Ontario witnessed another election night yesterday. Despite blue sky sunny Autumn weather across the province, 48% of eligible voters
bothered to show up to cast a ballot.
A new record low that comes at a time when we’ve watched the so called Arab Spring roll across northern Africa, and the Middle East, with people rising up against autocratic rulers and demanding democracy. For a great many in Ontario, a televised season opener between the Habs and the Leafs was the most anticipated democratic viewing choice over up-to-the-second vote counts which kept the political nerds on the edge of their seats. For another great many who aren’t hockey fans or Queen’s Park watchers last night was just another Thursday. Indeed, for many the last 4 weeks of the election campaign was just 4 weeks.
While apathy may seem to be on the rise it could be that Ontario voters are just electioned out – not from just the recent last 4 weeks, but the lead up to, and the 4 weeks of a federal election race in May. Added to that, in Hamilton and communities across the province municipal elections demanded voter attention and engagement less than a year ago for another 4 weeks, not including the lead up speculation etc.
Another reason for the declining turnout may be the sense of powerlessness many are sensing for the need for electoral reform. The first-past-the-post system does not take into account the popular vote and therefore many votes cast go to losing local candidates that have little or no effect on which party takes control of the Legislature. A growing proportion of the non-voting voters make a fair argument that they aren’t apathetic – they’re simply frustrated by the ineffectiveness of their vote so why bother voting at all?
Just putting words to describe that peculiarity in our voting process makes ones eyes glaze over. Eye glazing is perhaps the best term to describe this past campaign, especially when one of the party leaders appeared to be snoozing just ahead of the official campaign launch. It seems Dalton McGuinty was on his way to a third term long before Tim Hudak was on his way to making his predecessor look good. The unpreparedness of all the main parties leading up to Ontario’s very first set-date election was evident months ago.
Once the election campaign was underway it was difficult to pin down an issue that defined the race. Tim Hudak hammered McGuinty every day of the campaign reminding voters of the Liberal’s backtracking on pledges against raising taxes. Meanwhile, hope was riding high in the NDP that some of the outpouring of grief and subsequent popularity surge following the death of federal leader Jack Layton would propel Andrea Horwath and the provincial NDP.
When the Liberals promised and pledged to give tax credits to businesses who hired new Canadians Hudak accused McGuinty of promoting affirmative action. Some thought it was a deliberate tactic by the Liberals to trip up the Tories. The backlash seemed to hurt the Tories more than the Liberals and it dogged them for the whole campaign. Some compared it with the faith-based school debacle which was blamed for killing John Tory’s aspirations in 2007.
The Leaders’ Debate came and went. They were all well rehearsed, quick with the zingers, but truly ineffective in giving any sort of idea what they each really stood for. The two newcomers held up well to the Premier who handled it like an old pro except for some of his over-enthusiastic hand gestures, parodied in this great YouTube presentation.
On the Hamilton home front The Spectator endorsed the Liberals, which is in keeping with their choices going back many years. Given Mr. Hudak’s lack of being committed to continuing the uploading of social service costs from municipalities to the province, there’s a fair reason the PC’s didn’t do so well in cities which would have faced huge jumps in property taxes.
On the other hand, Hamilton pretty much kissed good-bye aspirations for an LRT, previously promised by the McGuinty Liberals in 2007, when the Mayor and Premier shared the podium to give priority to all day GO trains. Having a bad economic plan didn’t help the Liberals but they were no different from the other parties.
In the end the Liberals eked out a slim minority from Ontario voters. Dalton McGuinty had to know his tax imposing government was in trouble, but in the end he got his third term and set his mark in Ontario history.
Ontario’s last election