National Column: Wynn can’t win, but Ontario will survive whoever does

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by Thomas Walkom

Ontarians are faced with a starkly simple choice Thursday. Do they want Tory leader Doug Ford to be their premier? Or do they want New Democrat Andrea Horwath? Those are the only options on offer.

The province can survive either. By conceding that she can’t win, current Premier Kathleen Wynne has put herself out of the running. Her pitch that voters should support her Liberals anyway will, I suspect, fall on deaf ears. Nor are pleas to engage in strategic voting likely to work. Most voters don’t know their own ridings well enough to vote strategically. In this election, changes in riding boundaries have made that task even more difficult. Party platforms are of limited use when deciding whom to vote for.

The NDP’s platform is comprehensive. But it is also overly ambitious, promising denticare, pharmacare and universal child care – as well as lower electricity rates, the re-nationalization of Hydro One and an end to hospital overcrowding. In this, it is more aspirational than practical, the platform of a party that wanted to avoid the trap of 2014 when it was outflanked on the left by Wynneís Liberals but that – until recently – didnít expect to win.

The sketchy Tory platform by contrast is the plan of a party that expects to win and hopes not to leave too many hostages to fortune. It says a Ford government would cut taxes and increase spending in some areas. But it is silent on how all of this would be financed. In an interview Tuesday on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning, Newmarket-Aurora PC candidate and former Ford leadership rival Christine Elliott gave some hint as to what spending cuts a Tory government might envision. Saying that international studies show Ontario is not getting best value for the billions it spends annually on health care, she promised a comprehensive review. “We need to take a look at everything, line by line,” she said. This doesnít necessarily mean that a Ford government would do anything unusual. Bob Raeís NDP government laid off nurses in the early 1990s in an effort to slow the growth of health-care spending. Mike Harrisís PC government closed hospitals in the late ’90s to achieve the same end. The Liberals under Dalton McGuinty and Wynne continued to squeeze health spending in general and hospitals in particular. I expect a Horwath NDP government would find itself under fiscal pressure to follow suit. None of this means that Horwath and Ford are the same.

They are not. Horwath is a more flexible politician who has navigated her party from centre-left to centre-right and back to centre-left again. In many ways, she is a conservative, who uses hot-button, populist language but resists straying too far from what is politically possible. Ford is a disrupter and a radical.

He is attracted to bold moves – such as his pledge to fire the CEO of Hydro One – even when they are pointless and probably impossible. Like Mike Harris, he has firm views – particularly on the virtue of tax cuts – that he is loath to give up. In this campaign, the partisans of each leader treat the other as some kind of Satan. Ford aficionados paint Horwath as a Stalinist ideologue in the thrall of Big Labour.

Horwath supporters dismiss Ford as a Canadian version of Donald Trump. Each side says that the
other, if elected, would cause incalculable damage to Ontario. In fact, Ontario will probably survive Thursday’s election. It survived Rae and Harris. It survived McGuinty and Wynne. We do face a stark choice Thursday. But things will probably work out – regardless of who wins.

Thomas Walkom is a Toronto-based columnist covering politics.
Follow him on Twitter: @tomwalkom
Copyright 2018-Torstar Syndication Services


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