Ontario’s victorious Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne last summer. Below: Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath and Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak.

Well! That didn’t work out quite as well as we’d hoped, did it? Can we get back to being New Democrats now?

I speak, of course, of the results of last night’s Ontario provincial election – in which it seems to me from my vantage point out here on the Great Plains that there are lessons in the vote for New Democrats in the west and the New Democrats in Ottawa too.

I realize that the great Canadian tradition of punditry is for the pundit to spin his or her favoured party’s electoral defeat as really being a victory.

We’ll be seeing lots of that this morning, I expect, as Conservative partisans at the National Post, Sun News Network and like outfits explain why Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals’ decisive defeat last night of Tim Hudak’s Tea Party Conservatives, through the medium of an an NDP budget, really means Ontarians want more conservative government, and, what’s more, that it’s actually good news for Stephen Harper’s Reform Party Government in Ottawa.

Both those propositions are mostly baloney, of course, but that won’t stop them from being trotted out by the very same people who just days ago were warning Ontarians not to fail to elect Mr. Hudak’s destructive, dishonest, economically ignorant, anti-worker, fundamentally un-Canadian party just because it made up factoids, got caught lying about them, used the Koch Brothers’ economist to cook the numbers, and planned to start off by destroying 100,000 jobs. Naturally, they’ll also blame unions – as if union members shouldn’t have a right to vote.

Indeed, Mr. Hudak’s program was so egregiously bad that even the members of the Globe and Mail’s Tory-to-the-bone editorial board were set to endorse Ms. Wynne’s Liberals until someone in the Roy Thomson Room at corporate headquarters picked up the good, grey telephone and gave them their marching orders.

Of course, conservative pundits out here in the west, and that’s pretty well all of them, will be telling you the Ontario election is good news for Alberta because companies will move here now since this province is so well run. Don’t believe that either. We’re rich because we won the oil lottery. And we don’t want to share.

Not being a real paid pundit, though, I’m going to break with tradition and say that the Ontario New Democrats, the party I not-so-secretly lean toward, could have done a heck of a lot better last night if they’d only acted like New Democrats instead of pretending to be conservatives.

Agreed, last night wasn’t a rout for the NDP. They hung on to most of their voters, and shuffled the deck chairs to hold the same number of seats. Unlike Mr. Hudak, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath won’t have to resign in ignominy. As Tom Walkom of the Toronto Star put it, they’re merely back to Square One.

Still, surely they could have done better if they’d paid attention to the evidence that what the people of Ontario wanted was … a New Democratic Party government.

I’ve been thinking for months that the Ontario New Democrats really had a chance to win this one. After all, enough people in Ontario are genuinely progressive, plus it’s been long enough for them to forget the NDP government led by Bob Rae, and he’s a Liberal nowadays anyway. Polls suggested Ontario voters recognized the Liberals richly deserved to be punished for their myriad sins of the recent past. And Ontarians were smart enough to recognize that 11 years in power is too long for any party – Alberta! Ah-hem!

But they were obviously pretty hesitant to use the sadistic wreckers of the unprogressive Ontario Progressive Conservatives to punish the Liberals because they recognized that, like the Harper Government in Ottawa, it held democratic institutions in contempt and has been infected with the extremist virus that has taken control of the Republican Party south of the Medicine Line.

The phrase “cutting off your nose to spite your face” springs to mind for using a party like Mr. Hudak’s to punish a party like Ms. Wynne’s. In other words, Ontario voters weren’t fools.

All the New Democrats really had to do to have a chance to win the government of Ontario, it’s said here, was act like New Democrats. For some reason, alas, Ms. Horwath decided to take another road, and by now we all know how that worked out.

So Ms. Horwath and her caucus voted down the budget that included a lot of what New Democrat voters pray for – infrastructure spending, public transit, pension improvements. This brought down the Liberal government, setting up last night’s less-than-optimum outcome from the NDP perspective.

Maybe just like generals are famously said to do, the NDP’s strategists were fighting the last war. Ontarians obviously decided that they’d rather have NDP policies than the NDP name with Conservative policies. Under the circumstances, it’s pretty hard not to agree with them.

Of course the knock against Liberals – entirely justified by history – is that they blink left and turn right. So we’ll see if Ms. Wynne keeps her promise and passes the budget the NDP helped defeat. And then there are the next couple of budgets after that, when Ontario will have to confront its $12.5-billion deficit.

And, yeah, the Liberals obviously persuaded quite a few NDP voters to change their votes by saying the Hudak Cons were scary. But they were scary! That’s the problem with the first-past-the-post system, which we’re probably stuck with, because if Canada adopted proportional representation we’d have progressive governments forever.

As for the so-called Conservatives, there’s a lesson for them here too – but they’re likely too far gone to take it. So many Canadians have had enough of their evil market-fundamentalist theology that they need to go back to being the kind of conservatives that actually conserve stuff worth keeping. Don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen.

For their part, Ontario’s Liberals need to recognize they got re-elected because voters wanted the policies they said they’d deliver. As a matter of fact, we’ve just watched this movie out here in Alberta, and it didn’t have a happy ending for the lead character.

Folks here were richly sick of the Progressive Conservatives in 2012, and rightly so, but they didn’t really want to elect a party that at the time sounded a lot like Mr. Hudak’s Conservatives. So they participated in the weird Alberta custom of joining the PCs for $5 and helping the governing party choose its leader, picking the apparently most progressive candidate of the lot. In addition, many progressive Albertans voted PC, instead of their traditional parties, because they were afraid of the only likely alternative.

It all turned out to be a dirty trick, though, and after two years with Alison Redford at the helm, this time it looks like they will be less susceptible to taking the same bait again.

We’ll see about that, I guess, but the advice from the Prairies to Ms. Wynne is to do what Ms. Redford should have done and govern like the progressive leader that electors voted for, not a Tim Hudak-Stephen Harper clone with delusions of grandeur.

But whatever the future holds, congratulations to Kathleen Wynne and her Liberals tonight. They certainly deserve it!

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

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  1. Regretfully, I don’t know enough about Ms Horwath’s NDP platform to comment on whether it betrayed the party’s socialist base. However, as to Mr Hudak’s fate, I think we out here on the prairies had heard enough about his plan for the Centre of the Universe for me to offer my own unsolicited observation.

    Ontario voters are just not interested in electing a Tea Party Republican disguised as a “Progressive” conservative. They tried that once, and got Mike Harris, and Walkerton resulted. No, if Ontario voters are ever going to vote PC again, it will be for a severely moderate, big-tent, low-profile kind of PCs, more like the old Bill Davis-Eera Big Blue Machine than the Harris-Ford neo-cons. In other words, even most Conservative voters are not quite that conservative, at least in Ontario.

  2. David, a quick correction. The ONDP did not gain four seats as they already had 21 after byelections. Basically they just shuffled the deck chairs, losing three great MPPs in Toronto and gaining an equal number of seats in Oshawa, Windsor and northern Ontario.

    1. Thank you, Charles, I have made the appropriate correction and even borrowed your phrase. This is always the danger of commentating upon elections in jurisdictions with which one is not intimately familiar. That said, with time at a premium, I found it astonishingly difficult last night to find before-and-after comparisons of seat numbers on any of the major news media websites. I’m sure it was there somewhere, but it sure didn’t spring immediately to hand. What’s with that, anyway? Has the mainstream media concluded readers don’t need that information any more? DJC

      1. The CBC had a pretty good riding-by-riding coverage of present and past numbers/candidates/percentages. That was only up on the site this morning, though. I guess they were still crunching the numbers and quaffing the champagne last night.

        What I did find out was that the voter turnout had actually gone up by almost three percent across the province. This is comforting.

        Unfortunately for this riding, the incumbent Con was returned to office, although with fewer votes and less than 50% support, a plurality rather than a majority. The support of the other three main parties – Lib, NDP and Green – increased.

        A lot of articles seem to be trying to make a prediction out of a circumstance, that Ontario hardly ever votes for the same bunch both provincially and federally. But it has happened before and all bets were spectacularly lost about this last election. I can only petition the gods and the electors to make it happen again.

        As for the Ford dynasty – remember Harper saying that he wanted Ontario to make the Con hat trick with Cons federally, provincially and municipally? – Doug Ford says that the PC’s need an enema. (All class, that guy.) Whether he means it as a purge or to relieve a blockage, I don’t think I really want to investigate further. The combination of “Ford” and “enema” requires a major measure of mind bleach.

      2. I was so used to commenting in places as “Charles in Vancouver” that I completely forgot I had moved to Toronto.

        Honestly I went with Wikipedia to remind myself of the seat count. The “40th Parliament of Ontario” article has a “Membership changes” section that shows the dates of all changes due to resignations and by-elections.

  3. ” if Canada adopted proportional representation we’d have progressive governments forever.”
    Ya think? (I used to believe the same.)

    I am a big proponent of PR, STV (or WTF 😉 ) however it may not fix all as voter behavior is unpredictable* and narrow corporate interests still control the media (and public dialogue).

    New Zealand elected one or two progressive governments under their PR system.. then the right wing took over, decisively.

    *For example: the orange wave polling results during the 2011 disaster led directly t the Harper majority as panicked Liberals voted Con.

  4. I think that Horwath has seriously harmed the NDP brand by her shift rightward. I for one am furtious with her and her cynical political expediencies. She opened the door to a Conservative government, caused a $90 million election and ended up with exactly the same number of seats she had in the first place. All with the net result that she lost her polical leverage now that the Liberals have a majority. If I were an NDP party member I’d be demanding her resignation. She’s done as much damage to the NDP’s credibility as Bob Rae did.

  5. In light of the results last night, here a few pearls that Timmy and his ilk will never read or even consider, although they should.

    “Conservative” morality GAP: Gluttony, Avarice & Pride.

    “Conservatives” are obsessed with their rights and everyone else’s responsibilities.

    “Conservatives” have the world all figured out and hate to be told they don’t.

    Government’s ability to control greed is what “conservatives” fear most. (Kevin O’Leary would have an instant aneurism if he heard this. Perhaps a tweet to Amanda Lang suggesting she say this to O’Leary live as a science experiment should be on my to-do list.)

    If it was feasible, “conservatives” would build a Jeep trail up Mt. Everest.

    It’s not conservative to conserve.

    Never ask a “conservative” to conserve anything.

    Old conservative adage: waste not, want not.
    New conservative adage: waste a lot, want more.

    “The more ancient and less peer-reviewed a text is, the more “conservatives” trust it as factual.
    The more ancient and less peer-reviewed a text is, the more these so-called conservatives trust it as factual.”

    “A conservative is someone that thinks that nothing should be done for the first time.”
    – Alfred E. Wiggam

    “A conservative is one who admires radicals centuries after they’re dead.”
    – Leo Rosten, author (1908-1997) 

    “A conservative government is an organized hypocrisy.”
    Benjamin Disraeli (1804 – 1881), Speech in the House of Commons, Mar. 3, 1845

    1. I would add a slight revision to your second definition: conservatives are obsessed fiscal fidelity,and belt tightening as long as other people are making the sacrifices.Or to put it another way, a libertarian is someone whose interests are not at stake.

  6. With Proportional Representation at the Federal Level the Tories would never have majorities. David is absolutely right. The PCs at their peak times never had more than 41% of the votes and that will never give them a majority in a PR system.
    Not sure why we are so attracted to majorities anyway. Democracy was created to combat majority abuses. Personally I much prefer a slow deciding coalition than a pernicious fast majority. The results of a bad majority are quite obvious to us with the Harper government. Of course we will not change to a Proportional Representation because both the Liberals and the PCs are in bed with the corporate elites and PR will not help them continue that scam.
    Andrea Horwath chose to lean to the right because that is what she really is.
    Furthermore, New Democrats know very well that if they get to power they will last 2 years. Corporate power in Canada is already entrenched up to the Supreme Court of Canada (exclusive for now). This was Harper’s objective when he said that by the end of his time as prime minister Canada would be a completely changed country. He is 80% done. They got their strategy from the old Stalinists and they infected every single Canadian Institution with their cronies who will now make any social democratic ideas almost impossible to implement. Furthermore the banks have a great debt to the right wing parties that saved them from a 2008 nationalization or bankruptcy and so any change from the status quo will not happen without a profound revolution.

  7. The NDP lost its way two or three federal elections back when some bright light in party HQ decided to hire a group of American consultants to run the campaign. As if they had to bring in outsiders to tell them how to appeal to voters.

    I suppose they were no different than the Liberals who hired what’s-his-name (the guy who was teaching at Harvard) to come “back home” and save the country.

    At least the PC’s stayed in their own back yard when they picked Stephen Harper. Even though he was telling everybody how much he hated Canada every time he ventured south of the 48th.

  8. So let’s get this straight. Adrian Dix, blew a 20 point lead against the Allison Redford of BC politics. Nova Scotia spanked us like we spent our music lesson money on hookers, Now we see Andrea Horwath dither away advantage (should’ve pulled the pin before Dalton stepped down) and then bring down a government over a budget that any progressive in their right mind would endorse. In all of this we get exactly zip from the federally party. Why? Because the NDP constituency is populated with people who are content to lose and sit on the sidelines. These people will not attract leaders who can galvanize support. Pack up the tent. Provincial politics are over for the NDs.

    1. Andrea Horvath and the Ontario New Dems have their faults, no question. The Ontario results are discouraging, no doubt. However progressives in every province still need a labour based party that can elect members and occasionally form a government. Look south of the medicine line as David C calls it. Throughout their history they have not had a truly labour supported mainstream party that ever got elected to anything. The Democrats talk a good game and take money from unions, but when it comes down to the nitty gritty the Americans have one party that is only slightly to the left of the very right wing Repubs. Both are tied to big money interests that control the game. Should the NDP and Liberals ever unite, we’d get the same.

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