Canada Votes: Preview – Ontario

by on 14 October, 2015

FrontWith less than a week left until Canadians go to the polls, we head to the province which will, and almost always does, decide Canada’s federal elections.

Ontario (121 seats)ON_Wiki ONdet

Quite simply, this is ground zero for any Canadian election. Ontario is home to more than a third of all seats in the Canadian Parliament, and as such has a larger bearing on Canadian elections than New South Wales does on Australian elections. Ontario hosts Canada’s capital Ottawa, which sits on the Quebec border, and the nation’s largest city in Toronto, derived from a Huron word meaning “Ice hockey team which always loses”…. err, sorry, “place of meeting”. Ontario shares land borders with five American states and sits across the Great Lakes from another five.

Ontario, originally known as Canada West and Upper Canada (due to the flow of the St Lawrence River, not an inability to do basic geography), is one of the four original provinces of Canada and was the driving force behind confederation, thanks to the first Canadian Prime Minister, Sir John MacDonald. Access to Ontario was originally negotiated through treaty and was quickly divided into administrative districts before becoming West Canada as part of the Province of Canada before New Brunswick and Nova Scotia joined in to create the new Dominion. Ontario’s borders took a long time to settle, although the international border was settled thanks to the War of 1812 with the United States, from which the legend of the native warrior Tecumseh grew, due largely to his coalition with British North American General Sir Isaac Brock.

Ontario’s economy is currently struggling under the weight of it being the capital of Canadian manufacturing. High wage increases and a once mighty Canadian dollar have hurt Ontario badly, with little relief coming via the decrease in the value of the Loonie. Ontario relies heavily on hydroelectricity, and uses its enormous river system to generate 40% of the province’s electricity needs. The main electricity production method, however, is nuclear, with half of Ontario’s electricity produced via nuclear power. The Great Lakes provide an ideal trade route for Ontario’s manufacturing sector, with the American rust belt a major trading partner, consuming Ontarian goods such as motor vehicles, iron, steel, food, electrical appliances, machinery, chemicals, and paper. Canada’s financial district calls Toronto home, while most Canadian steel jobs are located in Hamilton. Naturally, in Ottawa, the Federal Government is the main employer. Ontario has little by way of a major tourism sector. Well, that is except for one of the wonders of the natural world in Niagara Falls, located on the US border.

Politically, Ontario has a rather mixed heritage and, until the Alberta PCs passed it, was home to the longest serving government in Canadian history, with the Progressive Conservative ‘big blue machine’ in power from 1943-1985. Since then, however, the PCs have held power for just two terms, under Mike Harris’ common sense revolution, which was almost a copybook example in classical liberal economics. This came on the back of what can only be called a clusternuck NDP government led by Bob Rae of the NDP after an upset 1990 election victory. Since 1985, these three terms are the only interruption to Liberal rule, which also enjoyed a rather heady 34 year reign from 1871-1905. At a federal level, Ontario generally dictates where the nation goes, as you would expect from a province with such a large proportion of representation. This pattern was really only overturned in 2006, when a Harper minority government entered Parliament while 54 Liberals, 40 tories and 12 New Democrats.

At this election, Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne was very fast to nail her colours to the mast and throw her support behind Justin Trudeau. This poses some questions as to the impact of Wynne on the election, with her government in the doldrums…. Well, toilet would be a better term, with her government taking heat over broken campaign promises, a play by her predecessor Dalton McGuinty to basically buy a handful of ridings by cancelling a power plant contract at a cost of $2 billion, a struggling economy, tax hikes, teacher complaints, a growing deficit and her insistence that this is all the fault of Ottawa, which is placing conditions on infrastructure funding insofar as any Federal infrastructure money must be spent on programmes the Federal Government chooses (and given the Liberals’ record, that’s not such a bad idea). Indeed, many pundits believe Wynne only got back into power on the back of PC leader Tim Hudak, whose campaign focussed on public service job slashings (And at 120,000 jobs, it is definitely a slashing). Wynne is supposed to help Trudeau win seats in Ontario, but with a record like hers, it is little wonder the other parties are happy to pair Wynne and Trudeau together.

On a riding level, take your pick as to which ridings could swing. With the expansion of Parliament by 30 seats, the new ridings in Ontario are supposedly in areas which would be expected to favour the Conservatives. However, polling suggests this to not be the case. The Conservatives, who go in with 73 ridings under their belt, but are projected to pick up only around 50 or so. One of the great losses is former foreign minister John Baird, who regularly drew the ire of the left parties by basically wedding Canada and Israel at the hip in terms of foreign policy. While this made true blue conservatives gush with pride, it was something else which gushed from the left as a result. This decision by Baird resulted in Canada missing its traditional one in ten year spot on the Security Council, yet endeared him and the party to large numbers of migrant communities in Toronto, which hold tight to the values espoused by Israel and allies.

If you get a chance, I suggest reading The Big Shift, which looks in depth at the changes in and around Toronto in terms of the migrant communities and the way their values clash with the so called Laurentian elites of downtown Toronto. This explains a growing sympathy for the tories in the halls of Ottawa, if not within the traditional Ottawa population. However, John Baird’s riding was nestled snugly in West Ottawa, and he always sat on a comfortable margin.
Canadian elections, both federal and provincial, can shift quickly and with dramatic results thanks to first past the post voting, so I am almost taking stabs in the dark at the moment, although I will provide a final prediction in the week leading up to 19 October.

 

Lib: 108 (+56)   Con: 129 (+49)   NDP: 100 (+16)   BQ: 0   Grn: 1   Oth: 0

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