Had you told any avid watcher of Ontario politics earlier this year -- even this summer -- that the 2007 provincial election would end in a Liberal majority government, he or she would probably have called you crazy and then taken the bet. And then he or she would be out of some money.
Dalton McGuinty led the Ontario Liberal Party to its second straight majority on October 10, 2007. It was the first time a Liberal government won back-to-back majorities in 70 years.
The Liberals were buoyed by the fact that the Progressive Conservative campaign sort of imploded because of the party's platform to extend public funding to faith-based schools. Catholic schools are entrenched in the constitution, and other religious groups believed it was unfair and hypocritical to publically fund one faith's schools but not others. While other parties called for an end to funding for Catholic schools and a 100 per cent public system, John Tory and his Progressive Conservatives promised to extend public funding to all.
He's regretting that now.
The promise was unpopular with the party's base and with candidates who found themselves being lambasted on doorsteps. Tory himself was publicly browbeaten by a Progressive Conservative supporter at a rally. It was that encounter, he'd go on to say, that encouraged him to re-evaluate the promise to include a free vote for caucus. While that relieved the strain on candidates, Tory was painted as an indecisive flip-flopper who'd broken his most well known promise.
The New Democratic Party of Ontario, meanwhile, fought tirelessly for media attention in what had clearly become a two-horse race. Leader Howard Hampton, apparently at the end of his rope, lashed out at the media for not paying attention to issues other than school funding.
It wasn't enough. The NDP had been poised to hold the balance of power in a minority government, whether it be a Liberal or a Conservative minority government. But it wasn't enough.
In the long run, the results were not drastically different from those of the 2003 Ontario provincial election. The Liberals took 71 of the province's 107 legislative seats (54 being the required number for a majority), the Tories took 26 and the NDP took 10. In 2003, the Liberals took 72, the Tories 24 and the NDP 7 (riding boundaries were revised in time for the 2007 election, adding two additional seats to the legislature).
McGuinty broke with tradition and spoke first on election night, before either of the other two party leaders publicly conceded defeat. He praised his party, its volunteers and his family for their role in earning a second mandate. He thanked Tory and Hampton for being part of the political process -- but couldn't resist getting a few digs about the Liberals' committment to the public education system in. The next day's National Post featured an editorial cartoon of McGuinty on stage at his victory party, yelling "Thank you, Jesus!" Had it not been for the faith-based schools fiasco, McGuinty would likely have seen his government reduced to minority status or been dethroned completely. In either case, his leadership would almost certainly be under review.
Tory conceded defeat after McGuinty had declared victory. To the surprise of many, he vowed to stay on as party leader. This is going to be difficult, especially considering he lost in his hometown riding of Don Valley West to education minister Kathleen Wynne. It wasn't exactly close, either: roughly 3,500 votes separated the two. By the next day, party stalwarts -- particularly those who weren't pleased with Tory's decision to shift the party to the centre -- were already calling for his resignation. Tory won the party leadership against so-called hardliners Jim Flaherty (now the federal finance minister) and Frank Klees, partially because he was perceived as the most electable and explicitly promised that McGuinty's tenure as premier would last four years, not eight.
Hampton conceded defeat last, giving an emotional speech wherein he spoke of his family (particularly his late father, who had helped him with every campaign he'd ever run before dying last year), friends and supporters. He said he would "think" about his future as party leader. Hampton has been the leader of the NDP since the party's loss to the Tories in 1995. He has been criticized for not being able to lead a breakthrough.
The Green Party failed to win a seat, but came in second in the southwest Ontario riding of Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound. It also came in third in a handful of other ridings, defying its perpetual status as the "fourth-place party." Leader Frank de Jong failed to win his riding, but the party's eight per cent of the popular vote was its best result in its history.
The people of Ontario will head to the polls to choose their 39th parliament on October 10, 2007. This is the first fixed election date in the province's history, something the governing Liberal Party of Ontario had promised to do upon being elected in the 2003 Ontario provincial election. The date was originally set for October 4, 2007, but was changed in early 2007 after members of the Orthodox Jewish community pointed out that it conflicted with a sacred holiday that would prevent them from voting.
It will be particularly interesting to see how the election campaign begins, because the province has never experienced a fixed election date before. The writ is expected to be dropped in early September, leaving about four weeks for campaigning.
The Government of Ontario has been formed by the Liberal Party of Ontario (led by Dalton McGuinty) since the fall of 2003. The Liberals defeated the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, which had held power from 1995 up until that point, and then formed the official opposition. The New Democratic Party, which had formed the government from 1990 to 1995, came in third.
Howard Hampton was the leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party in 2003 and holds that post still. After his defeat in the 2003 provincial election, outgoing premier Ernie Eves resigned his post as leader of the PC Party. Businessman John Tory won that party's leadership in 2004 and retains it to this day.
Each of these men has strong points and substantial baggage. It is expected that either the Liberals or Tories could win this election, and that the result could feasibly be that of a minority government.
Dalton McGuinty has to run on his own record for the first time in his life. He was the subject of two negative campaigns in 1999 and 2003, both focusing on the theme of his alleged incompetence. The Conservatives won a second majority mandate in 1999 after having told voters that McGuinty was "just not up to the job." The party then tried to run a similar campaign in 2003, with "Dalton McGuinty -- he's still not up to the job." The tactic backfired and McGuinty won a majority.
I have a dinner bet with a friend that the Tories won't try "Dalton McGuinty -- he was never up to the job" this fall. But I digress.
McGuinty is going to try to paint himself as a reliable leader, but his opponents will certainly have something to say about this. He broke key promises during the beginning of his mandate, and while he has tried and will continue to try to paint these as being necessary because of the $5.6 billion deficit left to the Liberals by the ousted Tories, the liar label tends to stick to Dalton.
John Tory is an interesting character. He is in the uncomfortable position of being genuinely reviled by both the right and the left. Because he is a Tory (there's a joke about him wanting to be a Liberal but being banned from the party because of his last name), he is automatically associated with the slash-and-burn Mike Harris Tories of the 1990s.
He isn't much like Mike Harris. In fact, he's not like Mike Harris at all (apart from a few similarities including their nationalities and genders). And while that earns him points with those who hate Mike Harris, it upsets people who love Mike Harris. In fact, a lot of people who love Mike Harris really don't like John Tory.
Tory is a rather divisive topic even within his own party. While he has earned the respect (at the very least) of members for having more or less destroyed the party's huge debt, ideological conservatives are concerned about how close to the centre he's willing to go to earn swing votes. The party's platform, released in June 2007, was criticized by more hardline conservatives as being too close to the centre -- or even too close to the left.
Howard Hampton is also an interesting character. He is well respected among the NDP crowd, including within the federal party, but he's also often not taken seriously by virtue of the fact that he's in the NDP (by people who aren't in the NDP, that is). He was the party's leader in 2003 and led it to a disappointing result -- losing official party status -- in that year's election.
Hampton has authored several books, most notably Public Power. He also plays hockey. Seriously, there isn't much to say about Howard Hampton. Even his supporters don't have much to say about him. He just is.
The Liberal Party of Ontario
is, as they say, stuck in the middle
. It is the more centrist of the three parties (but can lean either way depending on the flavor of the month
and, because it is the incumbent party, will be attacked from both sides.
That said, they do have some things going for them. The other two major parties governed the province for the entire 1990s and were wildly unpopular by the time they left office. The same anger the NDP and Tories inspired does not seem to have been generated by the Liberals. Yet. But you can bet they'll be trying to remind voters of just how unpopular the former NDP and Tory governments were.
The Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario has three main things going for it: it's not the Liberal Party, it's not the NDP and Mike Harris is gone.
This is not to say that people didn't like Mike Harris. He won two majority mandates, after all, and the party only crashed and burned once he was gone. But the negative sentiment associated with his term in office is enough to propel the Liberals forward.
But John Tory is not Mike Harris. In fact, he'll be the first to tell you that. His eagerness to distance himself from the Harris Tories has earned him some spite from within his own party. Meanwhile, the Liberal Party is desperate to tie him to Harris in order to discourage swing voters from voting for either the PCs or NDP.
The New Democratic Party of Ontario will almost certainly not form the government come October. The party's one foray into provincial government (1990-1995 under the leadership of current federal Liberal Bob Rae is not generally looked upon kindly by Ontarians, or even by provincial New Democrats themselves. The party lost official party status in the 2003 election, only gaining it again by winning a byelection in 2004.
Hampton and the NDP held their pre-election convention in early 2007, unveiling their campaign slogan, "Get Orange." The slogan is derived from the fact that the NDP's colours are orange and green (but mostly orange) and Hampton's call to voters during his keynote speech: "If the Liberals have you seeing red, if the Tories have you feeling blue, don't get mad -- get orange." The big test for the NDP is how many seats it can win.
Campaigning for this election unofficially began in June of 2007, when the legislative assembly of Ontario rose a few weeks early for the summer. Both the Tories and the NDP were quick to accuse the governing Liberals of merely wanting to escape being hammered during question period on a daily basis. While the writ hasn't officially dropped, two of the three major parties have held their major pre-election conventions, and the Liberals have held a pre-election training conference.
It's going to get nasty. We can expect lots of the following:
- "Dalton McGuinty is a liar!" -- everyone except the Liberals
- "John Tory is Mike Harris!" -- the Liberals
- "John Tory is Dalton McGuinty!" -- the NDP
- "Howard Hampton is Bob Rae!" -- everyone except the NDP
- "Howard Hampton wants to spend your money on CRAZY, CRAZY THINGS!" -- ditto
- "Everyone hates the environment but us!" -- the Green Party
The 2003 provincial election may have produced the single most awkward attack ad of all time -- a PC staffer sent out a press release that, rather than ending with the usual "Dalton McGuinty -- he's still not up to the job," ended with "Dalton McGuinty -- he's an evil, reptilian kitten eater from another planet." We did not make this up.
The main controversy so far has been Tory's support for publicly funding religious schools. McGuinty has tried to make this out to be the worst thing to ever happen to anyone and has even used the s-word to describe it. He's been criss-crossing the province
The first (and only televised) leaders debate was held on Thursday, September 20. McGuinty was predictably put on the defensive, seeing as how he's the incumbent. Tory and Hampton held his feet to the fire on his government's broken promises, while he pointed out that the governments formed by both the Tories and the NDP in the 1990s had led to a multi-billion dollar deficit that his government had to fix.
He later criticized Hampton and Tory's "tag team" performance against him, referring to them as "the newest celebrity couple, Howard and John -- or how they will affectionately be known from now on, HoJo." Hampton didn't respond to the snark, whereas Tory joked that he was excited about his upcoming centrespread in Hello! magazine.
There is no consensus as to who exactly won that debate, with many non-scientific public opinion polls suggesting that it was a draw. Many pundits have said that McGuinty lost points with his jerky, spasmodic body language (he was accused of presenting his platform to his shoes at one point), that Hampton did better in this debate than he did in 2003 and that Tory came off more polished than his opponents.
While it's obviously too early to tell at the moment, with the election being four months away, it's expected to be close and may even result in a minority government for either the Liberals or the Conservatives.
How it actually went down
Tory really rocked the boat with his party's proposal to extend public funding to faith-based schools other than the existing Catholic school system. Many pundits are predicting a Liberal majority as a result. Tory did change the policy to incorporate a free vote for caucus members after it became so controversial that many of his most prominent caucus members and candidates started criticizing it in public.
While we won't know until the votes are counted tonight, Tory may even lose his own riding, where he's challenging education minister Kathleen Wynne.
I'll update this node as events unfold. Hey, that almost rhymed. Or not.
Ich bin ein nerd.
Also: various news reports too numerous to name.
Also II: liberal.on.ca, ontariopc.com, ontariondp.ca