should be applied to all of Ontario, and not just to the GTHA. Buried in the report was the notion that municipalities outside of the GTHA would receive their “fair share” (based on population – not necessarily on the amount of tax collected) for their own local transit needs. The Liberals, acknowledging that not all areas outside of the GTHA supported public transit, were quick to point out that local areas could use the additional tax revenue to fund other infrastructure projects. All in all, the roll-out of the Liberal’s key messaging has been a disaster – the PC’s have done an effective job of scaring Ontarians in rural and Northern areas into believing that a ten cent per litre hike to gas taxes is going to go towards funding transit in Toronto.
Even without the cynical PC scare-tactics, a hike to gasoline taxes (and the HST!) would be a tough sell. Wynne believes that Ontarians are ready to have an adult conversation about how transit can be paid for (at least, she believes that Ontarians in ridings which might vote Liberal are ready for that conversation). While it’s an admirable sentiment, I’m not certain that I agree with her.
The NDP – Populism Run Rampant
The NDP has drawn a line in the sand when it comes to gas taxes. For a long while now, the NDP’s position has been that it won’t raise taxes on gasoline – it believes that such a tax is “regressive” and hurts low income earners. The NDP has got it all backwards, that’s for sure – gas taxes aren’t regressive in the same way that taxes on food and shelter are. Low-income earners tend to spend far less of their monthly expenditures on gasoline, given that many don’t own personal vehicles. But the NDP likes to insist that as a percentage of income, higher gas prices effect the poor more substantially than they do the rich. While this might be so for middle-income wage earners, it’s not universal. The biggest factor at play is the availability of public transit – but the NDP likes to stick to its anti-gas tax guns.
Interestingly, the NDP has in the past suggested putting a cap on gasoline prices – in a cynical move to woo motoring voters. I say “cynical” because a gas price cap as proposed by the NDP will simply allow motorists to continue doing what they’ve been doing – burn fossil fuels – while passing along expenses to the next generation in the form of climate debt. Further, the biggest winners in the gas-cap sweepstakes will be the rich – as the impetus to drive less is removed due to the price cap.
Nevertheless, it’s easier to tell voters that there won’t be any new taxes on gas, and promise them to cap prices. Nevermind that the NDP’s economic plan to fund transit by raising corporate taxes is incredibly lacking – it will go over well with voters when contrasted to that of Wynne’s plan to hike taxes. For the NDP, Wynne’s choice to live and die on the Gas Tax hill will prove to be a winfall in those urban ridings where the NDP needs to make inroads. As a result, we could look to a slow rise in the NDP’s popularity throughout 2014 – I just don’t think it would be enough to for Horwath to roll the dice and pull the plug on Wynne. The longer Horwath waits, the better the NDP’s odds might be of winning an election – especially if the global economy tanks (which I don’t believe it will in 2014).
So, if an election was to happen, what might the outcome be? I predict that Tim Hudak’s PC’s might win the most seats – but that they will not form a minority government. Hudak’s ultra-right-wing promises will scare the NDP and the Liberals into forming a united front against the PC’s – probably not in the form of a coalition government – but more likely in the form of the Accord between Bob Rae and David Peterson back in the ‘80s, which allowed the Liberals to govern with the NDP’s support on confidence matters – even though the PC’s had the largest number of seats.
Only this time, the roles of the two parties will be reversed and Ontario will be led by an NDP government with Andrea Horwath as Premier supported by the leaderless Liberals (Wynne will resign on election night) and the Greens (Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner will take the Guelph riding to become Canada’s second Green to be elected to a provincial legislature).
I really dislike making predictions about Quebec, but it’s going to be super-hard to ignore what’s going on in Quebec throughout 2014. I believe that there will be a provincial election, fought largely on Pauline Marois’ Charter of Quebec Values. Marois and the PQ’s will be returned Quebec’s National Assembly with a larger mandate (but still a minority). The Liberals will be the biggest winners, picking up seats formerly held by the Coalition Avenir de Quebec (CAQ) which appears to be in free-fall and unable to stake out any unique territory for itself.
Look for modest, if minor gains by Quebec’s fourth party, Quebec Solidaire, as the left-wing progressive urban vote rallies around this party which currently has 2 seats in the National Assembly. Quebec Solidaire may not gain any new seats, but I do expect it to double its vote total this time out. The relative success (or failure) of this small, fourth-place party is important nationally, as the federal NDP have decided that they will open up a provincial wing of the Party in Quebec after the next provincial election. Quebec Solidaire evolved out of the former provincial wing of the NDP after it was disowned by the federal party for its support of sovereignty.
What may not be realized by many voters is that the NDP has a strict policy in place that you can’t just be a member of the federal or provincial party – you must be a member of both. With this in mind, it’s always very interesting to see the dynamics in play between provincial and federal NDP parties, especially where Party Leaders might have slightly different takes on certain issues. Quebec is the only province which does not currently have a provincial NDP wing. Given the NDP’s massive success in Quebec federally in 2011, it stands to reason why the NDP has been thinking about re-entering the provincial scene in Quebec – but Quebec Solidaire’s success has appeared to stand in its way – and may continue to do so in 2014. Cautious left-wingers must be very concerned about a new provincial NDP splitting the vote, and leading to the election of other parties. Ultimately, I think that the federal NDP will decide it’s not worth the resources to plunge into Quebec’s provincial politics, even should Quebec Solidaire stumble (and I don’t think it will).
New Brunswickers will head to the polls on September 22nd, as per that province’s fixed election laws. Look for Premier David Alward’s government to go down to defeat at the hands of the New Brunswick Liberals. Despite anti-fracking protests which have rocked parts of rural New Brunswick throughout 2013, the fracking issue will have little impact on the election’s outcome.
(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Party of Canada)