The first instinct is to consider it a grim prospect best avoided.
Nobody dreams of spending the early weeks of patio season aboard a campaign bus. Nobody relishes the prospect of vicious attack ads every time they turn on their television. And nobody can look at the way Ontario's politicians have been presenting themselves and each other and seriously believe they're ready to inspire us.
But to watch the day-to-day machinations at Queen's Park, or speak to those involved, is to recognize another reprieve from a trip to the polls is a luxury Ontarians can no longer afford. And that should be obvious even if you're not among those who believe the gas-plants scandal, allegations of illegal behaviour in the Premier's office, or other messes left behind by former premier Dalton McGuinty are enough to merit punting his successor Kathleen Wynne from office.
The minority legislature that was elected 2 1/2 years ago has been dysfunctional from the outset. But this spring, it has reached a level of toxicity poisonous to the advancement of any serious public policy.
The Premier is threatening to sue the leader of the Official Opposition for, among other things, an unsubstantiated claim that she "oversaw and possibly ordered the criminal destruction of documents." He's responding by openly mocking her. The leader of the third party is staging walk-outs of her entire caucus during Question Period.
The civil service – which lacks direction from its political masters, has seen its confidential advice made public by legislative committees gone wild, and has now been pulled into the gas-plants mess – is demoralized. Nobody can see past next week, let alone into next fall.
There are provinces that might be able to sit back and enjoy the circus, or else ignore it. Ontario is not one of them. The government's target to get out of deficit by 2017-18 is starting to look like a pipe dream, in part because of middling economic-growth projections for the foreseeable future. Youth unemployment is soaring; workforces in the province's southwestern rustbelt are shrinking; an aging demographic poses risks to core services.
The situation cries out for bold governance. That could mean shrinking the size of government and taking on organized labour, as the Progressive Conservatives favour. Or asking Ontarians to pay more so deep cuts aren't needed and infrastructure can be upgraded and additional retirement income can be provided, as the Liberals seem more inclined toward. Or divesting existing assets to fund new infrastructure – something Finance Minister Charles Sousa expressed openness toward last Friday, and any party in power might have little choice but to get behind in the near future.
What it can't mean is an agenda aimed almost exclusively at keeping the government alive or wooing key segments of the electorate in advance of an election – which is exactly what Ontario will get in the coming budget, and again in 2015 if that election doesn't happen.
A campaign would not guarantee a dramatic reconfiguration of the Legislature; plenty of people will point to polls forecasting another logjam. But recent elections – from the federal campaign of 2011, which launched with much the same predictions, to British Columbia's and Quebec's – have demonstrated that a few weeks of campaigning can turn pre-writ expectations on their head.
Even if a race ended with another Liberal minority, it would offer the prospect of progress. Ms. Wynne would have a mandate of her own, while leadership changes in one or both of the other parties would give her a bit of leeway to pursue a more ambitious policy agenda. And any other outcome, let alone a majority for any of the three parties, would represent an opportunity for something resembling a fresh start.
At the least, a campaign could scarcely produce a worse dynamic than the current one. That's not the calculation that will determine whether the New Democrats join with the Tories in bringing the Liberals down, which will depend on whether Andrea Horwath thinks the time is right for her party to make major gains. But amid the endless speculation in the weeks ahead about whether the election will happen, whether it should happen is easier to answer.
Follow me on Twitter: @aradwanski