OTTAWA – Since the end of the federal campaign on May 2nd voters have begun to shift their attention to the provincial race that is set to conclude at the ballot box on October 6th. I would have expected some fatigue from people given the string of federal elections we’ve seen since 2004, but that does not seem to be the case. Voters in Northwestern Ontario seem engaged, almost excited, about the chance to vote again and I think that is a great thing for our democracy.
Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals have a history of governing that can work both for and against them in this campaign. On the one hand, they are experienced, but on the other hand you don’t get experience without your share of battle scars. Voters will have to look at the Liberals governing record in terms of pros and cons, and will invariably have to ask and answer the questions; ‘Are my family and I better off today than the last time I voted, and can I reasonably expect to be better off for the next four years if I vote for the same Liberal government in 2011.’ Such is both the advantage and burden of incumbency.
For their part, the Progressive Conservative Party lead by Tim Hudak is modestly ahead in polls, but that gap is fragile and closing according to recent analyses from polling firms Ipsos-Reid and Angus Reid Strategies. The PC’s will no doubt try to take advantage of some of the anger that was sparked across the province by the HST, record deficits, and a still struggling economy. However, the PC’s will also need to show that they have a moderate side. Many will remember that Tim Hudak served in the Mike Harris regime that rigorously adopted a far-right-free-market ideology that saw our public services cut to the bone, and even if it meant putting our public health at risk such as it did in the Walkerton case. So which tack will Hudak take – hard right or centrist? A lot is riding on the answer to that question.
Andrea Horwath and my provincial cousins at the Ontario NDP are at about 24 percent in the latest polls and face an uphill, but winnable, battle in this campaign. Like Jack and our federal party, Andrea and her team have chosen to focus on helping families and individuals adapt to, and make ends meet in, the struggling economy. Making life more affordable will be a key theme with a major plank being the removal the HST on home heating, electricity, and gasoline. I expect Andrea to gather steam as people around the province get to know her better and hear about her vision for fiscal responsibility and social fairness. The big handicap for the NDP is (always) the legacy of Bob Rae’s government, regardless of the fact he left for the Liberals more than a decade ago and most other NDP governments, particularly in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, have stellar fiscal records.
So what do I think will happen across the province in this campaign? Well, I am (more than?) a little biased, but I think voters will opt for change versus more of the same in Ontario in 2011. Having decided that they want change, I think voters will not trust McGuinty’s crew to deliver that change, nor will they support the slash-and-burn approach that Hudak and the PC’s favour. After all, we’ve been there and done that and look where it has gotten us. I think over the course of this campaign more and more Ontarians, especially in the Northwest, will come to support the fiscally balanced and socially responsible vision that is being put forward by Andrea Horwath and the Ontario NDP, and I am proud to say that I will be one of them.
John Rafferty MP
Thunder Bay Rainy River