In the last four years, Ontario has become a have-not province, our provincial debt has doubled, and we’ve maintained an unemployment rate well above the national average. Conventional wisdom would argue that leading a province through all of this and winning re-election is nearly impossible. Apparently conventional wisdom doesn’t apply to Dalton McGuinty. Once again, he’s beaten the odds, and managed to sneak back into office. For the second election in a row, McGuinty looked as if his chances for re-election were slim at best. Yet somehow, McGuinty managed to convince Ontarians once again that he was the best guy for the job of fixing his own mess. And on election night, we got four more years of an Ontario on the decline.
This election should have been a walk in the park for Tim Hudak. He went into the campaign with an eleven point lead in the polls, trying to unseat the second most unpopular Premier in the country. His campaign didn’t totally collapse, but the Progressive Conservatives once again underestimated McGuinty’s ability to look like he knows what he’s doing. And they failed to roll out any attractive policies, instead hoping to win by saying “we’re not him.”
Andrea Horwath and the NDP had a good campaign, although I would hope so, considering the incumbent they were running against. They managed to get over the fear factor of the Rae government that still haunts many Ontarians to this day, so that was a plus. But the New Democrats, like the Tories, failed to create a firm narrative of why they should be the ones to replace Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals.
Ask any voter on the street, and they’ll tell you that they don’t think Ontario is better off than it was four years ago. It’s not. Our provincial debt has sky-rocketed, we’re running the largest deficit in the province’s history, and McGuinty’s Liberals seem to find a new way to tax us every time we turn around. Yet for some reason, nearly one out of every four of those people voted for another four years of the same.
It’s not as if McGuinty looked too impressive throughout the campaign. He skipped the northern Ontario debates, and looked increasingly uncomfortable throughout the campaign. Worse still, he couldn’t stop flailing his arms around during the Toronto debates, trying desperately to justify Ontario’s decline. No matter what part of his record Hudak or Horwath brought up, McGuinty somehow found a way to not talk about it. It literally looked like Hudak and Horwath were going to give each other high-fives during the debate as they watched McGuinty squirm. Yet somehow, miraculously, McGuinty came out of the Toronto debate unscathed.
It was by no means a pretty night for the Liberals on October 6. Four of their Cabinet ministers were defeated, and they were held to a minority government, losing nineteen seats in the process. The Tories picked up twelve seats, and the New Democrats seven. The McGuinty Liberals only managed to beat the Progressive Conservatives by two percent in the popular vote. And Ontario had its lowest voter turnout ever; 49.2%. But it certainly was a night that turned out to be a lot better than many thought it would be just weeks before.
So as we head into our ninth year with Dalton McGuinty in the Premier’s office, I want to pay him a compliment; he definitely was the most convincing leader promising to clean up the mess of the last four years. There’s only one problem: the mess was his.