With each passing day Ontario’s legislative assembly looks more like a mesh of Disney and other fairly tale characters. There’s Pinocchio, Ontario’s Premier serving a third term; the Cowardly Lion from the Wizard of Oz, who sits as the head of the opposition but lacks the courage to really do anything; and finally, the fairy godmother, Ms. Andrea Horwath who unofficially acts as the official opposition.
It’s without a doubt that Dalton McGuinty, Pinocchio, is the worst Premier in Ontario’s history, arguably more so than Bob Rae. Since the beginning of his premiership, McGuinty has brought Ontario’s economy to a grinding halt, increased taxes (to a point where there will soon be a tax for crossing the street), and has managed to turn Ontario into a “have-not” province. The main reason for McGuinty’s two majorities and third minority government has been the lack of a serious conservative opposition, and the 2012 Ontario budget debate has proved this.
Since the resignation of Mike Harris, and to some extent Ernie Eves, the Ontario Progressive Conservatives have become a joke. John Tory, who is much more suited for the Liberals than the PCs, led the PC Party to a defeat in 2007. And now, Tim Hudak who was destined for a majority government in 2011 squandered that away by hiding from the public’s eye, promoting the same fiscal policies as McGuinty’s and only talking about pedophiles and sex offenders. The role of the opposition is not only to offer criticism, but alternatives as well, which Hudak fails to do.
At the announcement of the 2012 budget, Hudak immediately announced that the PCs would not support the budget and did not offer any alternatives from there on in. This marginalized the PCs. For the remainder of the budget debate the PCs stayed out of the spotlight while attention turned to the NDP and the Liberals as they hammered out a deal.
What kind of opposition allows the third place party assume the role of official opposition? The answer is an opposition that is not fit to take on the role, let alone form government. Tim Hudak has proven time after time that he is unfit to run Ontario, yet the PCs strangely still support his leadership. And, to add insult to injury, in the midst of this political mess in Ontario the province has received yet another credit downgrade.
If Hudak and the PCs don’t wake up and smell the coffee, they will give the NDP the right to form government or even become the official opposition in the next election all while the PCs are pushed down to third place. What keeps the PCs alive is their support in rural Ontario, however this support is not even enough to form a minority government. The key lies in breaking into the GTA. This first-past-the-post electoral system which Ontario, and the rest of Canada, employs creates a sort of artificial majority where while popular support for the Liberals and PCs were almost on par, the Liberals were close to achieving their majority because of the “get out the vote” strategy in 2011, which concentrates political efforts on the riding level and not to the general province.
Is this fair? Yes and no. After Harper’s victory in 2011 and the federal Conservative breakthrough in key ridings in Toronto, Hudak’s PCs can no longer claim that a breakthrough in the GTA is impossible for a Conservative party. The power to elect government lies primarily with the GTA, leaving the rural regions left out. Examining the balance of electoral power in Ontario, with regards to the status of rural Ontarians, echo’s of Alberta’s Reform Party slogan of “the West Wants In!”. In order for the Cowardly Lion to form government the key is not to focus on the rural core, but create a fiscally conservative alternative to those in the GTA while remaining true to rural Ontarians. Also, the PCs would be wise to become more vocal in Queen’s Park in order to define themselves as suitable successors to Ontarians.
If the PCs don’t start to work towards internal reforms, then they will likely follow the evolutionary path of the dodo bird and become a minor player in provincial politics. Or, another possibility, the real conservatives in the PC party will eventually say “enough is enough” and separate from the PCs in order to form their own “Ontario Party”, which would likely further divide the votes on the right until the PCs are completely obliterated.
Ontario’s history has reached its eleventh hour; it’s up to Hudak to turn the fortune of his party. Hudak’s leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party will have one of two logical conclusions: he will either leave behind good legacy by reasserting much needed conservatism in the province, or, the more likely outcome as of now, completely destroy the party’s reputation only to be remembered as the Michael Ignatieff of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives.