World News

Split Between the Left and Right, Ontario Votes

Posted June 7, 2018 8:09 a.m. EDT

OTTAWA, Ontario — About the only thing everyone agrees on when it comes to Thursday’s election in Ontario is that Kathleen Wynne will no longer be the premier of Canada’s most populous and economically powerful province.

Even Wynne acknowledged last Saturday that control of Ontario’s government by her Liberal Party will come to a close after almost 15 years.

But an election that once seemed like almost a sure thing for the Progressive Conservatives under Doug Ford, a former Toronto municipal politician and a brother of former Mayor Rob Ford of Toronto, has proved to be anything but.

Polls from a variety of polling firms show that the Conservatives are more or less tied for popular support with the New Democratic Party led by Andrea Horwath, a former community and labor activist who comes from the sometimes rough-and-tumble political scene in Hamilton, Ontario’s largest steel town.

But the tightness of the race and the nature of Ontario’s political structure have left some polling experts unwilling to predict which of the two will emerge the winner.

“I kind of want to hold fire on what may happen,” said Bruce Anderson, chairman of Abacus Data, a polling firm based in Ottawa, and a former adviser to both the Liberals and Conservatives.

While Canadian voters often have different, even conflicting, preferences in provincial and federal elections, the loss of a Liberal government in Ontario will not be welcomed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, another Liberal. He faces a federal vote next year and strong results in Ontario will be vital to his party’s re-election.

The two leaders in Ontario’s election and their platforms are dramatic opposites. Ford, a businessman and right-wing populist whose approach to politics often invites comparisons to President Donald Trump, has called for cutting or eliminating taxes, including one on carbon emissions, downsizing government and $1 a bottle beer.

Horwath, whose parents were immigrants from the country then known as Czechoslovakia, is the furthest to the left of Ontario’s leaders and has vowed to raise taxes on the wealthy and corporations to finance social, health and education programs.

Her detailed platform includes, among other things, free day care for low-income families and a rate of 12 Canadian dollars a day, or a little more than $9, for everyone else.

She has also promised significant additional spending on hospitals and free prescription drugs for everyone, not just the young and old. But such measures would also incur significant debt.

The campaign has been filled with unexpected twists, many of them involving the Conservatives.

Ford’s only political experience is a single term on Toronto’s City Council and his role as an adviser and unofficial spokesman for his brother Rob, who, while mayor, confessed to crack cocaine use and public intoxication. Rob Ford died in 2016 from a rare form of cancer.

Doug Ford came to lead the Conservatives only after Patrick Brown, a former federal politician, stepped down in January over accusations of sexual misconduct.

Brown has continued to strenuously deny the accusations and has filed a lawsuit against CTV News, which first reported them, and is writing a tell-all book, “Take Down: The Political Assassination of Patrick Brown.”

During the whirlwind leadership campaign to replace Brown, Ford repeatedly displayed a less than firm grasp on what the provincial government does. Once he became leader, he reprised some of the political moves he and his brother used.

He again called his followers the “Ford Nation,” and his campaign materials and signs largely omitted any mention of the Progressive Conservative Party in favor of the family brand.

But overall his campaign was less flamboyant than his tenure on the City Council, when he once challenged a heckler at a council meeting to meet him on the floor while repeatedly shouting, “Bring it on, big guy.” For most of this campaign, Ford often seemed to be reciting his speeches with all the vibrancy of an auditor reading a routine statement about a company’s accounts during an annual meeting. His interactions with reporters have been brief and tightly controlled.

This week, though, the campaign took another twist when Rob Ford’s widow, Renata Ford, sued Doug and the third Ford brother, Randy, claiming they had deprived her and her two children of at least 16.5 million Canadian dollars ($12.7 million) by, among other things, mismanaging the family’s adhesive labels business, Deco Labels.

The lawsuit claims that the company has lost millions of dollars under Ford’s management, perhaps undermining his often-repeated campaign argument that his success in business is his chief qualification to lead the province.

Ford has vigorously denied the accusations raised by his sister-in-law but has also not answered questions about Deco Label’s finances.

Wynne has never enjoyed strong popularity in polls, but during her time in office much of Ontario’s economy has boomed, and she has started several large infrastructure programs and introduced other measures that drew support, like reduced tuition for many students and free prescription drugs for the young and people over 65.

In her concession speech, Wynne urged voters to elect enough Liberals to deny both Ford and Horwath control of the next Legislature.

Wynne’s government gave its opponents at least one powerful issue by presiding over steep increases in electricity rates, particularly in rural areas, by the provincially owned power utility.

While she initially defended the increases as the cost of ending the use of coal power in the province, renewing nuclear power stations and rebuilding the electrical grid to prevent brownouts, Wynne eventually took on long-term debt in a complex program to reduce electrical rates in the short term.

But that did little to satisfy many people.

Both Ford, who incorrectly claims that Ontario’s rates are now the highest in North America, and Horwath have heavily promoted promises to further cut electrical rates. It is unclear how that would be funded.

On Tuesday, The Globe and Mail, which has tended to endorse the Conservatives, including during the last federal election, found itself unable to back Ford, calling him in an editorial “unfit to be premier” and a “populist chancer.”

But perhaps like many voters, its editorial board could not find another leader or party it prefers.

“The electorate cannot vote for leadership where it does not exist, or for platforms that are wrong for the times,” the newspaper said. “So if you are lucky enough to have a local candidate who embodies integrity and principle, we encourage you to support him or her.”