It’s probably too early to look for silver linings.
Ontario’s election was – there’s no overstating it – a depressing shambles. A sober, centrist province got the choice of a populist blowhard, a far-left union ideologue and a cynical, exhausted premier.
The worst of the lot won. Doug Ford is premier-to-be. We said he is unfit for the job, and that remains true. From his bullying personality to his lying to his simplistic mind to his ignorance of government, Mr. Ford has all the makings of a poor political leader for the province.
And yet. And yet…
If we accept that despair is no good, and that, howl as we might, Mr. Ford will lead the government, maybe it would not be too self-indulgent to allow ourselves a wishful glance ahead at the next four years in search of a prospect that isn’t all gloom.
We offer this not in a spirit of prediction, but of hope. The following scenario is not to be expected, but to be worked for. After all, even majority governments are accountable. Imagine with us, then.
The PCs magnanimously extend recognized party status to the Liberals, who fell one seat short. Ontario has a relatively high eight-seat threshold, governments are entitled to lower it, and in this case it’s warranted. About one in five Ontario voters cast a ballot for the Liberals; giving the party speaking time during Question Period and funding for research is the fair thing to do, and the Tories do it.
That gives the Liberals the footing to reorient themselves toward the centre. Kathleen Wynne has announced her resignation as leader, after running the party way to the left and subsequently into the ground. Her replacement begins the valuable work of rediscovering moderation and fiscal sense.
The NDP, always an effective peanut gallery, thrive in the role of Official Opposition. Their social conscience, comfort with high dudgeon and willingness to swing for the fences rhetorically make Mr. Ford sweat during Question Period.
A young, diverse New Democratic caucus finds its voice at Queen’s Park, led by Toronto’s Bhutila Karpoche, the first Tibetan elected to public office in Canada, and by all accounts an impressive person. Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh’s brother, Gurratan Singh, develops a reputation as something other than Jagmeet Singh’s brother.
Meanwhile, NDP leader Andrea Horwath makes the difficult decision to step down before the next election. She led the party to a bonanza of 40 seats and second place this week, but she has also lost three straight elections and squandered a historic chance to form government this time against manifestly awful competition. Bravely, she acknowledges a new leader is needed to take the party over the hump.
The PC government – remember, we’re trying to be upbeat here – is led by a smart, technocratic cabinet staffed by the likes of veteran MPP Christine Elliott and ex-banker Peter Bethlenfalvy, while Mr. Ford largely contents himself with symbolic battles such as firing the head of Hydro One. The Premier realizes he’s in over his head; he gets bored by the details of governing and delegates aggressively. His ugly fights with the press are unavoidable but at least distract him from trying to run the province.
The party moves slowly on the public-service layoffs and program cuts it will need to balance its budgets. Mr. Ford didn’t specify what he would cut on the campaign trail, promising vague “efficiencies,” but those efficiencies will amount to livelihoods and benefits lost. To avoid strikes and social discord, and given that it has no mandate for anything specific, the government realizes caution is necessary.
Helping to fill their budgetary gap and freeing Mr. Ford from a campaign promise, the courts uphold the federal carbon tax. Ottawa will soon impose a carbon price on provinces without one and return the revenue to provincial coffers, but Mr. Ford has vowed to fight the feds in court. Luckily for the climate, the economy and the province’s books, he loses.
Of course, Mr. Ford could upend all of the above. Reputations for sagacity have been lost many times by predicting that hot-headed populists will behave themselves in office.
But hope springs eternal in the human breast. And despite the evidence provided by the election campaign, Ontario is a sane, decent place with a strong economic base that is hard to knock off its moorings. With a little luck (okay, maybe more than a little), Canada’s biggest province could escape the next four years more or less unscathed.