Ontario is having a provincial election on June 7. For my American readers, this is much like a state election where you would vote for your Representatives in the state legislature and Governor―only a little different. We elect Members of Provincial Parliament (MPP) and the leader of the party with the most MPPs in parliament becomes the province’s Premier (we also split our province up into what we call ridings, not districts).
Those who have read my blog around the time of previous election cycles know that I am not shy about voicing my opinion but I’m going to take a slightly different approach to this post. Listen, I am no fan of any of the choices that I have in this election. I’m actually finding it hard to decide on what to do. So, rather than focus on what I don’t like about Doug Ford, Kathleen Wynne, Andrea Horwath, or the system in general, I’m going to explain how I think it’s going to play out, and why. Are you ready for it? Here goes:
Premier Doug Ford
You best get used to hearing that on the radio, watching it on the news, and reading it in print. The tell-it-like-it-is brother to the disgraced (and now deceased due to a losing battle with cancer) former mayor of Toronto is the leader of the “Progressive” Conservative (PC) party. A party that is poised to take back the reigns of Ontario and ride us into the sunset on a wave of populism, then over a cliff and into an abyss from which it will take decades to escape.
(Okay, fine. I threw in a little editorializing and hyperbole, but I couldn’t resist. There’s more where that came from, too. So keep reading.)
You heard it here first. Well, maybe not first, but from what I can tell the liberal, #FakeNews media sure aren’t raising much of a stink. Not one that’s going to matter anyway. That makes me wonder if they’ve resided to the fact that the Donald Trump of the North is going to win and there’s not too much that can be done about it.
“How? Why?” you may ask. Well, it’s really the culmination of a few things. A perfect storm, if you will.
- Electorate Fatigue and Long Memories
- Populism, Wedge Issues, and Donald Trump
- An Antiquated (Broken) Electoral System
Let’s look at each one in turn.
Electorate Fatigue and Long Memories
Canadian voters are an odd bunch. Because of the way our system is set-up, we can have minority governments. This forces the parties to cooperate and elected officials to actually compromise from time-to-time. As a byproduct of a minority government, the longevity of the government is shortened, and we’re usually back at the polls in less than two years. Instead of being excited for the opportunity to actively participate in our democracy, people tend to assume an, “Oh no, another election?” attitude. Voter turnout plummets and we ultimately end up with a false majority government that in no way represents the views of the people they represent.
More specific to this election cycle and why Doug Ford and the “Progressive” Conservatives are going to win, the governing Liberals have been in power, either with a minority or “majority” government for almost fifteen years. That’s a long time to be holding the reigns. Even if their track record were pristine, they would have a giant target on their backs, and their track record is FAR from pristine. So far from pristine. Corroded and crumbling is probably a more accurate description.
The leader of the Liberal Party, Kathleen Wynne, is almost universally disliked, if not hated. Strong words, indeed, but with approval ratings hovering below 20% and showing no signs of improving anytime soon, to say that she’s in trouble would be a gross understatement.
There are a lot of reasons for Ms. Wynne and the Liberals being in this position, most of them self-imposed, but at the root of it is fatigue. If you keep doing what you’re doing you’ll keep getting what you get, and a lot of folks aren’t thrilled with that they’re getting.
“Politicians and diapers must be changed often, and for the same reason.”― Mark Twain
An observant person would look at the above and wonder why the scales would tip toward Doug Ford as opposed to Andrea Horwath and the third major party in the race, the New Democratic Party. Well, this is where the long memories of Ontarians come in.
Back in 1990, Bob Rae oversaw one of the most surprising electoral victories in Ontario’s history. He led the NDP of that time to a majority government with a whopping 37.6% of the popular vote. The NDP increased their seats in parliament from 19 to 74. It was amazing and no one predicted it and Bob Rae and the NDP cocked it up in a big way.
With a vague economic plan and a bunch of promises that went unfulfilled, Bob & Friends lost the next election to the Mike Harris “Progressive” Conservatives in a landslide, losing all 55 seats they gained five years earlier plus two more. Their popular vote numbers dropped 17%. Even though those days are almost thirty years behind us, still many a person can be heard muttering, “Not again.”
Populism, Wedge Issues, and Donald Trump
Ever since Donald Trump ran for and was “elected” president there has been a rise in populism in America. It has spilled over into the Great White North as well but been somewhat tempered by the fact that we have a leader in Justin Trudeau that is pretty much the exact opposite of Trump. Still, the seeds of hate have been sown, partially because they’ve always been there and partly because Stephen Harper left behind a legacy of divisive politics, anti-science, anti-immigrant, anti-equality, anti-democracy supporters that are a little more than pissed that Trudeau unseated the mighty King Steve.
This mentality is more pronounced at the provincial level since the politics are more localized. Those little pockets of deplorable alt-righters are enough to swing a riding. Anyone who doesn’t think that’s a winning tactic hasn’t been paying attention to what happened in the United States. Donald Trump redefined the word “elite” using divisive politics, wedge issues, and “dog whistle” sound bites. In doing so he did one better than convincing the world the Devil didn’t exist by convincing them that he came in the form of Hilary Clinton.
Doug Ford already has the Devil we all know in Kathleen Wynne so he’s hard at work with the next phase. Lying and misinformation. Doug Ford says things that are verifiably false and his supporters don’t care. As an example, little Douggie likes to claim that parents were not consulted about the new sex ed curriculum that Kathleen Wynne imposed on the province to “push her liberal agenda”. The fact is that more than 2,000 parents were consulted. He’ll say things like he won’t personally open up the abortion debate again but is open to one of his MPs doing it (an argument that’s been settled in Canada for a number of years). He makes disparaging comments about people with autism, no doubt playing to the anti-vax, Dr. Google crowd at the heart of the measles outbreak in Toronto a few years ago.
It’s all just sound bite after sound bite. Sound bites with no bite, no substance, and nothing relevant or factual to offer. But that’s okay because there are people who don’t care that it’s not factual and those people are going to vote for him just like millions did for Donald Trump. Kathleen Wynne is evil. He is not Kathleen Wynne. Anything to the contrary is #FakeNews. Did I mention he’s not Kathleen Wynne? He’s not. She is a bad, evil, elitist liberal who will “tax anything that’s not nailed down”. He won’t. No really, he won’t. Everything will be perfect under Doug Ford. No one will suffer. No services will be cut. Drain the swamp. Lock her up.
“But her emails!” ― Trumpists
Doug Ford has openly supported Donald Trump. He’s made excuses for his repugnant behaviour toward women. He even went as far as to suggest that Trump was taking a page out of the Ford NationTM political handbook. You have to pull off some impressive mental gymnastics not to see the similarities. Still, he tries to evade the comparison. He likes the tactics because they are the ticket to the big time, but he knows when push comes to shove, Ontarians don’t want a guy like Trump in charge. We may be bigoted, racist, sexist, ableist, and every other kind of “-ist” you can imagine, we just don’t want it out on display for the rest of the country to see.
Just like with Donald Trump and the ass-backward Electoral College, Doug Ford knows this isn’t a popularity contest. His party’s candidates need to just win one more vote than everyone else in half of the ridings plus one. That’s 63 ridings if anyone wants to do the math. What’s great is he can do it with a tiny fraction more than a third of the popular vote.
Which brings us to the final reason (on my list, anyway) that we’re going to be hearing (ad nauseam, no doubt) “Premier Doug Ford” on June 8.
An Antiquated (Broken) Electoral System
This comes up a lot in Canadian elections, both provincial and federal. It was actually a key campaign promise that Justin Trudeau made in 2015 when he defeated Stephen Harper (don’t get me started on how pissed I am at JT for breaking that promise).
The first thing supporters of this system usually do is point out the flaws of any other proposed system. My system may have flaws, but yours does too, and since they’re both flawed it’s best if we just keep the current system because of… reasons or something. Rather than go into all that here I’ll just simplify how it currently “works” (Yes, I’m using lots of sarcastic air quotes in this piece. I have no choice.)
First-past-the-post was adopted by a bunch of high-on-themselves white colonist men back in the day. It has received virtually zero updates since then and is quite easy to explain:
- Split the region of interest, in this case, Ontario, into roughly equally populated parcels or districts. Call each one a “riding”.
- Allow provincial parties to run candidates in the riding. There are rules for this but they’re pretty lax, which is why we end up with three for four major parties (PC, Liberal, NDP, and a distant fourth, Green) running alongside the Go Vegan party and the None of the Above Direct Democracy Party.
- Hold a vote. If you’re 18 years of age or older, a Canadian citizen, and a verifiable resident of Ontario you’re good to go.
- Declare winners in each riding. This one is simple. Count the votes for each person. Whoever gets the most, wins. There are recount rules and blah blah blah, but determining the winner is the same. Get more votes, even by one, than the other people and you’re now a Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP).
- Count up the winners of all the ridings for each party. Whichever leader of the party that won the most ridings is asked the question of whether or not they think they can form a government. This is where it gets a little flaky.
- IF the party who wins the most ridings wins 50% + 1 of them (=63 in Ontario’s case), then that is considered a majority government. Any vote along party lines will result in a pass if the party in charge votes for it. They have 100% of the power for the next four years even though they are usually only mathematically represented by a little more than a third of the popular vote.
- HOWEVER, since we have more than two parties, and more than two heavily favoured parties, this creates a situation where oft times the government formed will be a minority government (i.e. fewer than 50% + 1 of the ridings but more than any other party).
- When this happens, the party forming government has to weigh whether or not they think they can actually get legislation passed. If after discussions with other party leaders they think they can cobble together enough other party support to get stuff done, then they go ahead and govern.
- This usually has a shelf life of about two years before one or more of the opposing parties can’t take it anymore and everyone but the party in charge votes against something big (like a budget). This is called a vote of non-confidence and if the ruling party doesn’t get 50% + 1 of the votes, then the government is kaput and we head to the polls again.
- BUT WAIT, what happens if the parties that lose the minority government scenario team up and form a coalition? Well, this has happened in Ontario before and it was a moderate success. There are a couple of ways it can be done, but typically one party (the third place finisher) agrees to provide voting support for another party (the second place finisher). However, if the gap between second and third is reasonably narrow, it’s possible that cabinet members from both parties will be chosen (think of this as more of a more “pure” coalition).
Confused yet? Don’t worry, most voters in Ontario are as well. How does this favour Doug Ford? Well, he just needs to game the system to get 63 of the 124 ridings to swing in his favour. Between the ones that “always vote Conservative” and the ones where the Liberals are on the outs (most of the others) all he needs to do is ensure one more person in each of those ridings votes PC instead of someone else. Entirely possible given all the reasons I’ve explained above.
How Will it Play Out?
If you believe me, as well as literally every poll that’s out there, you will see that the chances of a majority government for Doug Ford are amazingly good. It’s not quite a statistical certainty, but it’s close. So, my first prediction is four years of Doug Ford. After that, the chances of him winning a minority government are virtually guaranteed. This is where it gets fun though, because of the aforementioned coalition government possibility. However, given that the way the Liberals and the NDP have treated each other over the past few years I see that as being a remote likelihood at best.
“Make Ontario great again, eh?” ― Ford NationTM
When it’s all said and done, whether it’s a misread on Mr. Ford, the other candidates, the other party leaders, or the electorate, no one would be more pleased than me if I were to be proven wrong. So, if you’ve got thoughts on this please don’t hesitate to share. Most importantly, if you’re an Ontarian who is eligible to vote (or think you are), check your registration status at www.elections.on.ca and get out there on June 7 and mark an “X”. If you could help prove my prediction wrong while you’re at it that would be fantastic.