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All For Nothing

by John Bourne

when the Ontario government announced in early May that there would be a provincial election, many people from all parties sprung into action. The Harris Tories had just given the province four of its most tumultuous and soul-searching years, and many saw this as an opportunity to send a message to the administration which had caused so much grief to so many people. Although nobody expected the Conservatives to be turfed out of office, many non-supporters envisioned a best case scenario of a Tory minority. With so many anti-Harris groups greeting the Premier at every campaign stop, this goal seemed attainable; however, when all the votes were counted on election day, Ontario received an altogether different result which will inevitably change the face of the province forever.

Many issues and incidents surfaced throughout the campaign, and in order to fully analyze and understand what happened, it is best look at each one discretely.

Strategic Voting
If historians and academics look back on this election, it will be used as a case study on how ineffective and misguided strategic voting is. In order to defeat Harris, leaders from unions and special interest groups called for "strategic voting" - which in this case meant all Liberals and New Democrats should lay aside their partisan inclinations and vote for the candidate which had the best chance of defeating the Conservative. Although the theory seemed logical, in the end it was a complete failure, at the expense of the NDP.

In order for strategic voting to be a success, it would need the co-operation of all Liberal and NDP voters. This did not happen. Of the 103 ridings, 27 were targeted for the "strategic" vote (ridings with incumbents were left alone. The 27 ridings represented non-incumbent ridings in which the Tory was deemed vulnerable). An organization of strategic voters was formed, and they endorsed either a Liberal or NDP candidate for each of the 27 areas. Seventeen Liberals and ten New Democrats were chosen. What became obvious from the moment the endorsed candidates were announced was that NDP supporters were willing to toe the line in order to defeat the Conservatives; Liberal supporters were not. They disputed almost every one of the endorsed NDP candidates, and on election day the votes were split in those ridings (to the advantage of the Tories). Liberals can take some comfort in this however, since it resulted in a collapse of the NDP in the legislature and the emergence of the Grits as the only clear and significant opposition party.

The Demise of the NDP
Many say this is the end of the NDP in Ontario, and, unfortunately, it may be true. With only nine seats, they have lost official party status, and their percentage of the popular vote (12%) is the lowest the party has ever received. Although they were clearly victims of strategic voting, they continue to be hindered by the legacy of the Bob Rae years. In order to distance themselves from that administration, they even campaigned, in vain, under the auspices of "Today's NDP".

The NDP went into this election without any strong endorsements from organized labour. While the unions tried to decide who to support, NDP leader Howard Hampton and CAW president Buzz Hargrove publicly feuded, compromising any credibility and momentum the party was building. This was especially damaging, since many feel that Hampton won the leaders debate, and this personal spat only left doubts in the minds of undecided voters. What was made abundantly clear is that without the overwhelming support of labour unions, the Ontario NDP has no hope of winning a significant amount of seats in the legislature.

Effective Opposition
Much criticism has been directed toward the NDP government which ruled Ontario from 1990-1995 (some of it deserved, some of it not). One thing that cannot be taken away from them, however, is the effective opposition they provided to all administrations prior to their surprise election win. Now that the NDP has lost its party status, occupying only nine seats, the Ontario Liberals are expected to be the sole opposition. The difference is that the NDP was always respected as opposition because they always had an alternative agenda, with a sympathy for special interest groups and working families, while the Liberals have tried to be everything to everybody. In this election, the Liberals offered no real alternatives to the Conservatives, running simply on the premise that Dalton McGuinty is not Mike Harris. The history of the Ontario Liberals show that, when push comes to shove, the more right-leaning factions of the party tends to prevail. Only the Tories and the NDP had a clear platform, at complete opposite ends of the spectrum from each other. Without an NDP opposition, the Tories will do whatever they want for the next four years.

Ontario Democracy
During the first Conservative term in office, 75% of the residents in Metro Toronto voted against amalgamation in a plebiscite; Mike Harris ignored the result and created the Mega-City. 80% of Ontarians polled said that health care and education were the top priorities of the province; the Tories slashed funding and closed schools and hospitals. In the election, only 45% of voters cast a ballot for the Conservatives; they were swept into power with a second straight majority. Democracy has no future in Ontario.

Unresolved Tory Issues
During the campaign there were numerous issues lingering from the first term which the Liberals and NDP could have exploited, yet for some reason there was nary a mention of them in the media or the literature of the parties. Besides some grass roots protesters who greeted the Premier at every stop, these issues barely caused a stir. Amongst some of the more significant were: a) the shooting of Dudley George at Ipperwash Provincial Park, in which the O.P.P. claim they used force under orders from the Premier's office; b) the impending teacher shortage, in which many of the brightest and most experienced educators in the province are retiring as a result of constant criticism from the government; and c) the inability of the Tories to table a balanced budget, even though the economy is doing well. It is difficult to figure why these issues were ignored by Ontario voters. Either they were ill-informed, or, more disturbingly, they simply did not care.

As the results rolled in, and the CBC reported another Tory majority, the mood for many was less than jubilant. The television showed many sombre, angry faces, many talking of leaving the province. The message was clear - four years of Days of Action, teacher strikes, rallies to save schools and hospitals, and protests from natives and unions, had all been for nothing

John Bourne is a writer from Holland Landing, Ontario, and is dreading the next four years of Tory rule.
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