Ontario's election race is too close to call. But after a rigorous scientific survey of my friends over the weekend, I can report that voters are focused on one question: Who will do the least damage?
The Liberals' Kathleen Wynne says we have a "stark choice." The choice is between tax-and-spend and slash-and-burn. Most of us would opt for "none of the above." No wonder we are grouchy.
If this were a personality contest, Ms. Wynne would be the clear front-runner. She's like a competent high-school principal – practical, positive, fair-minded. She's a really big believer in consensus – perhaps too big. I don't think she has many original ideas. When you ask her what she wants her legacy to be, she says nothing memorable. Which, after two terms of Dalton McGuinty's egomaniacal fantasies about green energy and the magically transformative powers of Pre-K, might not be so bad. Her strongest point is that she has no desire to be a human wrecking ball.
It's hard to blame Ms. Wynne too much for Mr. McGuinty's policy wreckage, or even for the utter stinking mess of the gas-plant scandal. Her real liability is the fuzzy-headed liberalism that's embedded in her DNA and that of all the people who surround her. The public-sector unions need restraint, but is she tough enough to do it? She says yes. I'm not so sure. The nurses, teachers, firefighters and cops are all campaigning vigorously on her behalf against Tim Hudak. That's not reassuring. She says the word "invest" when she means "spend," and her plan to balance the budget is deeply unconvincing.
Mr. Hudak's plan is even more mysterious. He wants to slash corporate tax rates, which are already quite competitive. He wants to fire a hundred thousand people and make deep gouges in public spending, even though Ontario already has the lowest per-capita revenues and spending of all the provinces. (If you don't believe it, you can look it up.) He admits he's not running on his charm, which is good, because he has none. He has the charm of Stephen Harper, without the craft or rigorous intelligence. He should choose a line of work that does not depend on inspiring people. (Funeral director comes to mind, and I mean this with no disrespect to that profession.)
I won't waste your time on the NDP's Andrea Horwath, who's peddling some kind of wacky populism that makes no sense.
Our poor old province has seen better days. But it is not in crisis, and it does not need radical, drastic action to turn itself around. We're not Italy or Greece. What we need is prudent, steady, tough-minded economic management by a government that will level with the public and does not believe in quick fixes or economic silver bullets, whether it's green energy, all-day kindergarten, or 100,000 public-sector job cuts.
Is that too much to ask? I guess it is.
All my friends are crossing their fingers as they head toward the polls on Thursday. They're desperately hoping that neither party – even the one they wind up voting for – will actually fulfill its campaign promises. Nobody really wants Mr. Hudak to slash and burn. And nobody wants Ms. Wynne to tax and spend. Some people I know are turning themselves into knots to vote strategically. I have conservative friends who have decided to vote Liberal in hopes that Mr. Hudak will lose and quickly be replaced by someone better. I have liberal friends who are voting against the Liberals for the first time ever because they're so bleeping mad.
Nobody trusts either party. None of us believe we have the choices we deserve, or want. And that's too bad.