|The latest CBC poll aggregation - May 30, 2018|
The latest polls are showing Andrea Horwath's NDP either neck-and-neck with Doug Ford's Conservatives, or in a clear lead. They also show Kathleen Wynne's Liberals languishing somewhere between the high teens and the low 20s.
If those numbers were to hold in the actual popular vote on election day, while the winner may at this point be uncertain, it would also certainly mean a defeat so devastating for the Ontario Liberals that the party might take years if not decades to recover.
All of these developments have forced me to confront many assumptions I've held about Ontario politics for years:
- Ontarians are adverse to voting NDP under any circumstances. Even when Jack Layton was at the height of his orange wave in 2011, he could only muster 26% of the Ontario vote, barely beating out Michael Ignatieff's Liberals who won 25% that year. Apparently, given the right circumstances, that's no longer true.
- Earlier this year, voters seemed to have little problem with Doug Ford following his "election" as PC leader, as all opinion polls from March to the start of the campaign showed his party well ahead of the others. But apparently the focus of this campaign has shone a welcome light on Ford's many shortcomings as he sinks his party in the polls.
- After 15 years, it did seem that outright victory for the Liberals this time was unlikely. But if the Liberals could do well enough, it might keep a PC victory rather modest and, with a strong base intact, this would allow the Liberals to get a new leader, revitalize their movement and mount a strong campaign against the Ford Conservatives next time. But now, this is less of a concern as the Ontario NDP seems to have replaced the Grits as capable Ford slayers this year!
The sudden emergence of Horwath's NDP in this campaign as a viable progressive alternative that can challenge the Conservatives has exacerbated the Liberals' problems, crippling their ability to recover.
In addition, Doug Ford has not run the kind of campaign he needed to re-assure Ontarians that he's ready and mature enough for the premier's office. His empty and clearly dishonest platitudes about his greatness aren't going over so well.
As a progressive, it's been reassuring to me to see the NDP take off as they are doing. Perhaps Ontario isn't as stodgy and conservative as we've allowed ourselves to believe. Or perhaps times are changing.
I've always considered myself to be a very progressive Liberal. I'm definitely on the far left of that mostly centrist party (so much so that the tendencies of some blue Liberals to care more about tax cuts and business handouts than social justice have always annoyed me.) I've voted NDP federally as much as I've voted for the federal Liberals. But I haven't voted NDP provincially since 1995, when I decided to give a vote to my local NDP MPP who had supported equal rights for LGBT people despite strong opposition at the time.
My support for the Ontario Liberals solidified when they emerged as the main challengers to Mike Harris' PCs in the late 1990s. I even went to work for them for five years from 1999 to 2004, working for two Liberal MPPs including Thunder Bay's Michael Gravelle and even in the Liberal Caucus Service Bureau. During that time, I did often see the nasty side of New Democrats, including the fact that they are just as pragmatic and uncommitted to their principles as any other partisan, despite what they may say.
Horwath herself has shown changing priorities over the years, although this year clearly she has hit her stride in a big way. Her performance this election campaign has been solid, taking full advantage of the political circumstances facing the other two main parties.
Now she remains the only person standing in the way of Doug Ford becoming premier. That alone is a big reason to vote NDP this year.
But one bit of warning to progressives who are overjoyed at the prospect of Doug Ford's defeat this year by the hands of the NDP: if it happens, it may only be a temporary reprieve. NDP administrations tend to provoke major conservative backlashes. A defeat may not be the end of Ford if he fights to stay on. And we should all remember back to how his late brother rode a wave of resentment against another New Democrat's administration to victory in 2010.
Of course, if it's a decisive NDP majority, Ford won't be able to escape the anger amongst his own party's supporters at clearly blowing yet another election. He might get forced out. Would I vote NDP just to see that happen? You bet I would.
But still I'm torn. I want to vote Liberal as I've been mostly a fan of Kathleen Wynne, and I like very much my local Liberal candidate, David Morris, in Toronto Centre. Still, this is one of many seats that could help stop the PCs from winning the election.
I'll be watching all polls between now and next Thursday to make my final decision. If it remains close between the NDP and the PCs, I'll be voting NDP to push them over the top. But if they move well ahead of the PCs in all polls, I'll vote with my heart and give the Grits some much-needed help.