Bonnie Crombie, mayor of the Toronto suburb of Mississauga, announced last week that she was considering a run at the leadership of the Ontario Liberal Party. She added that, if she did run, she would do so on a platform of moving the party back to the centre.
It’s a welcome development, one the country could use more of, please.
In Newfoundland, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, the old Liberal, Progressive Conservative and NDP dynamic continues to hold, generally speaking. In PEI, the Greens have replaced the NDP but are competitive. In Quebec, voters in the last election had four viable parties to choose between.
But all the provinces west of Ontario have evolved into two-party fiefdoms, with the only realistic option for voters being an NDP government or a right-leaning conservative government. Third and fourth parties in those provinces, Liberals included, have between them been lucky to win more than a handful of seats over the past decade.
Ontario is headed in that direction, too, ever since former Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne tried to save herself and her party from oblivion in the 2018 general election by adopting policies tailored to steal seats from the NDP.
It became so nakedly obvious what Ms. Wynne was up to that in 2017 this space ran an editorial headlined, “Why Kathleen Wynne has become a great NDP premier.” Policies like expanded rent controls, a sharp and rapid jump in the minimum wage and the promise of pharmacare for people under 25 were last-ditch attempts by a premier with a 12-per-cent approval rating to salvage a few seats for her doomed party.
It didn’t work. The Ontario PC Party led by Doug Ford won a solid majority, the Liberals were reduced from 55 seats to seven, and the NDP – which turned out to be a more convincing retailer of its own policies than the Liberals were – became the official opposition. Ms. Wynne announced her resignation as party leader on election night.
Her successor, Steven Del Duca, buttressed the party’s leftward lean by promising in the 2022 general election to increase the minimum wage, give workers 10 paid sick days a year and reduce the cost of transit to $1 a ride across the province. On election night, the Ford government increased its majority, the Liberals won eight seats, the NDP returned as the opposition, and Mr. Del Duca announced his pending resignation.
Ms. Crombie hasn’t provided specific details about how she would shift the Ontario Liberals to the centre, other than to say she hopes to attract “Red Tories and Blue Liberals back to the party.” And she hasn’t officially entered the Liberal leadership race.
But the idea of a shift to the centre is intriguing in an era when Canadian politics is becoming more polarized along simplistic “left” and “right” lines. The path to power in too many provinces – and, it needs to be said, at the federal level – has become one of narrowcasting focus-grouped platforms to targeted voters, rather than seeking a middle ground that is, to put it in Ms. Crombie’s terms, a little less solid red or solid blue, and little more purple.
Federal politics is a case in point. It has been defined since 2015 by a Liberal Party that in three elections has won just seven seats between Winnipeg and the British Columbia boundary, and a Conservative Party that struggles to win critical seats east of Ontario.
The charmless grievance politics of the Conservatives under Pierre Poilievre, combined with the free-spending, virtue-signalling Trudeau Liberals’ control of Parliament thanks to their alliance with the NDP, are unhelpful to voters who might want a more tempered form of government – voters who might want to see Ottawa bring its deficits under control or cut red tape, or who perhaps simply believe it’s time for a change of government but can’t support a one-note party that cheered on the anti-vaccine-mandate protesters who illegally occupied the capital last year.
The actions and platforms of the Conservatives and the Liberals, and the value judgments they represent, have divided the country into mutually antagonistic voting blocs that may be ripe for the plucking by party strategists, but which have done nothing to create a united vision of the country.
Political systems dominated by two parties in which both parties vacate the centre out of misguided electoral expedience are not good for anyone. You only have to look south of the border for proof. Canadian politicians need to find the centre again, and quickly.