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It should have been so easy. Thursday’s election in Ontario should have been a cakewalk for the Progressive Conservative Party, and a chance for voters to put an end to the exhausted tenure of the Liberals and start fresh with a government geared toward sound fiscal management.

The outcome would have been inevitable and welcome. Instead, after three consecutive elections marked by last-minute collapses, the PC Party found a whole new way of sabotaging itself this time, with the result that it is now in a close race with the NDP. The Liberals, meanwhile, are nowhere, Kathleen Wynne having already conceded the race in an irresponsible bid to salvage a few seats.

The choice is thus between a PC government led by Doug Ford and an NDP government led by Andrea Horwath. Neither is desirable, albeit for different reasons. With the PCs, the leader is a profound problem, while the state of the party itself is also a worry; with the NDP, it’s the party’s platform.

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Mr. Ford is unfit to be premier. No one should be fooled by his performance in the election campaign – a tightly scripted production built around a series of populist slogans recited off a teleprompter, followed by curt Q&As with reporters kept at a safe distance.

We all know this populist chancer too well. Unleashed by the constraints of the campaign, Mr. Ford will return to the form we remember from Toronto’s experience.

When Rob Ford was mayor and his brother Doug was de facto deputy mayor, there was political chaos, lies and evasions, attacks on the press, and content-free ranting virtually every day. And that was before the crack scandal that enveloped Rob Ford.

When Doug Ford ran for mayor in 2014, he made numerous false claims and misleading statements on the campaign trail.

It defies recent experience to believe that a person like that will be moderated by high office. Mr. Ford has furthermore failed to explain how he will pay for his many promised tax cuts. He is no fiscal conservative.

The electorate cannot vote for leadership where it does not exist, or for platforms that are wrong for the times.

And then there is the fact a 2013 Globe and Mail investigation revealed that Mr. Ford was a drug dealer as a young man, something he denies. The news this week of open warfare among the Ford family over his late brother’s estate is more proof the man is a magnet for chaos.

Beyond his unfitness for the job of premier, Mr. Ford can’t be relied upon to tend to the PC Party’s ongoing structural problems and rampant infighting.

We rule Mr. Ford out. But our conundrum is that, after doing so, we see no other platform or leader we can endorse.

The Liberals have forfeited consideration, thanks to Ms. Wynne’s early concession. Which is fine. Ms. Wynne oversaw a party that abandoned fiscal restraint, not to mention honest bookkeeping. She leaves a legacy of debt, ethical misrule and outrageously high hydro bills, and her cynicism in no small way has fed the appetite for Mr. Ford’s populism.

The NDP is a problem of another kind. Ms. Horwath has campaigned on a platform that has the value of being true to her party’s beliefs. It is filled with new spending on social programs, paid for by deficit spending combined with higher taxes on the wealthy and a higher corporate-tax rate.

It’s the real NDP deal, but that is precisely the issue: Ms. Horwath has made it clear she will not sway from her party’s ideology.

This is not the moment for Ontario to embrace immoderation of that kind. The United States under Donald Trump is disrupting traditional trade assumptions. The stress on businesses in Canada’s largest province is immense. Without confidence of economic stewardship, investment will fall. The last thing Ontario needs now is an ideologically rigid left-wing government that is unable to countenance concessions from unions, or cutbacks in government spending.

But we know that voters, like us, must make a choice, and that all but those who are partisan beyond recovery will have to compromise their values. So we offer this thought.

This election has been a forlorn hunt for the needed mixture of integrity and smart policy. The electorate cannot vote for leadership where it does not exist, or for platforms that are wrong for the times. So if you are lucky enough to have a local candidate who embodies integrity and principle, we encourage you to support him or her. The representatives you choose will need to be strong to hold the next premier to account. Who do you trust to do so?

Follow three Ontario MPP candidates as they canvas their ridings, talking to voters about the issues that matter to them the most.

The Globe and Mail