Thursday, October 2, 2003

Ontario Election Night: We've Seen Worse

Ontario's Provincial Legislative Assembly, Queen's Park, Toronto

:: In Ontario, every four years or so, this Canadian province has an election. An election has to be called within five years of the previous election; the current Premier usually has the privilege of deciding when an election is called. During approximately a forty day window, candidates for all parties are signed up and the election is held. Ballots are counted (by hand) in about 3 or 4 hours election night. Then it's hands-off again for another four or so years.

Since I have lived in the province -- March, 1956 to present day -- we have had a steady stream of mainly Tory (Progressive Conservative or PC) governments. Most of those have fit the "Red" Tory mold -- fiscally somewhat conservative and reasonably liberal socially. But since the forty-two year Tory lock on successive governments was broken in 1985, the usual opposition party -- the Liberals (Grits) -- have been in power a couple of times; even the more extreme left, the New Democratic Party (NDP), have had one stint at the helm.

Dalton McGuinty, Liberal leader and newly elected Premier of Ontario

Tonight, the current eight year Tory reign was ended at the hands of the Liberals and its leader Dalton McGuinty. The new government won a comanding majority of 72 out of 103 seats in the provincial legislature (located here in Toronto, just down the road from where I live, on a grassy knoll called Queen's Park); the Tories, under Ernie Eves (who was fighting his first election as Premier), were reduced to 24 seats from 59, and thus became the official opposition. And while the NDP, under Howard Hampton, garnered almost 15% of the popular vote, they only managed to grab 7 seats; when the dust settles they will no longer be recognized as an "official party".

McGuinty is a "new style" politician: he looks good on tv; he sounds direct while being vague; and, as so often happens in politics these days, he's won his chance at the top job more because people dislike the current guy than have any special desire to see him as leader. He has four years or so to win the trust of the voters and put together a decent cabinet to nudge the province in a Liberal direction without upsetting too many people. McGuinty will do best if he turns into a "Blue" Grit.

Ernie Eves, Progressive Conservative leader, exiting Premier and new leader of the Opposition

:: Ernie Eves was the Finance Minister under the previously elected Premier (Mike Harris, who ran under a more strongly right wing platform than Ontario voters generally opt for; he resigned in 2002). To be blunt, Eves ran a dismal campaign that, to the casual observer, looked like he wanted to lose. After 16 months as Premier since the retirement of Harris (in Ontario the man or woman leading the party in power becomes the Premier between elections), Eves had shown himself to be a generally likeable, but lack-lustre -- and even directionless -- leader.

With the power blackout in August, he finally rolled up his sleeves and looked like "a decent chap" who might be capable of being in charge -- after a string of bad luck disasters from the Walkerton tainted water scandal, SARS in the city and, at the outset of the election, a meat packing plant brouhaha. There was a sense that in education, health and hydro -- three traditional Tory achievements of generosity and fairness -- Eves had dropped the ball. He looked good reasurring the people during the blackout; but what happened during the election campaign? Some would say he showed his true colours.

Some men are simply not cut out to be leaders and Eves strikes some (me, anyway) as the quintessential right-hand man -- not a leader. In his new role as leader of the Official Opposition he might actually shine -- although his generally quiet demeanour suggests otherwise. He will, at least, be well prepared. And his days are numbered: a party convention is likely to be held in early 2006 to replace him. After over 20 years in the legislature, Eves is not likely to try to hold on to the leadership.

Logo of the Green Party of Ontario, founded here in 1983

:: For all this, the real story of the night was not McGuinty's triumph -- who many felt for the past year to be likely to win this election -- nor the failure of Howard Hampton, the leader of the NDP since 1996, and who is also likely to be cast aside in about two years time by his party; the real story is that of the Green Party of Ontario.


The Greens are linked to others Greens sprouting up across the Western world (especially in the UK, Europe and the US), although this is a "spiritual" link, not an organizational one. Possibly for the first time in Ontario history, a fourth party has gained 3% of the vote. It will be a very tough slog to make further gains in 2007, the likely date for the next Ontario election because the system discourages new parties; but there is room for a fourth voice.

Bob Rae, Premier of Ontario under the NDP from 1990-95

Ontario is a place of centrist views and, for the Tories, Grits or NDP to hold power, they need to move into the centre while making the other parties seem extreme. There is a natural argument for Tory vs Grit; the NDP, normally identified as being the furthest left, have the hardest task. The only time they ran the government (1990-95) they won with a mere 37.6% of the popular vote but managed to win 74 of the 130 seats. Once in power under leader Bob Rae, they did not heed the call of "centre" and were tossed out dramatically after one term.

Ontario Election Summary:

  From 1943, six PC leaders in a row ending with Frank Miller in 1985;

  David Peterson (Lib) 1985-90; Bob Rae (NDP) 1990-95;

  Mike Harris (PC) 1995-02; Ernie Eves (PC) 2002-03;

  Dalton McGuinty (Lib) 2003-?

Seats and Popular Vote by Election Year
PC 52 (37.0)16 (24.7)20 (23.5)82 (44.8)59 (45.1)24 (34.7)
Liberal 48 (37.9)95 (47.3)36 (32.4)30 (31.1)35 (39.8)72 (46.4)
NDP 25 (25.7)19 (23.8)74 (37.6)17 (20.6)9 (12.6)7 (14.7)
Green 0 ( 0.1)0 ( 0.0)0 ( 0.7)0 ( 0.4)0 ( 0.7)0 ( 3.0)

:: So how do the Greens fit in? Well, for one thing, they are so darned nice; you can smell mom's apple pie warming in the oven. Their party platform has "Ten Key Values" including: Ecological Wisdom; Social Justice; Grassroots Democracy; Nonviolence; Decentralization; Community-Based Economics; Feminism; Respect for Diversity; Personal and Global Responsibility; Future Focus/Sustainability. Red Torys, Blue Grits, Far Left Socialists and Far Right Libertarians will all find acceptable centrist turf in the Green platform.

No other party even mentions violence, except ina law-and-order context. Community-based economics is likely to result in lower taxes; feminism, diversity and grassroots democracy appeals to anyone who feels dis-enfranchised -- and with the skepticism about politicians in general these days, that is almost everyone. The problem is the Greens have not been tested anywhere in Canada yet: they have yet to elect a member to Parliament or a Provincial Legislature, let alone gaining official party status, graduating to opposition party or taking power. Each of Canada's main three parties -- left-leaning rightist Tories, right-leaning leftist Liberals and left-leaning leftist NDPers -- has managed to form a government provincially. Is there room for a fourth party? And if so, is it the Greens?

Gabriel Draven, Green Party candidate for Toronto Centre-Rosedale

:: Tonight's election provides some hope: disenchanted Tories, Liberals and NDPers could all vote Green if the party itself grows in credibility over the next four years. In my riding of Toronto Centre-Rosedale -- a drastic mix of old-monied Toronto, a large working class, a large welfare class, and a highly visible gay vote -- the openly gay Liberal incumbent won handily against PC and NDP hopefuls. George Smitherman, a strong candidate for the next Cabinet, won 51.6% of the vote against a slate of five others, and a substantial increase in plurality from the previous election. The Green candidate, Gabriel Draven, captured a respectable 4.5% of the vote. In the riding next door, Trinity-Spadina, the Green candidate Greg Laxton managed nearly 6%; the incumbent NDP Rosario Marchese won handily with almost 48%.

Although I have been a member of the PC party off-and-on since 1970, I have voted NDP and Liberal on occasion; and while my first choice is PC, my vote is based more on the merits of the local candidate than the party. This election I voted Green and I intend to keep an eye on the party in the future.

With a federal election looming late next spring, after the coronation of Liberal Paul Martin as next Prime Minister succeeding Jean Chretien when he retires in February; and the NDP led by Jack Layton (currently not a member of the House of Commons); and the "right wing" in disarray with a shrill, extremist Stephen Harper as leader of the Canadian Alliance and a non-entity Peter MacKay leading the PCs -- it might be the time for the Greens. Alas, the party's website doesn't even mention the name of its federal party leader (it's Jim Harris). In the 2000 election resulting in a solid Liberal victory, the Greens actually came in sixth scooping up just under 1% of the national vote; the NDP came in fifth.

Frank de Jong, Green Party of Ontario leader, and candidate in Dufferin-Peel-Wellington-Grey

You do have to admire the hutzpah of the leader of the provincial Greens, however. Frank de Jong pulled in a respectable 6.1% of the votes in the riding of Dufferin-Peel-Wellington-Grey, beating the NDP candidate by 13 votes to take the third spot. The guy who won the riding took a commanding 56.7% of the votes, winning by a landslide. His name? Ernie Eves.

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