Trailing Tory Leader Tim Hudak in the polls and ranking as one of the country’s least popular premiers, Dalton McGuinty does have one ace up his sleeve in the upcoming provincial election in Ontario: a Conservative government in Ottawa.
At a recent barbeque hosted by Rob Ford, the conservative Mayor of Toronto, the Prime Minister called for Ontarians to pull off a right-of-centre hat trick this fall and elect the Progressive Conservatives on Oct. 6.
But if Ontario does hand the keys to Queen’s Park over to the Tories, it would go against standard practice in the province’s politics.
Since Confederation, Ontario has been very reluctant to elect a provincial government of the same hue as the one in Ottawa. In fact, in only 24 per cent of provincial elections have the Progressive Conservatives or the Liberals won when their federal counterparts governed the country. In the remaining 76 per cent of provincial elections, a different party was elected than that holding sway in Ottawa.
The Toronto-Ottawa sweep is no easier in years in which both provincial and federal elections were held. In only one of six such cases did this happen, in 1911 when both the federal Tories under Robert Borden and the provincial Tories under James Whitney won their respective elections.
With Liberals in power in Ottawa, the PCs have won 78 per cent of provincial elections, but when the Conservatives have been in power the provincial Liberals have won 60 per cent of the time. The provincial Tories have taken 27 per cent of elections when the Conservatives formed the federal government, while the New Democrats and the United Farmers have each won one election under a Tory prime minister.
So history is on Dalton McGuinty’s side, and with his party closing the gap on Tim Hudak’s the tide may be turning in his favour.
The situation is similar in the two Prairie provinces, but the phenomenon is somewhat less marked. In 65 per cent of elections in Saskatchewan a different party than that forming the federal government has won, while in Manitoba that proportion stands at 61 per cent.
While this is a strike against the chances of the Progressive Conservatives toppling the New Democrats in Manitoba, and the latest polls show a close race, not even history should dethrone Brad Wall’s conservative Saskatchewan Party.
However, in half of elections where federal Tories were in power, Manitobans elected their own Progressive Conservatives. In only 11 per cent of cases did the New Democrats win those elections. And in Saskatchewan, most of the elections held under the federal Conservatives’ watch took place back when the provincial Liberals were a force – something they have not been for 40 years.
In the two Atlantic provinces scheduled to have elections this fall, on the other hand, history indicates provincial parties are just as or more likely to win if their federal counterparts form the government.
In Newfoundland and Labrador the split is 50-50, while in Prince Edward Island the ruling federal party has seen its provincial cousin win 62 per cent of elections. In Newfoundland and Labrador, where the provincial Liberals have had more success since the province joined Canada in 1949, the provincial Tories have only won 43 per cent of elections with the federal Conservatives in power. But in PEI, the Progressive Conservatives have won 56 per cent of elections when a Conservative Prime Minister sat in Ottawa.
Co-operative relationships between provincial and federal governments do not only exist between leaders bounded by political ideology, and even those ties cannot prevent tension or outright opposition between a prime minister and a premier. But when voters cast their ballots this fall, the question of whether to check Ottawa’s power or get a piece of the pie for their own province may help them make up their minds.
Éric Grenier writes about politics and polls at ThreeHundredEight.com