He said not a word, yet spoke for a province.
Some of us were just coming to vote. He had already voted. He stepped out into the parking lot of a large Ottawa-area high school, raised his left hand to his nose, pinched tight, and with his right hand he put his 'X' in the air.
'Nuff said – no further analysis required. But let us try some anyway.
Ontario voters, having burned themselves twice by lashing out in anger – 1990 when they kicked Bob Rae into office, 1995 when they booted Rae out and put in Mike Harris – would have loved an alternative in 2014, yet they could not find one.
They were, at several points over the past many months, all for punishing a tired Liberal government that had brought them the billion-dollar gas plant scandal, the offensive Ornge affair, the eHealth fiasco, a government well past its best-before date that seemed devoid of answers for a once-powerful province now foundering economically.
Easy pickings, one would think.
Pollsters certainly seemed to think so, now having more or less whiffed on four recent swings at the ball: Alberta, British Columbia, Quebec and Ontario. It is a continuing puzzle as to why the media still pretends that those who can make colourful graphs out of online nonsense should be given so much air time and space.
The Ontario election captivated those running and those chasing after it, the media, but it did not captivate the people who would decide. I remember France Gélinas, successful NDP candidate in Nickel Belt, telling me, well into the campaign, that she had gone into one of the better-off suburban enclaves of her large Sudbury-area riding and found at the door that most did not even know an election was on. Those who did, she said, were anxious to "get that guy Harper" out of office.
When people did look at the election it was only to glance, and there was so little to see that they quickly turned away. The single campaign idea that did register – Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak's one-million jobs and 100,000 cuts – hurt Mr. Hudak far more than it helped him, even if it got him the headlines and the face time and, to some, suggested he was well on his way to victory.
Travelling around the province talking to voters reminded this aging reporter of the 2007 Ontario provincial election. Just as 2014 was Mr. Hudak's for the taking, so long as he didn't mess up, 2007 was then-PC leader John Tory's for the taking. Mr. Tory messed up dreadfully, promising to extend funding to religious schools when no such promise was required and, the conservative core was saying, no such promise was wanted.
Similarly, Mr. Hudak screwed up with his jobs pitch. In a province increasingly concerned about school standards and basic math, he showed himself incapable of reading a simple flash card when he came up with that one-million jobs promise.
If you ask a Grade 2 student how many jobs his mother would have if she spent two years in the space station, that child would – even with Ontario's slipping standards – likely answer one. But Tim Hudak wouldn't.
Stalwart Conservatives found it embarrassing, just as they had seven years ago with Mr. Tory.
Mr. Hudak might well have gotten away with the million-job promise if he had not coupled it with the 100,000 cuts to the public service. In places where Tory support is most dependable, such as a small city like North Bay, those jobs are often the best available, jobs that make a local economy possible.
This was a massive misreading of the conservative Ontarian by the Progressive Conservative Party. Canadians don't mind paying taxes, which is why Tea Party-style rhetoric goes over so poorly. Let the Americans have their frontier personality based on individualism; the Canadian personality is based on survival, and survival requires co-operation and sharing even among those with differences of opinion. Canadians don't care to have their taxes raised, but they are also wary of having them slashed.
So, thanks to Mr. Hudak coming across as – there's no other way to say this – a bit of a dunce, and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath not coming across at all, Ontario could not find the alternative it once felt necessary and, instead, returned to a party that required voters to hold their nose, mark their X and race home to take a shower.
Not a very encouraging start. But one they will have to live with for four years, trusting that, somehow, their struggling province can again find its economic legs and regain some of its lost clout.
One they will endure, hoping that Kathleen Wynne, the Premier they embraced mostly because she wasn't the previous premier – and wasn't Tim Hudak – can deliver on her apologies as well as her promises.
And praying that, one day down the road, real alternatives – should one be required – can emerge from the shambles left behind by June 12.