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The Globe's editorial board endorses Tim Hudak's Progressive Conservatives Add to ...

Over four days, The Globe editorial board looked at the options facing Ontarians. Today the board makes its endorsement.

On the first day of this series, we said that, in a perfect world, we’d be urging Ontarians to vote for the non-existent Liberal Progressive Conservative Party: a party that believes in fiscal responsibility as the foundation of government, but not its point; a party that understands the necessity of government to build a better society, but also government’s limitations; a party that puts the free market at the centre of its thinking, while acknowledging its imperfections; a party that chooses policies based on evidence, not dogma; a party powered by ideas, but still able to feel the pain of real people; a party that favours amelioration over revolution; a party that if entrusted with the stewardship of the once healthy but now mildly ill patient known as Ontario, could credibly promise to leave her in better shape.

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There are three major parties in this contest, and none of them entirely fits the bill. We do not live in that perfect world. That is not a statement of despair or a call to apathy. Democracy has always been messy and imperfect. Elections are hardly ever about choosing between polar opposites, or self-evidently right and unmistakably wrong options, as far apart as noon and midnight. At election time, all choices are relative. At election time, all parties are graded on the curve.

Ontarians’ choices this time around are, as always, various shades of grey. All of the parties have blemishes, and each of the choices comes with its own uncertainties. Each of the parties falls short in different ways, but most importantly – because we are grading on that curve – each falls short to a different degree.

In a perfect world, we’d have no hesitation in calling for the Liberals to be tossed out. They’ve been in power for nearly 11 years. And over time, missteps and even misdeeds have compounded. eHealth. Ornge. A Green Energy Act that, years on, keeps driving up electricity prices, hurting consumers and businesses for the sake of a delusional industrial strategy. And then there are those two cancelled gas plants that have dogged Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne throughout the campaign. The cancellations, made for electoral advantage in the 2011 election, could ultimately cost the province up to $1-billion. Allegations of cover-up surrounding documents related to the plants, and a police investigation, have added to the foul odour. This week it came out that Ms. Wynne’s predecessor, former premier Dalton McGuinty, was recently interviewed by the police in connection with the investigation. A police inquiry is not proof of wrongdoing. But “Premier Dad Questioned By Cops” is not an ideal story line for the Liberal brand.

Change at Queen’s Park would be a good thing. But to vote somebody out of office, you have to vote somebody else in. And the alternatives aren’t ideal. Their weakness is the main reason the Liberals won re-election in 2011.

The NDP has been the most disappointing of the three parties. It opened the campaign with long-time stalwarts penning an open letter, asking whether the party had abandoned its principles and sold its soul. And as the election moved into its final days, Leader Andrea Horwath was bizarrely attempting to mischaracterize Ms. Wynne’s proposal for a province-wide pension plan, an idea the NDP once supported and sort of still does, as being part of a right-wing, “Harper-style” agenda. The NDP’s moves have been strange and sad.

And then there are Tim Hudak’s Tories. Are they the ideal alternative? No, far from it. Are they a viable alternative? Yes, barely.

They deserve praise for taking a hard line with public servants, calling for an across-the-board wage freeze. Union attacks on Mr. Hudak, and support for Ms. Wynne, leave a reasonable apprehension that the Liberals won’t be firm in future contract talks. And absent a willingness to stand up to its own supporters, a Liberal government will miss its budget targets. Mr. Hudak also has the right idea on business subsidies: Get rid of them. His impulse runs counter to the Liberal tendency, which has been to move ever more deeply into the game of subsidizing businesses in an attempt to protect or create jobs. Several Liberal financial miscues, notably Green Energy, grew out of a mistaken belief that government has to get into industrial strategy. The game has long been powered by lobbying and fraught with muck, and the Tories are right to want to find a way out of it.

But Mr. Hudak is also running on a platform of simplistic slogans. The Million Jobs Plan has been rightly mocked for failures of basic arithmetic. The promise to cut 100,000 government workers contains some reasonable ideas borrowed from Don Drummond’s Liberal-commissioned report on right-sizing government, but the rest is just about offering a nice round number for campaign purposes. The pledge to cut red tape by one-third is similarly just a slogan, not a plan to govern. The Tory platform is about signalling to the electorate that they are erasing the “progressive” from Progressive Conservative. To govern that way would be misguided, because governing best is not merely about figuring out how to govern less. There is much immaturity in the Conservative plan.

In a perfect world, Ontario voters would have (at least) two excellent alternatives to choose from. They instead have two imperfect choices: a tired Liberal Party that has yet to learn enough from its mistakes, and an untested Progressive Conservative Party that needs to moderate and mature. The only way it will do so is if it is given the chance to govern. As for the Liberals, spending some time in the wilderness will allow them to rethink and recover themselves. On balance, in our imperfect world, we choose the Progressive Conservative Party – but kept on the short leash of a minority government. In two years’ time, if all goes well for the maturing of the Tories and the rebuilding of the Liberals, Ontarians could find themselves returning to the polls, facing what the province desperately needs: two much stronger choices.

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