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People gave Ontario Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne a lot of grief over the weekend for admitting that the party was going to lose this week’s election. Personally, I thought it was a refreshing burst of candour. “Vote for us because we can’t possibly win” may be an unusual rallying cry. But there’s a significant slice of the electorate for whom strategic voting has strong appeal.

“I can’t stand the Liberals,” my friend Bernie told me. “But I hate the Conservatives and the NDP, too. What I really want is a minority government where nobody can do anything really bad. So maybe I’ll vote Liberal.”

I’ve got to say I sympathize with him. What I really want is a minority government that doesn’t last long and then a do-over with a different bunch of leaders. Is that too much to ask?

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Now, it’s a neck-and-neck race between a populist who’s promising buck-a-bottle beer and earnest left-wing striver Andrea Horwath. Is it any wonder some people are so desperate they’ll vote Liberal?

— Margaret Wente

The irony of this bizarre election is that Ontario is not a wacky province. We are, generally speaking, a prudent, dull and middle-of-the-road sort of place. We don’t usually go in for separatists, socialists or right-wing rabble-rousers. It feels as if we got into this mess by accident.

And in truth, we did. To start with, it’s a fluke that Ms. Wynne was ever elected Premier at all. Back in 2014, people were all set to kick the Liberals out. Then the Conservative leader, Tim Hudak, started muttering about firing public-sector employees and bringing back chain gangs and everybody stampeded to the other side of the ship.

Only a few months ago, this election was still shaping up as a conventional contest between a clapped-out centre-left governing party, a weak NDP with a mediocre leader and a moderate Progressive Conservative party with a young, energetic new guy. It was widely thought that all Patrick Brown had to do in order to win was stand there. Then came allegations of sexual misconduct. Fair or unfair? In a #MeToo age it didn’t matter. He might as well have had the plague. The party cut him loose within hours. The ensuing leadership convention was won by Doug Ford, a complete outsider, under arcane voting rules that nobody understands.

Now, it’s a neck-and-neck race between a populist who’s promising buck-a-bottle beer and earnest left-wing striver Andrea Horwath. Is it any wonder some people are so desperate they’ll vote Liberal?

There are two reasons for the voters to be dismayed by the choices that confront them. One is the quality of the leaders. The other is their policies. Radio host Charles Adler had this to say on Twitter (since deleted) about last week’s debate performance by Mr. Ford: “[H]e looked as credible as a small town Alabama faith healer.” As for Ms. Horwath: she’s likeable, but no deep thinker. She’d be a very good community organizer.

Ideologically, the two are poles apart. But neither of them has a clue how to address the challenges that face Ontario, including our mountainous debt load. Their platforms (such as they are) are both economically ignorant and fiscally reckless. If you happen to be any kind of fiscal conservative, you’re out of luck.

Related: Voting in a skeptical age. Plus other letters to the editor

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Take electricity – a policy screw-up that has compounded over many years and cost taxpayers many billions. Neither Mr. Ford nor Ms. Horwath are honest about either the problems or the answers. Both blame high hydro rates on Hydro One, which is ridiculous. (Hydro One delivers the electricity, but the rates are set by an independent agency.) Ms. Horwath wants to reverse the sell-off of Hydro One and cut hydro bills, although she won’t say how. But her plan is no more incoherent than Mr. Ford’s, who promises to fix the whole mess by firing the allegedly overpaid Hydro One chairman (which he has no power to do). Both plans, if executed, would pile mountains of debt on to future taxpayers.

You don’t have to be a hydro expert to get the point. These people can’t be trusted not to make a bad situation worse. On the whole, we Ontarians are not highly ideological people. All we want is a pair of reasonably safe hands on the wheel. And what’s on offer is a couple of folks who you wouldn’t trust to drive a golf cart.

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