Ontario Voters are not Stupid

In their eagerness to pound the tired, corrupt Liberal government into oblivion, some critics have let their frustrations get the better of them. Despite the likelihood the Liberals are heading to the opposition benches, a handful of commentators can’t believe that the party is still in contention (albeit with the lowest level of popular support ever accorded to the most popular party). As a result they have lashed out at some of the very people they hope to convert; in particular, the voters of the province of Ontario.

Ontario has provided the Liberals with life support in the past. Even as the Canadian Alliance took the majority of seats in Western Canada, they ran up against a brick wall at the Manitoba border. It’s worth noting that the Conservatives haven’t gained a foothold in Quebec, either; that the Liberal lead in the Atlantic provinces is higher and that the Conservatives aren’t doing as well as they would like throughout all the major cities of Canada, but with Ontario holding a third of this nation’s population and about as many seats, failure to win here sort of sticks out.

Unfortunately, rather than ask why the Conservatives have been unable to win over more mainstream Canadians, some commentators have simply resorted to questioning the intelligence of the Ontarian voter. We’ve been called dumb, sheep, morally deficient, or worse. One particular commentator, in an act of petulence, suggested the creation of an Ontario Separation Party in the rest of Canada, “dedicated to the removal of Ontario from confederation, with or without their consent.” (Link courtesy Blank Out Times)

This sort of tantrum recalls similar episodes against Quebec when it appeared that they were skewing the country towards the Mulroney Conservatives. It seems a shame that, when the democratic process of this nation goes against the will of some individuals (and my province is not immune), they opt to personally attack Canadians they’ve not even met, rather than propose anything constructive.

Jay Currie is a man of considerable intellect, but even he has been short-sighted in this regard. Here’s a couple of his quotes regarding the average Ontarian voter.

“The question is whether Martin’s incoherence and total absence of vision will be enough. With the Star and the Globe and Mail wailing about the socon Tories it is not obvious that Ontario voters will be bright enough to see Martin for the strawman he is and Harper as a potentially great Prime Minister.”

“The great slug of the Liberal Party will simply ooze into power on momentum and the sheer idiocy of Ontario voters”

Jay only lets stray comments through deriding the intelligence of Ontario voters, so he’s hardly the worst example of Ontario bashing, but I comment on him because, while he criticizes Ontarians for continuing to support (in a tepid fashion) the Liberal government, he himself refuses to back the most popular alternative to that government: the Conservatives. He’s done so for good and defensible reasons. He cannot support the Conservative Party because of its stance on same-sex marriage. He is an urban conservative, a libertarian, and he feels that the social conservative message in the background — which Jay agrees is still there despite Conservative protestations to the contrary — doesn’t play well with him and in the urban centres.

If this is enough of a reason for Jay to pull his vote away from the Conservatives, surely the response of the average Ontarian is as legitimate.

I realize that Jay and others are criticizing Ontarian voters (all 37% of them) less for avoiding the Conservatives and more for choosing the Liberals instead, and I admit that the Liberals’ level of support here is surprisingly high, but that’s no reason to paint the remaining 63% with the same brush. Why doesn’t some of the remaining 37% go to a different party — say, the Greens — you might ask. And the answer, I think, comes down to two words: Bob Rae.

It’s sad to say that many Ontarians are almost as cynical of the process as many Albertans seem to be. We have not been well served by the Ontario Liberal caucus. But back in 1990, we vented our frustrations against the hollow Petersen Liberals and the arrogant Mulroney Conservatives by doing something we hadn’t done in over seventy years: we elected somebody other than the Conservative or Liberal jokers into Queen’s Park.

I remember that September very well — not just because it was the first ever election I got to vote in. The frustration was such that people were showing up at the voting booths and shouting to their friends: “what’s the name of the NDP candidate?” They were voting for an alternate party sight unseen. The election result was the biggest political earthquake in the province’s history. And it was the end of the NDP as a credible political force in this country throughout the 1990s.

I personally think that Bob Rae did as good a job as could be expected of anybody in the five years that followed, but others don’t agree. They just remember the harsh recession (not his fault), the tax increases, the Rae Days, job losses, labour unrest, etc. It’s said that voters tend to vote for the devil they know. Well, in September 1990, many Ontarian voters went with the devil they didn’t. The result has been burned in our memories fifteen years later.

This seems as likely an explanation as any as to why the Green Party hasn’t had the traction here that it has in, say, BC or Alberta. I think many of us are sympathetic to these outsiders, and some of us might be willing to give them a crack at governing, but much of the tone of the Bob Rae administration was set during its tumultuous first six months in power, when their political inexperience showed, and they lost control of their message. We see that the Green Party has no experience in governing, and suddenly handing them the keys to this tractor-trailer called Canada could be a recipe for a crash.

This is not what I believe, but it may be the mindset that the Green Party has to overcome in this province. With no other viable political party to park our vote with, we’re left with the equally uninspiring choice of Liberal or Conservative: policies we agree with combined with corruption we hate, versus clean government we want combined with policies we hate. It’s a daunting prospect.

So, I would argue that a fair amount of thought is going into how Ontarians are voting and any suggestion that we’re morally deficient or unthinking sheep is unfair and immature. And again I point out that the overwhelming majority of Ontarians would like to elect someone other than the Liberal party. We’re just not clear on who.

There is a solution to this, you know. If we want to avoid a 40% vote handing the Liberals more than 60% of the province’s seats, then let’s get together and back something other than the first-past-the-post system of elections. Will those who deride us accept this? I haven’t seen evidence of this from the people behind the Ontario Separation Party concept.

Could this be because breaking the Ontario bloc would also break the big bloc that exists out west, that favours the Conservatives in seats far more than they’re favoured in votes? Could this be because planting Conservative MPs in Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada means planting Liberal/NDP/Green seats in the West? Could this be because the Ontario bashers aren’t interested in contributing their voice to the Canadian body politic and existing in a state of perpetual compromise, but controlling the nation in as much of a dictatorship as they accuse us of running?

This Ontarian is not afraid of real democracy. The Ontario bloc of the Liberals hasn’t effectively spoken for this province since their election back in 1993, and most of us have been wanting to get rid of that, so don’t lecture us on the damage the average Ontarian voter has done to this nation. We’re just as interested in improving the system as anyone else, and we welcome constructive suggestions on how best to do so.

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