Kathleen Wynne’s unpopularity is palpable, whether deserved or not. In reality, she has done a pretty decent job as a leader. But her enemies have been very successful in casting her as the source of all that is evil in Ontario. Voters are in a cranky mood.
By SHEILA COPPS
First published in The Hill Times on May 28, 2018.
OTTAWA—Politics is the only profession where the more experience you get, the more people want to get rid of you.
People have great respect for journalists who practise their craft for decades, and business people who achieve gravitas with age.
Bay Street is sprinkled with eminences grises who are called on to offer the benefit of their wisdom on big issues facing the market and the country.
But on the campaign front, Premier Kathleen Wynne is bearing the brunt of the change theme that plagues all incumbent politicians.
Wynne’s unpopularity is palpable, whether deserved or not. In reality, she has done a pretty decent job as a leader. But her enemies have been very successful in casting her as the source of all that is evil in Ontario.
Voters are in a cranky mood. They are certainly not happy with the status quo but they are almost equally flummoxed about the alternatives.
The Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario proved, once again, that it could snatch defeat from the jaws of victory when it chose a leader who provokes more questions than answers.
A couple of weeks ago, the Conservative candidate in my riding knocked on my door to say hello, and I wished her well, commenting that Doug Ford did not make her job any easier.
She sighed in agreement, confiding that she had actually been backing his opponent Christine Elliott in the nomination battle. We both agreed that the choice of Jim Flaherty’s widow would likely have clinched a Tory victory in the province.
Instead, the party went with a strident, scary right-winger who has members of his own party refusing to vote for him.
He is a lot more like previous Conservative leader Tim Hudak, who appeared headed for victory in the last Ontario election until he happily announced his major campaign plank was to fire 100,000 people. Hudak’s mistake permitted Kathleen Wynne to change the channel on the change agenda.
But she has not been so successful this time. Her campaign strategy, to target Ford as the Trump of the North, has had some success.
Ford’s numbers, while initially stable, have been faltering, and the uncertainty around his leadership is as profound as that of Wynne’s.
The Trump-Ford comparison has stuck. And with good reason. But the Liberals have not been the beneficiary of anti-Ford sentiment.
Instead, New Democratic Party leader Andrea Horwath has surged in the last weeks of the campaign.
Horwath, who holds the seat that I occupied back in the eighties, is an able campaigner, and a solid, likeable person. She speaks well and gives the impression of a politician who really cares about the people. Kind of like a Kathleen Wynne without the warts.
As the leader of a third party, Horwath has not been subject to the same level of scrutiny that the premier and Ford have been subjected to.
That changed last week when multiple polls showed the New Democrats closing the gap with the Tories. Some even had her neck and neck with Ford in vying for the premier’s seat.
But that momentum comes with a lot more public attention.
Her editorial roundtable with The Globe and Mail last week led to some big questions about the New Democratic platform.
The most glaring hole was Horwath’s suggestion that all Ontario hospitals should admit patients without asking them to produce proof of health insurance.
She is tackling a real problem of non-coverage that affects some refugees. But her solution is to kill a fly with a sledgehammer.
A health-care system that does not ask patients to provide proof of residence would result in a flood of unintended consequences, including displacing other patients in an already crowded system.
What would prevent any border town from being inundated by American visitors who want to take advantage of our free hospital care without even providing proof of residence?
The health-care promise was designed to underpin an NDP pledge to turn Ontario into a sanctuary province, reminiscent of the role churches have played in providing a safe haven for the persecuted.
Given Ontario’s welcoming record for existing refugees, that NDP promise will generate more questions than answers.
It is one thing to support a third party leader with a conscience. It is another turn the reins of government over to New Democrats.
Bay Street will buck back. That is not necessarily fatal, as more people from Main Street will be voting.
It does mean that this volatile election is not over.
Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.