I am no soothsayer.
A little over a week ago Ontario had five by-elections. Here’s what I expected to hear on August 2nd (the day after the election):
- If the Liberals got massacred, that they were clinging to power, and in desperate trouble in the coming election, the opposition & press licking their chops in anticipation
- If the NDP did well, that they were the party to beat in the next election
- If the Conservatives did well, that they’d be the party to beat
- And if the results were a mish-mash, as so often happens, you’d get partisan comments, each claiming victory
It’s more than a week later. Here’s what I think I saw in the press:
- I suppose I was busy, not paying attention but i heard very little beyond the results. I expected much more…why is that, i wonder?
- The press seemed a bit confused by the results
- And the one story that caught my eye is perhaps the big story in waiting: whether the results mean trouble for one of the leaders.
Had Wynne and the Liberals been totally repudiated –as I confess I had expected—she might have been in trouble. I like the woman very much, and don’t hold the transgressions of her predecessor against her. That her party won two of five by-elections is a creditable result. She certainly held her own.
Had the NDP won fewer seats than two I think their leader Andrea Horvath might have had some explaining to do, even if –hello– her party is in third place, and doesn’t have the same pressures as the usual front-runners. But winning two of five for the party coming out of third place looks good, I think, and portends well going forward. Right now Horvath begins to look like the next Premier of Ontario.
And maybe that’s the problem Tim Hudak faces. Already in these first days after the by-elections, there are rumblings about a leadership review. While there are also some who are claiming that the single seat the PCs won represent a break-through, considering the recent press –where the Liberals have been on the ropes for more than a year—only a partisan Conservative would claim that one seat out of five, at a time of huge Liberal scandals is in some way an endorsement of the official opposition. While you’re at it, If the Blue Jays lost four games of a five game series (if there were such a thing) would we be told that they’re about to win a World Series? I think not.
I remember several versions of the Conservative Party in this province. Under Bill Davis they were unbeatable, because Davis occupied not just the right but also the middle ground. His policies were reasonable, a government who built much of our infrastructure, who were the face of Ontario.
Under Mike Harris it became a more right-wing party, which worked well for a time and coincided with a federal Liberal Government who were just as conservative (for instance in their cost-cutting, budget balancing & cuts to provincial transfer payments). I don’t think there was much difference between the two, other than the colours on their signs.
Hudak is even further to the right. That might not be a problem in Ford country, but Ford won as mayor as the single candidate on the right, against multiple candidates who were moderate or left, in a contest set up by a garbage strike and perceptions of over-spending at city hall. Ford was a clear choice, whereas Hudak & Horvath give those who would remove the Liberals a bit of a dilemma.
The Liberals seemed to commit political suicide in their dealings with the teachers this past year, then faced the enquiry into the cancellation of a power plant, that seemed cynical even before we started to hear of erased correspondence. So many scandals, so many moments in the glare of controversy, yet the Liberals won two of five.
Oh my, the Liberals have had such a rough couple of years –and it looked to me as if former Premier McGuinty left, running scared, not wanting to be defeated at the polls or worse—that any half-decent opposition should have been able to win more than a single seat out of five by-elections. I wonder if it’s because the PCs have become too right wing for this province. Or is it because voters are torn, not knowing who to vote for in three-way races.
The Conservatives can’t change leaders now, it’s too close to election time. Perhaps in a general election Hudak will finally show the voters (and his party) that he has what it takes to be the winner. But right now the Liberals are showing surprising signs of life, possibly due to voters who can’t decide which of the other two parties they prefer.
And Horvath’s smile looks more and more self-assured all the time.