Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Ontario Liberals Could Hold on in 2018

In Ontario, it seems to me the Liberals are set to keep winning until their opposition offers a credible alternative to the Kathleen Wynne (OLP - Don Valley West) government. That statement, I believe, sums up the current state of Ontario provincial politics.

Why is this the case? Steve Paikin recently wrote an article asking the question 'why aren't the Liberals more popular?' I think it was an accidentally provocative question. Many who follow Ontario politics closely have little love for the Ontario Liberals. As Paikin points out, even the areas where the government is getting things right are overshadowed by larger controversies, or issues of mismanagement.

What about the polls? They would suggest that I am out of touch entirely with my assertion. Here is Eric Grenier's breakdown for Ontario. As you can see the Progressive Conservatives are in the lead in the ~40% range, the Liberals are around the 30% range and the New Democrats are sitting in the low-to-mid 20% range. When there is no decision on the line it has been easy for Ontario voters to express their displeasure by drifting towards the opposition parties. This was the case in the lead up to the 2011 and 2014 provincial elections. Both of which, I will note, resulted in Liberal victories.

I think these numbers are very soft. When asked to pick a party the entire dynamic could shift. I asked Eric Grenier if there was any information about how well Ontarians know their provincial leaders. He responded that looking at those who were undecided on their performance was a hint. Patrick Brown (PCPO - Simcoe North) was at 49.3% and Andrea Horwath (ONDP - Hamilton Centre) was at 38%. The real issue, as near as I can tell is that neither opposition party is offering a real alternative to the Liberals. If Mr. Grenier's guess is correct fully half of Ontarians do not know the Leader of the Opposition, or the head of the third party who has been in place since 2009. The governing party remains in place partly by casting the alternatives as radical, ill-prepared, untested, or all three.

I have many issues with the Liberal Party of Ontario. I grew up in part in Dalton McGuinty's Ontario which is what led me become a New Democrat. But, the Liberals are a centrist, pragmatic party that plays politics for its votes in a way that appears crass, but ultimately works (see the Scarborough Subway or Mississauga Gas Plants). I don't think there is a hunger to go back to the Mike Harris days of cuts and discord in the public service and Bob Rae's tenure may have poisoned the well for New Democrats far longer than feared. Likewise the Liberals are buoyed by a popular federal leader who was recently swept to power in part due to a strong showing in Ontario. A strong organization remains on the ground with a network of activists and donors. The base is strongly motivated by fears of the right and fears of the left.

As far as I can tell, a plurality, perhaps a majority, of Ontarians badly want to end the Liberal government for their mismanagement, corruption and long term in office but basically maintain the majority of their policy platform. However, offering Liberal-Light is unlikely to inspire any opposition's base or draw voters substantially away from Wynne. If a leader could inspire confidence among voters the Liberal ship could sink. Nothing is certain in politics, but in my estimation, despite what polls say or recent by-election results, I wouldn't bet against Kathleen Wynne and the Liberals in 2018 yet. 

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