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Ontario: No Political Hat Trick

12 Oct

Back in the middle of the summer, when politics and elections were the furthest things from most people’s minds, Toronto mayor Rob Ford hosted a barbecue for 800 of his closest friends.

It was a special event honoring federal finance minister Jim Flaherty for his work helping Toronto-area candidates make historic breakthroughs during the federal election earlier this year.

Those federal breakthroughs came about six months after Ford’s own breakthrough victory in Toronto – a steak-and-potatoes conservative mayor winning power in what some perceive as a brie-and-white-wine liberal city.

The barbecue came to the attention of the media because of a surprise guest who showed up to address the gathering: Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

In a video of the event shot by one of the barbecue guests and later posted online, Harper made partisan comments about Ontario politics:

“We started cleaning up the left wing mess federally in this area,” Harper said. “Rob’s doing it municipally. And now we’ve got to complete the hat trick and do it provincially as well.”

When Harper made those remarks in early August, it seemed likely that Ontario PC leader Tim Hudak had a good chance of completing that conservative hat trick. Only two months before the scheduled provincial election, his party sat comfortably atop public opinion polls, and the trend over many months had shown Progressive Conservative support growing as support for Premier Dalton McGuinty’s governing Liberals steadily fell.

In retrospect, Hudak was trying to swim against a couple of longstanding currents in Ontario politics. The first was the tendency of Ontarians to give party leaders some extended time on the opposition benches before they are willing to vote them into government. Hudak’s two immediate predecessors as PC leader – John Tory and Ernie Eves – learned that lesson the hard way, as did McGuinty himself when he was trounced by Mike Harris in his first election campaign as Liberal leader in 1999.

The second – even more unfailing – current was the tendency of Ontario voters to vote in different parties provincially than they do federally. In the 1970s, when Pierre Trudeau’s Liberals held power in Ottawa, so did Bill Davis’s Tories at Queens Park. In the ‘80s, Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservative governments negotiated with Liberal and NDP governments in Ontario. In the ‘90s, Liberals under Jean Chretien owed successive majority victories to Ontario voters, who handed them near-sweeps of this province. At the same time, they were giving Mike Harris similar victories in provincial elections. Finally, the current Harper era in federal politics has coincided with the McGuinty era in Ontario.

When the video of Harper’s barbecue speech showed up online, his aides seemed to realize that it probably wasn’t helpful to the Hudak campaign, or to the conservative cause, for the Prime Minister to be seen making such a blatant partisan intervention into a provincial election campaign. A bit of an Internet cat-and-mouse game ensued, with Conservatives trying to remove every online appearance of the video as quickly as McGuinty supporters could get it reposted.

As I have written before on this blog, it helps to imagine this province as an Ontario-shaped target, with a lop-sided blue bull’s-eye in the middle, stretching across the rural southwestern, central and eastern parts of the province. That’s the conservative heartland – a couple-dozen ridings that right-leaning parties usually win easily in both provincial and federal elections.

Splotches of NDP orange dot the outer edge of the province-shaped target, where the most urban neighborhoods of our cities and the least-populated stretches of our northern regions lie. When New Democrats do well in Ontario – as they did in both elections this year – the perimeter of the province grows a deeper shade of orange.

Between the orange edge and the blue bull’s-eye is the red Liberal donut that expands or shrinks at the expense of the other colors, depending on the Grits’ success from election to election.

In May’s federal election, the Tories and the NDP both took big bites out of different sides of that donut – most notably in Toronto-area ridings. The result was the worst showing ever for the federal Liberal party.

In Ontario earlier this month, it was Toronto voters – and to a lesser extent those in Ottawa and a few other urban areas – who preserved the red donut enough to give the McGuinty Liberals a narrow minority victory.

It’s hard to know if Harper’s comments helped McGuinty win. But they certainly underlined the fact that in this province, political hat tricks are hard to come by.

Stéphane Dion, Joe Clark and John Tory

1 Nov

On the evening of Dec. 2, 2006, in a wide corridor of Montreal’s Palais des congrès, I bumped into a political lobbyist of my acquaintance.

Both of us were trudging slowly through the middle of a large, loud and excited crowd of people, everyone leaving the main hall of the convention centre and heading out the doors toward the charms of downtown Montreal Saturday night.

Not too much earlier, inside the main hall, Stéphane Dion stood on a confetti-laden stage, flanked by Jean Chrétien, John Turner, and Paul Martin, three former residents of 24 Sussex Drive.

As the music blared and Dion waved to the thousands of convention delegates who had just elected him as the newest – and perhaps unlikeliest – leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, he had every reason to believe he would one day also live in the same house, and hold the same title of Prime Minister, as had the men surrounding him.

After all, of the ten Liberals who preceded Dion as leader, only one – Edward Blake – had failed to become Prime Minister of Canada. And Blake’s leadership of the party came to an end in 1887.

Dion had just won a job that had provided a surefire ticket to the Prime Minister’s Office for almost twelve decades straight.

The delegates seemed as united as could be expected after a dramatic, emotion-laden convention that saw Dion go from fourth to first place over two days and four ballots.

He had come into the convention with the estimated support of about 15 per cent of the delegates, well behind front-runner Michael Ignatieff’s 28 per cent.

But on the final ballot, with only Dion and Ignatieff left standing, he beat the former front-runner 55 to 45 per cent.

He was a compromise candidate, sure, coming up the middle of a bitter, divisive rivalry between Ignatieff and Bob Rae. But as they streamed out of the convention hall, most delegates seemed happy with the choice, many of them won over by Dion’s fresh message of change, integrity and environmentalism. Some felt they had dodged a bullet by picking the best candidate to unite the party behind a new kind of politics and a new, greener vision of Liberalism.

My hard-bitten acquaintance in the crowded hallway wasn’t buying any of it. He had come to the convention as a Rae supporter, and was departing it shaking his head, unmoved by the victory of the bookish Dion.

“The Liberals,” he said to me moments after I offered my greetings, “just had their Joe Clark moment.”

Almost two years later, the comparison has proven apt. Dion, like Clark three decades earlier when he won the Progressive Conservative leadership, had few allies in his party, won the leadership by default when more charismatic and prominent rivals failed to earn enough delegate trust, and promptly developed a reputation as an honorable-but-bumbling leader with big ideas but few political smarts to implement them.

After leading his party in last month’s federal election to one of the worst electoral defeats in its history, and then reluctantly announcing he was stepping down from the leadership, Dion has joined Edward Blake as the answer to a newly rephrased political trivia question:

Who were the only two Liberal leaders who failed to become Prime Minister?

In his electoral campaign, Dion resembled not so much Joe Clark but more John Tory, the Ontario PC leader who crashed and burned in last year’s provincial election campaign.

Both Dion and Tory ran big policy ideas up the flagpole for voters – Tory’s was public funding for non-Catholic faith-based schools and Dion’s was the so-called Green Shift, which promised income tax cuts to balance out a new carbon tax that would help fight climate change – but neither leader bothered to check beforehand if members of his own party were saluting.

After Tory lost the election last year, here’s what I wrote about his campaign here:

Conviction does matter, of course. And yes, principles and policies also matter. But in the absence of politics – the process by which those-who-would-lead persuade those-who-would-be-led to follow them down any particular path – conviction and policies can be as hollow as… well… as hollow as John Tory’s campaign turned out to be.

The description fits Dion’s campaign, too.

Sadly for Dion, he will not get a second chance. The political promise that won the hearts of Liberal delegates on Dec. 2, 2006 got trumped by a deficit of political skills perceived that day by at least one clear-eyed observer in the crowd.

Picking through election entrails

15 Oct

Suppose they held an election and nothing happened?

Not too much, anyway.

In September, Prime Minister Stephen Harper declared the 2.5-year-old minority Parliament to be unworkable.

In search of a more workable mandate, he violated his own fixed-election-date legislation to dissolve that Parliament and send Canadians to the polls for the third time in four years.

Five weeks, 300-million-dollars, one pooping puffin controversy, two roundtable debates, dozens of negative ads, and one international economic crisis later, did he get that mandate?

Well… kinda.

Sorta.

In his third kick at the can as party leader, Harper’s Conservatives gained a few seats, but still fell short of a majority government. And thanks to some ill-received policies and poorly executed strategies, the party failed to build upon its big Quebec breakthrough in the last election, once again winning ten seats in that province.

The NDP, under Jack Layton, also picked up a few more seats, but fell far short of the goal Layton publicly and repeatedly set. He said he was running for Prime Minister, but ended up once again as the leader of the fourth party in the House of Commons.

With the help of some Conservative self-inflicted wounds, Gilles Duceppe’s Bloc Québécois won by holding steady. Once again, the Bloc showed that rumors of its death were greatly exaggerated, as it won the lion’s share of Quebec seats for the sixth straight election. More than any other factor, it is the Bloc’s enduring ability to hold onto dozens of Quebec seats that accounts for the fact that Canadians have elected minority governments in three elections running.

The Green Party won a plethora of publicity and media attention, a seat at the table of the televised leaders’ debates for leader Elizabeth May, and in the end, exactly zero seats in the House of Commons for all its efforts.

And then there is the Liberal Party…

Oh, the Liberals…

It was one of the worst election results ever for the Grits, once known as Canada’s Natural Governing Party. The Liberals won only eight seats west of Ontario, suffered a net loss of seats in their Atlantic Canada stronghold, and made some marginal gains in Quebec, where they continued to be almost exclusively limited to the island of Montreal.

But the most telling results for the Liberal Party came in Ontario. A decade ago, the party regularly won almost all of the available seats in this province. This time around, it didn’t even take most of those 106 seats.

Conservative candidates won almost half of all Ontario ridings, the NDP increased its seat count in the province by almost 50 per cent by taking away Liberal seats in Northern Ontario, and the Liberal Party was in retreat everywhere save its electoral fortress of Toronto.

Even in the country’s largest city, the Conservatives began showing signs of breaching the Liberal castle walls. They took several seats in the suburban 905 region just outside of Toronto.

And Conservative star candidate Peter Kent won the riding of Thornhill, which borders the city of Toronto.

Thornhill happens to be the riding with the largest per-capita Jewish population in the province. It also happens to be the one riding the provincial Progressive Conservative party picked up in their wretched campaign during last year’s Ontario election.

Picking through the entrails of this year’s federal vote, there were several other signs the Conservative Party has made some headway in their attempts to win over the support of the traditionally big-L-Liberal so-called ethnic vote.

The Conservatives took several ridings with diverse multicultural populations from the Liberals in Ontario and British Columbia. And in Toronto proper, ridings such as Eglinton-Lawrence, York Centre, and Willowdale – ridings with significant minority-group populations that are usually among the safest Liberal seats in the country – featured much tighter races.

In 2006, Liberal Joe Volpe won Eglinton-Lawrence by defeating his Conservative rival by more than 11,000 votes. This time around, Volpe’s margin of victory was reduced to 2,200.

Within hours – minutes even – of the final vote count, quotes from anonymous Liberals began appearing in the media calling for the head of leader Stéphane Dion.

Fighting his first election as leader, Dion failed miserably to reverse his party’s slide of the past few years.

But the nearly bankrupt and disunited Liberals can ill-afford another lengthy, expensive and divisive leadership race.

After all, we’ve ended up with another minority Parliament, and Canadians may be going to the polls yet again before too long.

Election night cheat sheet for political junkies

14 Oct

UPDATE: Election post-mortem here

Will tonight’s federal election result in more of the same or are we in for a surprise or two? Here’s a cheat sheet on the tightest local races, which are likely to decide the election. Clip, save, place next to your chips, beer and TV remote, and consult as results pour in from east to west:

Atlantic Canada

Newfoundland and Labrador: The big question here is how effective Premier Danny Williams‘ Anyone But Conservative campaign has been. The Conservatives went into this election holding three of the province’s seven seats — St. John’s East, St. John’s South – Mt. Pearl, and Avalon — and are in danger of losing all three: Two to the Liberals and St. John’s East to the NDP’s star candidate, Jack Harris, the party’s former provincial leader.

Prince Edward Island: The Island’s four ridings have not gone anything but Liberal for 20 years. The Conservatives seem to think they have enough of a shot in the riding of Egmont, which takes in the city of Summerside and the western part of PEI, that Prime Minister Stephen Harper made PEI the first stop in his big final-day cross-country push yesterday. The Liberals are running former PEI Premier Keith Milligan there against the Tory candidate Gail Shea, a former provincial cabinet minister.

Nova Scotia: No riding here has garnered more interest than Central Nova, where Green Party leader Elizabeth May is trying to topple Defence Minister Peter MacKay. If she succeeds, it will be one of the top stories of the election. Elsewhere, former Conservative MP Bill Casey will try to hold onto Cumberland – Colchester – Musquodoboit Valley as an independent candidate, and the NDP hopes to add to its two N.S. seats (Halifax and Sackville-Eastern Shore) by poaching Dartmouth-Cole Harbour from the Libs and South Shore – St. Margaret’s from the Tories.

New Brunswick: The Liberals tend to dominate in the northern half of this province (with the exception of the NDP stronghold of Acadie-Bathurst). and the Tories tend to dominate in the southern half, leaving a trio of adjoining swing ridings in central and western New Brunswick worth watching: Fredericton, Tobique – Mactaquaq and Madawaska – Restigouche.

Quebec

Montreal / Laval : The Conservatives are not a factor anywhere in the metropolis, where the Liberals still hold on to their core Quebec vote. There are four races to watch here, all in traditional Liberal ridings the Grits hope to retake from opponents. In Papineau, Ahuntsic and Jeanne-Le-Ber, those opponents are Bloc MPs. Papineau Liberal candidate Justin Trudeau hopes to become the third son-of-a-Prime-Minister in Canadian history to sit as an MP (trivia points to anyone who can name the other two). In Outremont, the Liberals hope to unseat NDP incumbent Thomas Mulcair, who won the seat in a byelection. If Mulcair holds on, it will be the first time in history that an NDP candidate won a Quebec seat in a general election.

Quebec City / Northeastern Quebec: These are the areas where the Conservatives made their great breakthroughs in the last election – breakthroughs they hoped to build on this time around. Instead, an erratic campaign has them hoping to preserve what they already had. Their seats on the south shore of the Saint-Laurent, across from Quebec City, seem safe, but several in the provincial capital and in Saguenay-Lac Saint Jean are in danger of swinging back to the Bloc. These ridings include Beauport-Limoilou, Charlesbourg-Haute-Saint-Charles, Louis-Hébert, Roberval-Lac-Saint-Jean, and the Jonquière-Alma riding of cabinet minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn. The only safe Conservative seat north of the river seems to be Louis-Saint-Laurent, held by Heritage Minister Josée Verner.

Elsewhere: It’s all safe Bloc seats, including Vaudreuil-Soulanges, where previously unelected cabinet minister Michael Fortier is expected to remain unelected. The only exceptions are the three Outaouais ridings, across the river from Ottawa. Hull-Aylmer is the only remaining safe-ish Liberal seat outside of Montreal. Pontiac will continue to be held by Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon if the other three major parties continue to split the vote. And in Gatineau, NDP candidate Francoise Boivin hopes to win back the seat she lost to the Bloc as a Liberal incumbent last time around.

Ontario

Toronto: The biggest Liberal bastion in the country. A couple of tight NDP-Liberal races worth watching are in Parkdale – High Park, where former Liberal leadership candidate Gerard Kennedy hopes to win back his old provincial riding from incumbent New Democrat Peggy Nash, and Beaches-East York, which former NDP MPP Marilyn Churley will once again try to win away from longtime Liberal MP Maria Minna.

The 905: The region surrounding Toronto where many elections get decided. Many interesting races to watch here. In the eastern part of the 905 semi-circle, Oshawa always hosts tight three-way races. Farther west, the Conservatives hope to retake Newmarket-Aurora now that Belinda Stronach has left politics and Halton, now that incumbent Garth Turner has left their party and become a Liberal. Similarly, the Liberals hope to retake Mississauga-Streetsville from Grit-turned-Tory Wajid Khan. Conservatives also have a chance in several other ridings that have gone Liberal for years: Mississauga-Erindale, Mississauga South, and Oakville. In the Hamilton-Niagara region, the Liberals hope to retake Hamilton East – Stoney Creek from the NDP and St. Catherines from the Tories. And look for a close three-way race in Welland.

Southwestern Ontario: The two closest races in this region are likely to be in Brant and London West, where Liberal incumbents defend their seats against Conservative challengers.

Eastern and Northern Ontario: Incumbents seem pretty safe in Eastern Ontario. The closest race in this region is likely to be Glengarry-Prescott-Russell, where Dan Boudria attempts to win back his father Don‘s old riding, won by the Conservatives in 2008. The NDP has high hopes in the north, where New Democratic candidates have their eyes on a number of seats the Liberals won last time around, including Algoma – Manitoulin – Kapuskasing, Kenora, Nickel Belt, Thunder Bay – Rainy River and Thunder Bay – Superior North. Also worth watching is Parry Sound – Muskoka, which cabinet minister Tony Clement won last time in the closest race in the country.

Prairie Provinces

Manitoba: The Liberal’s three incumbent MPs in the province were all fighting tough battles in this election. The NDP hopes to grab Churchill, the Tories hope to win Saint-Boniface and Winnipeg South-Centre. If the Libs have any chance to regain an old seat, it will be in Winnipeg South, won by the Tories last time.

Saskatchewan: Ralph Goodale‘s one Liberal seat in this province is probably safe, as are most of the other Conservative seats in the province, with the exception of Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar and Palliser, former NDP seats that party hopes to win back, and Desenthé-Missinippi-Churchill RIver, which Progressive-Conservative-turned-Liberal David Orchard hopes to win after being denied the nomination by Stéphane Dion in a recent byelection.

Alberta: The easiest province to pick should go all-Tory all-the-time. The two ridings where there could be longshot upsets are Edmonton-Strathcona, which the NDP often wins provincially and where it has the best (longshot) chance in he province, and Calgary Northeast, where a divisive nomination race resulted in one Conservative running as an independent against the official party candidate, with a (longshot) chance at splitting the vote.

British Columbia and the North

Vancouver Island: Three races to watch here: Esquimault-Juan de Fuca, where Liberal incumbent Keith Martin is in a three-way race, Vancouver Island North, which the Tories hope to take back from the NDP, and Saanich – Gulf Islands, where cabinet minister Gary Lunn faces an unexpectedly strong challenge from the Liberals, after the NDP candidate was forced to withdraw from the race.

Greater Vancouver: Many interesting races here. Liberal incumbents face strong Tory challenges in Richmond, Newton-North Delta, North Vancouver and Vancouver-Quadra, and the Liberals and NDP are in a tough race in Vancouver Kingsway, most recently held by Liberal-turned-Tory-turned-retired-cabinet-minister David Emerson. Two other ridings worth watching are West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country, which the Conservatives hope to win back from Liberal-turned-Green Blair Wilson, and Surrey North, once held by the late Chuck Cadman. Cadman’s widow Dona is running for the Tories in a riding won in 2006 by the NDP.

Elsewhere in B.C.: Many safe Tory and NDP seats all over rural British Columbia. The one exception may be Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo, which the NDP hopes to poach from the Conservatives.

The Arctic Territories: Yukon is a safe Liberal seat, Western Arctic is a safe NDP seat, but Nunavut may be tossup, which explains why so many leaders have visited Iqaluit lately.

Tune in tonight, and keep this guide handy…

A politically expedient payoff?

13 Oct

Over the summer, Prime Minister Stephen Harper decided his party needed to go to the electorate as soon as possible to give the Conservatives their best possible shot at a majority government. Political expedience trumped the PM’s own fixed election date legislation.

The public opinion polls hadn’t really changed much in the 2.5 years he had been in office. The Liberals were poised to win at least three by-elections in September. The economic outlook was less than rosy, and economic downturns tend to hurt incumbent governments in election campaigns.

Also, the prospect of steering an already overextended minority government through another year of a divided parliament offered little political upside.

So, the decision was made. Then somebody looked at a calendar.

They couldn’t begin an election campaign before Labour Day. And they couldn’t schedule a campaign that coincided with this year’s Francophonie Summit in Quebec City, which begins this coming weekend.

That left very little wiggle room on fixing a date to replace the fixed date.

So after one election campaign and one holiday weekend, Canadians are going to the polls tomorrow, even though tomorrow also happens to be a day that some Canadians are celebrating a religious holiday.

(When asked about the decision to go to the polls on Sukkot, one government official said “you have to be practical about these things,” suggested that any date they picked was bound to conflict with someone’s holiday and advised Jewish voters they could “always vote in advance polls” – not exactly a stellar campaign strategy to win over the big-L-Liberal-leaning Jewish vote).

So… did the PM’s politically expedient gamble pay off? We won’t know until tomorrow, of course. But none of the final public opinion polls released today put the Conservatives in majority territory (although a substantial number of undecided voters late in the campaign and the unknown variable of a vote the day after a long weekend could result in some undetected last-minute shifts in voting intentions).

This site, usually good at predicting seat counts in various Canadian elections, shows a result very similar to the last election in 2006.

At the beginning of this campaign, I wrote that Central Canada would determine the outcome of the vote. The Tories pinned their majority hopes on picking up a number of Quebec seats from a collapsing Bloc Québecois. A few self-inflicted wounds into the campaign, those hopes seemed dashed.

In the absence of a breakthrough in the Conservative-less fortress of Toronto, Ontario never held as much promise as Quebec as a source of new government MPs. Also, Ontario tends to follow Quebec’s lead in federal elections. Traditionally, Ontarians don’t get too comfy with any electoral change until they sense that Quebec is okay with it. In that sense, Harper’s political ball-dropping in La Belle Province may have set his party back even more than originally thought.

Again, we’ll see what happens tomorrow night. But if the predictions hold true, the status quo holds, and the PM’s politically expedient gamble didn’t pay off … in the short term, at least. In fact, many of the seat projections suggest a more regionally divided country and a more pizza-like parliament than before.

Which also suggests that we’ll be going to the polls yet again before the next fixed election date kicks in.

UPDATE: Election night cheat sheet here.

UPDATE 2: Election post-mortem here

The Federal Election: Central Canada decides again?

7 Sep

On Day One of the Canadian federal election, it was interesting to note the leaders of all four major parties spent at least part of their day in Quebec:

• Stephen Harper made scenic Quebec City his first stop after triggering the election this morning at Rideau Hall:

• Jack Layton launched his campaign in Gatineau, but mostly for the Ontario-based backdrop:

• Stéphane Dion addressed a rally in Ottawa, and then headed to Montreal in the campaign bus that will serve as his main transportation until that Air Inuit plane is ready (echenblog exclusive photos below):

Stéphane Dion at Liberal rally, Ottawa, Sept. 7, 2008

Stéphane Dion, Liberal rally, Ottawa, Sept. 7, 2008

Dion bus, Montreal-bound, Ottawa, Sept. 7, 2008

• and Gilles Duceppe… well… he only campaigns in Quebec, doesn’t he?

But Quebec is where the action is this election. It’s where polls are showing the best prospects for Conservative Party growth in that party’s search for an elusive majority,  where the Bloc Québecois is polling some of the worst numbers in its history, where the Liberals were reduced to a core rump of seats – mostly in English-speaking Montreal – last time ’round, and where the NDP made a historic breakthrough by capturing Outremont in a recent byelection.

The main question is… how many seats can the Conservatives take from the Bloc?

At the end of the recently deceased Parliament, the Bloc had 48 seats, all but seven of them off of the Island of Montreal. In addition, there were three other non-Montreal Quebec seats that were vacant or held by independent MPs.

Taking Montreal – where Bloc losses do not necessarily mean Tory gains (as opposed to outside Montreal, where they most likely do) – off the table, that’s a pool of 44 Quebec seats the Tories have a shot at picking up from a collapsing Bloc. There’s yer majority. There’s nowhere else in the country with as many concentrated ridings that are potential Conservative gains. It will likely be the Bloc’s performance in those ridings that determines whether or not minority government continues in this country.

No wonder Gilles Duceppe is already playing this card.

Ontario also has some possibilities for the Conservatives, none as promising as suburban and rural Quebec.

Here’s a top-of-head take on Conservative prospects for growth in Ontario:

Eastern Ontario
: Little room for growth. Most of the ridings in this region are already held by the Conservatives, except for several ridings in central and east-end Ottawa and in Kingston, where they aren’t usually competitive. The Liberals also have a couple of notable candidates who may have shots of winning back ridings they lost to the Tories last time around – former cabinet minister David Pratt, who is taking on current cabinet minister John Baird in Ottawa West – Nepean, and Dan Boudria, who is trying to win back the Glengarry-Prescott-Russell riding that his father Don held for many years.

Central Ontario: Also little room for growth. Last time around, the region was painted Tory blue from Haliburton to Parry Sound down to all of Durham and York regions. They’d like to take back Belinda Stronach’s seat, but they could also lose a couple that were tight races last time around (for example, Landslide Tony Clement’s and Oshawa)

Northern Ontario: Few prospects. This is traditionally a region where the Liberals battle the NDP, while the Tories sit on the sidelines.

Toronto: If the Tories breach the Liberal fortress of Toronto in any significant way, then we can be pretty sure it is a sign of a massive nationwide Liberal collapse, and the question is not whether or not the Tories can win a majority, but rather how big that majority will be.

905 West: This is the only region where the governing party may have some potential to pick up a “concentrated” handful of seats – but barring a massive Liberal collapse (see above) it’s probably only a handful – maybe four or five – in the Brampton-Mississauga area. They may take back Garth Turner’s riding. But the Liberals could take back Wajid Khan’s and St. Catherines. A Conservative breakthrough in this multicultural area may be a sign that the party’s efforts to woo the so-called “ethnic vote” has been a success,  but… we’ll see. There probably aren’t enough potential pickups here to put them into majority territory.

Southwestern Ontario: After being shut-out in this region throughout the divided-Right Chrétien years, the Conservatives regained all of their traditional strongholds here in the last two elections. The ridings that didn’t go Tory are some urban ones in Kitchener-Waterloo, London, and Windsor. Notably, Green Party leader Elizabeth May launched her campaign in Guelph. Could the Green vote split the left in some of these ridings? Maybe, but again, there aren’t a lot of seats left here that the Tories could reasonably pick up.

All that being said, recent polls have picked up on a growing Tory popularity in Ontario, but those polls aren’t specific enough to know whether Harper has gained support in Ontario by firing up his base –  which wouldn’t gain him too many seats – or by reaching out successfully to traditional Liberal constituencies – which would.

As for the rest of the country? To be continued…

Lesson from Ontario: Politics matter

14 Oct

John Tory ran his campaign to become Premier of Ontario under the motto “Leadership Matters”. The lesson to be drawn from that disastrous campaign? Politics matter.

Tory’s campaign crashed and splintered on the shoals of his promise to extend public funding to non-Catholic faith-based schools. It was a policy born of conviction and principles, he repeatedly said.

He said it even after he reversed course late in the campaign and – in an attempt to quash a rebellion over the issue within the Progressive Conservative base itself – announced he would subject the policy to a free vote, which likely would have killed it before it could be implemented.

Conviction does matter, of course. And yes, principles and policies also matter. But in the absence of politics – the process by which those-who-would-lead persuade those-who-would-be-led to follow them down any particular path – conviction and policies can be as hollow as… well… as hollow as John Tory’s campaign turned out to be.

Even with all the personal conviction in the world, you cannot lead a team of people without first convincing them to go in the same direction as you.

In the wake of the campaign results, there are even stories emerging that the very groups to whom this policy should have most appealed – religious and cultural groups who have been lobbying for funding for many years – were not completely onside.

They were supportive of the policy, but uncomfortable both with the way it was handled by Tory, and also with his apparent inability to foresee and quell the backlash it provoked.

Indeed, the Progressive Conservatives may have hoped the faith-based school funding issue would help them make electoral gains among different minority communities, but there was little evidence of that on voting day.

They won back the riding of Thornhill, with its large Jewish population, but failed to make any other inroads in Ontario’s many multicultural suburban and urban ridings. John Tory himself failed to win a seat in Don Valley West, exactly that sort of riding.

On the other side of the coin, Dalton McGuinty made history this election by becoming the first Liberal Premier of Ontario in seven decades to win back-to-back majorities. But insomuch as he accomplished this feat by exploiting Tory’s mishandling of the faith-based school funding issue, it is worth noting that his party’s election strategy did little to promote the “social cohesion” he said he was defending.

By explicitly connecting faith-based schools to the “strife, struggle and controversy” found on the streets of Western Europe, where debates over multiculturalism have occasionally turned violent in recent years, McGuinty turned up the heat and emotions on the issue. He has credibly been accused of using coded language to appeal to majority fears of minority groups. Especially Muslims.

At the same time, the Liberal leader never clearly answered questions about his own contradictory position against religious school funding, except when it comes to Roman Catholic schools – a defense of the Ontario public education status quo, which has been condemned by a committee of the United Nations.

It served the Liberals well as a short-term strategy. By obfuscating their own contradictions, they may have attracted voters who were opposed to funding any faith-based schools, including Roman Catholic.

In the wake of John Tory’s experience, it is unlikely any mainstream political party will want to touch this issue again for many years. But they may not have a choice.

Opinion polls show a rising backlash not only against extending funding to non-Catholic schools, but also against perpetuating the Catholic separate school system itself.

So far, the only political party in agreement with that sentiment is the Green Party of Ontario, which did not win any seats this election, but did increase its vote more than any other party.

As long as one faith’s schools are funded to the exclusion of others, the issue will remain on the table. And so long as it does remain, the future status of all religious schools – including Catholic separate schools – is uncertain.