Ontario votes in a provincial election on Thursday and the tension is… barely palpable. This campaign was less than a barnburner. The three major-party leaders traded predictable gibes about predictable issues and rolled out the usual array of unrealistic, unaffordable promises. Though anything can happen on election night, opinion polls suggest that the Progressive Conservatives will coast to re-election and Doug Ford will serve a second term as premier.
There are those who will say: It could have been worse. Mr. Ford has become a more moderate, mainstream figure than he was during the wild old days at Toronto City Hall. Ontario has managed to avoid veering into the sort of ugly populism that has upended politics in so many democratic countries. At least we still have some stability in our political life. Three big parties: left, centre-left and centre-right. Three well-seasoned leaders to head them.
But let’s not feel too pleased. Step back a bit, and the stability looks more like stagnation – and stagnation of a dangerous kind.
Voters all over are rising up against politics-as-usual. We just saw it in France. The establishment parties that dominated French politics for decades have all but dissolved. Voices of the hard right and hard left came to the fore during the recent presidential election, even if a centrist, Emmanuel Macron, managed to prevail in the end. Australians moved away from the two major parties in their own national election last week, handing new support to independents and Greens that were campaigning for more action on climate change.
Right here in Canada, a front-runner for the leadership of the federal Conservatives is a fan of cryptocurrencies and a critic of the Bank of Canada, which he blames for all manner of sins. And let’s not even talk about that bad dream we all had about a billionaire blowhard occupying the White House for four years.
This rebellion against the old political class doesn’t come out of nowhere. Voters are letting it be known that they are heartily sick of the tired vows and practised circumlocutions they hear in every election campaign. They long for something fresh and new. They aren’t getting it in Ontario.
All three leaders have been kicking around politics for years. Andrea Horwath of the NDP is taking her party into an election for the fourth time. It should tell her something that she keeps getting asked whether she is finally going to call it quits after this one. Steven Del Duca is a lifelong Liberal who served in the cabinet of Premier Kathleen Wynne. Mr. Ford comes from a leading political family. His father was a Conservative member of the provincial legislature. His brother Rob, you may have heard, was mayor of Toronto. Doug was his right-hand man.
If any of them has a truly original word to say, they haven’t uttered it during this dispiriting election campaign. Instead of speaking frankly to voters, they have contented themselves to park behind their lecterns and deliver the usual talking points, sound bites and barbs.
Ms. Horwath says that Mr. Ford is going to privatize everything and line the pockets of his rich buddies. Mr. Del Duca says Mr. Ford has turned his back on old people. Mr. Ford tells Mr. Del Duca that when his Liberals were in power, “You destroyed this province.”
All of them promise voters the moon and the stars – billions for transit, billions for highways, billions for hospitals and schools. And it won’t cost ordinary taxpayers anything! In fact, the three have been tripping over each other to say how much regular folks will save if they make the right choice at the ballot box.
Mr. Del Duca, for one, says he will put “at least $1,000 back in your pocket every month.” Residents of Northern Ontario will even get money to buy studded winter tires. All three major leaders routinely misrepresent what the others have said and done – an old practice in politics, but hardly an admirable one.
The wonder is that Ontario’s voters haven’t revolted already. It can happen here, make no mistake. In fact it did happen, right in the provincial capital. Rob Ford’s election was an uprising against the old order at city hall. Many voters were fed up. They wanted someone to come in and bust up the furniture. If we keep having elections as stale and empty as this one, expect more furniture busters in our future.
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