When this election was called I had a pet theory that turnout would rise from the abysmal 49% because Dalton McGuinty (OLP – Ottawa South) would no longer be a factor and his unpopularity would not continue to weigh down the Liberal Party. I tend to be the most politically engaged of my family and friends. They often ask me about political matters and they provide me a personal focus group for life in my home province. I have noticed a disturbing trend.
Part of my interest in politics and government came from my parents. They are not particularly political but passed on the responsibility to vote and stay informed. For the first time that I can remember they are not sure if they can vote, as are other members of my family. It’s one thing to talk about the apathy of young voters who have never been engaged in the process, but when established tax-paying adults like my parents who care about their broader community entertain the idea of stepping away it suggests something has gone terribly wrong.
Members of my peer group are expressing similar sentiments. In 2011 they were willing to plug their noses and vote, but now... many of them seem less sure. Even the engaged in my life are pushing back.
From the group I spoke to here’s some of the explanations I am able to put up with.
Too Much Scandal
The Liberal scandals weigh heavily on the political psyche of the province of Ontario. The multiple billions spent on ill-advised decisions and politically-motivated schemes has sapped much of the good will for the Liberals, but from the political process in general. My social circle is full of natural Liberal voters, which is to say centrists and progressives. Teachers in particular have been friendly to the Liberal government (until recent years).
Lack of Alternatives
When I speak to people I first hear deep concern, frustration and anger about the scandals. Next I hear complaints about the alternatives. The talking point I hear most is the 100,000 jobs to be cut from the civil service, which disturbs and alarms them. The commitment by the Progressive Conservatives and their leader Tim Hudak (PCPO – Niagara West-Glanbrook) is just a symbol of the budget cutting intentions of that party. Arguably Ontario may need some cuts to deal with the disturbingly large deficit, but with many friends with families working in the greater civil service they are fearful. Not to mention the Harris years loom as a boogieman for many in Ontario, just as Bob Rae has. However, those who fear the Tories seem less able to morally justify returning the Liberals to power.
The ONDP has been a tough sell for many in Ontario since the Bob Rae years. My activist friends fear the ONDP have traded in their principles for populism – warranted or not. A handful of diehards I know are quietly sitting the election out. The NDP has a limited presence in many ridings in Ontario. Even if they were to do very well many seats are still likely out of reach for the party.
The Greens are a minor party. As much as I would like to see them represented in Queen’s Park they are long-shots in a riding and virtually impossible elsewhere.
Policy matters. Vision matters. In 2011 Ontario experienced a campaign about virtually nothing. The policy debate this time around has revolved around the PC’s “One Million Jobs Plan” and various criticisms surrounding its numbers. The Liberals and NDP have revealed their own policy documents but as of yet there are no stand out policy issues that can be grasped. The Liberal’s proposed pension plan and the NDP’s school activities program are not exactly the type of things that drive people to the polling booths.
Candidates that Fail to Appeal
I often wonder how parties find the candidates for election. I participated once in the process as a member of a riding association, but hunting for candidates for the ONDP in Brampton is far different than the other parties, I am sure. I’ve spoken to friends and families in three different ridings. Looking at the candidates left them... wanting. When parties chose candidates to appeal to a particular ethnic group or special interest that you are not a member of the appeal seems hollow. And what if you do not believe in the quality of the candidate? Even the leaders could fall into this. If voters feel like they are being bought off with tax credits or other gimmicks and there is no trust there... well, why vote for them?
This election seems to be about trust and to a lesser degree about Ontario’s economy. Parties focus on the latter because it is what people say they want, but they do not trust parties to implement their promises, and, perhaps more damning, that it will make a difference. Ultimately I think my friends and family will end up voting. They will plug their noses and cast a ballot after determining which party/candidate they find the least objectionable. However if voters just like them decide not to cast their ballots in their thousands, I can hardly say that I could blame them.
I’d love to hear from you readers if you intend to vote.