Bob Rae was Premier of Ontario 1990-1995, a federal Member of Parliament 2008-2013 and leader of the federal Liberal Party 2011-2013.
Kathleen Wynne’s remarkable victory Thursday night is first and foremost a tribute to her. As in the leadership race, she was positive, energetic, substantive, and showed extraordinary grace and resilience. She stumbled in the debate, but everyone is too quick to crown “winners” and name “losers,” as if a brilliant debate performance somehow is a qualification on its own to be Premier. None of the three were exactly Churchillian in their performance, so a win or a loss there is not exactly decisive.
The media is the lens through which people are forced to see an election, and with their obsession with the horse race, the polls, and the potential “gotcha” moments, they hardly distinguished themselves. The polling business has a lot of ‘splaining to do, and no doubt will try to justify what is increasingly seen as an activity closer to witchcraft than political science. CTV and Ipsos Reid come off as the big losers in the sideshow.
Ms. Wynne’s success owed more than a little to the strategic errors of her opponents. Tim Hudak staked his ground well to the right, and so ended up conceding a huge swathe of middle ground. A more genial, less ideological Progressive Conservative approach could have done better, given the often-expressed desire for change. It was not on offer, and so a great many of those potential supporters were abandoned.
Andrea Horwath’s approach of offering up daily morsels of populist rhetoric failed the vision test. This is what prompted the “letter of 34” and talk of a split in her party. Her leadership will be tested in the coming months, but if she survives the knives from inside she will be a stronger force than the conventional wisdom now realizes.
Premier Wynne’s victory was not as crushing as the morning headlines would have us believe. She won a stable majority with less than 40 per cent of the vote. Her opponents both won a substantial share of the vote. But such is the reality of the first-past-the-post system. Her greatest challenge now is governing well and with credibility. To achieve the desired objective of a balanced budget will take tough decisions, and anyone looking at the numbers knows this involves three things: growing the economy, restraining spending, and increasing revenue. The first is not in the exclusive control of the province, election rhetoric notwithstanding. The second and third mean causing some pain, making choices, and being direct with people about what these choices are.
Ontarians know this, and in the end decided they would rather have Premier Wynne in charge of these decisions than either of her opponents. She listens, she consults, she’s not afraid to hear different views, and she’s not afraid to make decisions. These are good qualities in a leader, and given the alternatives, Ontario is lucky to have her as Premier at this time.