In the coming days, there will be plenty of messages of sympathy for both the soon-to-be-former leaders of the Ontario NDP and Liberals.
Being the leader is hard, you’ll hear. Public service is a noble calling, and those who answer the call should be commended. Hats off to running a campaign at all. That sort of thing. It’s all bullshit.
We’ve just had an election that will define the province of Ontario for a generation or more, and neither of the opposition parties could muster the anger and outrage for the moment to fight Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative (PC) government. It was a dud. Both opposition leaders — the NDP’s Andrea Horwath and the Liberal’s Steven Del Duca — failed to accomplish anything other than their own destruction.
It’s hard to really get my head around the failure here. After two years in the maw of a pandemic, brutally mismanaged by Ford, these two oafs made a highway for commuters to Toronto the big issue. It failed utterly.
When they weren’t attacking Ford over issues of narrow importance, they were busy sniping at each other. The NDP and Liberals spent so much time trying to climb over the other party that they never seemed to notice Ford was running off into the distance.
Each tried to prove they were the most credible threat to stop Ford, while at no point connecting with voters with anything positive. “Stop Ford” isn’t a policy. It’s not a tangible promise to make the lives of the people of Ontario better. It might mean Ontario would be better in some ephemeral way, but you can’t put your arm around ephemera.
The biggest failure looks to be Horwath. Her party was able to win 1.9 million votes and 40 seats across the province in the 2018 election. This time around, the NDP fell some 800,000 votes short of that mark, with only about 1.1 million votes and 31 seats. Their share of the popular vote dropped about 10 percentage points between the two elections, from 33.5 to 23.7 per cent.
Liberals, hapless party they’ve become, pulled in about 1.1 million votes in both elections, and converted that to one extra seat this time around, for eight. Not enough for recognition as an official party in the legislature. This despite receiving a few thousand more votes — about 5,000 — than the NDP. Del Duca’s PC opponent in his riding won with a clear majority.
The PCs, meanwhile, fell about 400,000 votes short of their 2018 total, but still pulled in 1.9 million across the province. They increased their seat count to 83, well past the 63 majority threshold. The PC slice of the popular vote was nearly 41 per cent, a few tenths of a per cent above their share in 2018.
This might seem like an opportune moment for some to blame voters for failing the province. The low turnout of about 43.5 per cent will be used by some as some measure of the public’s failure to care enough. But it was a failure of the opposition parties, particularly the NDP, to rise to the occasion.
Instead of a generational fight of an election, we got a premier who hid from most of the province, one opposition party led by a long-time leader with no ability to connect with voters, and another opposition party led by a new leader with no ability to convince people he wasn’t an android.
Instead of an election fought on what was at stake, we got an election fighting about a highway for commuters in and around the GTA.
Meanwhile, thousands of people in Ontario died in care homes across the province throughout the pandemic — many of them, especially early on, in horrific isolation. Most of the people who died in long-term care died in a for-profit home.
And, look, these are two different parties with different visions of the world. Last election season the Liberals under Kathleen Wynne admitted they’d lose, but insisted on clinging to whatever votes they could, rather than telling voters the NDP were the only viable party. This has never been forgiven by New Democrats.
But this election was no time to rehash this bullshit. This was the one shot to end profit in long-term care (LTC). The “iron ring” around seniors promised by Ford at the beginning of the pandemic was a sick joke.
Both the Liberals and the NDP had in their platforms a plan to take LTCs out of private hands. The differences were in the details, not the goal. This could have been a monumental good for vulnerable people across the province. But throughout the campaign, Ford’s abysmal pandemic record was barely mentioned. The lives lost became a mere footnote. Meanwhile, my inbox was filled daily with press releases from the NDP and Liberals insisting they were the party best suited to take down Ford.
Instead, the PCs will be able to entrench the system we have with considerable subsidies to for-profit homes. And there’s so much more that has been lost in this election. The PCs govern as a party that doesn’t believe in government that governs. Environmental regulations have been slashed. Drivers are getting gas tax holidays. The list goes on and on.
Everywhere you look across the province the interests of business and profit are being put above everyone else. This was the moment it all could have been stopped. And instead, the anti-government rolls forward with an impenetrable majority. So, no, there are no thanks to Horwath or Del Duca for their service.
“It takes courage to say that the good were defeated not because they were good,” German playwright Bertolt Brecht wrote in 1934, “but because they were weak.” There was no good fight in this election. There was hardly a fight at all. Everyone to the left of Ford went out not with a roar, but a whimper. Thanks is not what they deserve.