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Jeffrey Simpson (Brigitte Bouvier for The Globe and Mail)
Jeffrey Simpson (Brigitte Bouvier for The Globe and Mail)

Jeffrey Simpson

Wynne’s opponents misread Ontario’s basic moderation Add to ...

Tim Hudak, a nice man it is said by those who know him but a dopey political leader, resigned after leading his Progressive Conservative Party to the political slaughterhouse. Andrea Horwath, the NDP leader, should have followed suit.

Ms. Horwath, we might recall, more than anyone else turned a Liberal minority government into a majority. Had she supported the Liberal budget, which any self-respecting NDP leader would have been proud to have written with only minor adjustments, life would have carried on at Queen’s Park.

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But, no, Ms. Horwath for reasons best known to herself decided to withdraw her support from the minority Liberals, plunge the province into an election, present a platform charitably called idiosyncratic but more accurately incoherent, descend into shrill and shameless name-calling, and watch the fruits of her labour afford the Liberals a chance to return with a majority.

On election night, with the shambles of her judgment evident in the result, she offered “no regrets” for her decision, remorse apparently not being part of her character. For her lack of judgment, the political showers ought to beckon. If New Democrats have any sense they will escort her there if she chooses in the months ahead not to head that way herself.

A political leader cannot choose her or his adversaries, but Kathleen Wynne must be pinching herself at the good luck she found in Mr. Hudak and Ms. Horwath. We will never know, of course, but a moderate, sensible, trustworthy Conservative leader might have wiped the floor with the Liberals. But Mr. Hudak bought into very right-wing ideology, presented a platform with identifiable errors of basic arithmetic, and painted himself and his party into a corner with a solid core of voters but lacking any growth potential.

All those Toronto suburbs that in federal politics we are told (wrongly) are going to swing massively Conservative in federal politics voted solidly Liberal. The Conservatives, as a quick glance at the electoral results reveals, are the party of small-town and rural Ontario, areas that are losing population, seats and clout. They are next to nowhere in all the urban areas of Ontario, which remains fundamentally a moderate political place. Mike Harris, it turns out, was an anomaly.

What will happen in Ontario is anyone’s guess after Ms. Wynne presents the big-spending, deficit-expanding budget on which her government fell. Within a short time, it is highly likely that the ratings agencies will downgrade Ontario’s credit, although whether citizens will care is doubtful. Judging by the election, they seem insouciant about the province’s deteriorating short- and long-term financial situation. There will have to be other signals from outside the province to force the Liberals to make any hard decisions of the kind from which they fled in the run-up to the election. Majority governments, in theory, are supposed to allow parties in office to show backbone. We shall see if this Liberal Party has any, none having been revealed thus far.

What is likely, if not probable, is a sort of repeat of what the federal Liberals did after winning in 1993. They campaigned rather loosely on a commitment to eventually lower the federal deficit – then quite high – and presented a lacklustre first budget in 1994. Then, when it became apparent that the measures of 1994 only undermined confidence in their economic stewardship, they presented the formidable budget of 1995 that finally got serious about federal finances. We can only hope that the Ontario budget of 2015 will reprise that federal Liberal effort of 1995.

Ontario is about to live through a kind of experiment: that a government can spend the province into a better economic place by directing public money into businesses and infrastructure, in the hope that this injection of public money will create eventually more revenue for the treasury. Ontario, with its debt mounting, can only hope the day when higher interest rates arrive – and that day will come – might yet be some years away.

As for Ms. Wynne, she has energy and a pleasing smile, and she obviously earned somewhat more trust from Ontarians than her opponents, which is admittedly a back-of-the-hand compliment. Her political instincts about what would appeal to the largest number of Ontarians, although only 39 per cent of them, proved more intuitive.

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