Lessons from the Ontario election
Norman Webster, The Gazette (Montréal), 14/10/2007
Wednesday’s vote in Ontario should send reverberations across the land. Like it or not, what happens politically in Canada’s largest province counts, big time. And there were some disagreeable aspects to the exercise that should give us all pause.
For starters, barely a majority of Ontario’s eligible voters – 52.8 per cent of them – bothered to make the trek to the polling booth. That is well down from 2003’s poor 56.9-per-cent turnout; it’s comparable to those dismal figures posted by U.S. voters which we so like to cite when vaunting our superior Canadian citizenship.
If the numbers continue to drop, both federally and provincially, Canada could become a country where a majority of voters cannot be bothered to get off their patooties and exercise their franchise in major elections. It poses real questions about the legitimacy of the system.
There was a second significant number Wednesday night – 22 per cent. That is the portion of the electorate (42 per cent of 52.8) that actually voted to re-elect Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal government.
“Sweeping victory,” said the headlines, and so it was – in seats, which are all that count in our system. McGuinty can now, if he wishes, slide into comfortable-dictator mode à la Jean Chrétien, based on the support of less than one-quarter of the voters. You don’t have to be a political scientist to discern further questions about legitimacy.
Ironically, at the same time they were sending McGuinty back to his big corner office at Queen’s Park, Ontario’s voters were turning down a proposal that would have mitigated such questionable triumphs in the future. An electoral reform known as mixed member proportional would have added seats to the parties according to the popular vote, bringing the result closer to the overall will of the voters.
The initiative was turned down flat, by 67 per cent of those voting. It is the third reform proposal to bite the dust in a referendum, following British Columbia and Prince Edward Island. B.C. came closest, with a 57.7-per-cent vote in favour, but the bar had been set beforehand at 60 per cent approval, so the reform didn’t carry.
The Ontario result is another heavy blow to the earnest reformers. What the voters are saying is that they prefer the evils of the system they know – the British-model of first-past-the-post – to the unknowns of proportional rep.
If any reform is to pass in future, including in Quebec, it must be simple (B.C.’s proposal made your head hurt), be firmly based on individual members representing individual ridings, not be redolent of European systems that produce a haughty political class, not be prey to the instability of small parties (example: Israel) and, most important, be fully understood by the voters before being put to them for adoption (emphatically not the case in Ontario; hardly anyone had a clue about what was going on).
This might take some time, which is far from all bad when significant change is involved. What isn’t acceptable is turnouts of 52.8 per cent and dropping. As the editorial writers like to say, Something Must Be Done.
Finally, a bit worryingly, the whole election turned on Conservative leader John Tory’s pledge to support faith-based separate schools with public funds. The promise turned out to be political suicide. McGuinty seized the issue and ran with it, summing things up in his victory speech Wednesday night: “We work and build and dream together … always, always, always, together.”
That’s a fine sentiment, but to some those are code words for not accommodating the immigrant Others and their differences in the new Canada. And so we have an Ontario election lost on unspoken fears of Islamic madrassas in Toronto the Good – not to mention a Quebec election hijacked by a soccer player wearing a head covering, or wacky proposals to ban hijabs and yarmulkes on public employees.
Canada’s largest, most important province has sent a message about integration and cultural differences; it wants more of the first and less of the second, at least when it means special treatment. Politics, religion, schooling, race are potentially volatile areas.
Which is not to accuse Ontarians of collective racism. Thirty years ago, when I covered Queen’s Park, streams of immigrants were changing the face of old streets and districts almost overnight. Some of the locals reacted badly, but the majority coped magnificently.
Since then, the pressure has only increased. Toronto now might be the most multicultural city in the world, an outstanding success story in how the world should work.
Every so often, though, the locals send a message. They sent one Wednesday.
And so after a long four year wait, the people of Ontario went to the polls (or didn’t) in order to choose thier new government, and here are my thoughts on the results. My first reaction is, how I feel sorry for the stupidity of the people that live in this province, but at the same time can understand it because having lived there, I can understand their ignorance. Living in subrbian Toronto, one would think that it’s a tolerant place, but in fact it’s quite the opposite. The streets are riddled with rascist sentiments, especially towards asians, russians, and muslim people. It’s by a vast majority the population over the age of thirty, but still, a rascist sentiment is a rascist sentiment; it’s not in the annunciation.
Dalton McGuinty and his Liberals from Ontario? I can live with that, it’s the lesser of two evils that only had a chance. Main issue number one, faith based schools. I disagree with this completely; and not with a rascist sentiment. I can understand if it’s a private sector, but to make it public will riddle the problems beyond words. The whole idea of immigration to a country consists of several things, living in the destined country, and following their norms and laws. Why should everything conform to every possible immigrant origin, just because they want it? If it’s the case, then what’s wrong with francophone Canadians to demand their independance; but that’s another story. The point is, don’t publically fund it, and make them conform. Through conformist actions, especially in education, you set a standard and a president; of tolerance and acceptance. That’s ultimately what we want right? A tolerant and accepting environment for our children; not seperatist, rascist and other attitudes that arise.
Low voter turnout? Not surprising, make it possible for people out of province to vote and I would have; Ontario sucks in that respect. The Conservatives won in my riding, with Frank Klees, and I’m not impressed. Another four years with a Conservative person who can do nothing except sit there and look pretty; and he doesn’t even achieve that. It’s like Julia Monroe all over again, but this time it’s even worse because it’s a man and the chances of a woman MMP were shattered; poor choice Newmarket-Aurora. Green came third and beat NDP by a lot; go team, although I never would have voted such a way.
Voting reform is the most important issue of this election, in my opinion. I am angered, enraged even by the ignorance of Ontario residence. They flatly rejected electoral reform that moves away from the useless voting system. Did anyone ever think of why voting turnouts are so low? It’s because people like me are discouraged to vote becasue it means nothing if for whom you vote, doesn’t win. The first-past-the-post system only takes into account, in all ways, the people who voted for the party, or representative who wins, otherwise it’s a waste, and my vote does feel like a waste. So why would they reject something to change that?
Sure they might not understand the other system, but do something like my dear old mother did; ask someone and do research on it. From what I understand she supports it, because it will giv
e smaller parties more right, example Green (rather than marxist for example), as well as increase women representatives in parliament. The point is that everyone who voted “yes” is so discouraged because they wanted change, but the ignorant people set old in their ways want to guard their power. So I say to them, if you don’t like what’s being done in government, shut the fuck up about it because you’re the one who prevented change.
We talk about this when we talk about the French Revolution. The pesants and bourgeois people were enranged and something had to be done, nothing in particular, just something. Something needs to be done, but right now I care less and less because I’m leaving.