Reading the tea leaves for 2015 Federal election in light of Grit win in Ontario

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With so many pundits trying to read the tea leaves for the 2015 federal election, many are naturally looking at the results in last week’s Ontario election for any omens, good or bad, for the federal parties’ fortunes in Ontario and beyond.

Here are some of the obvious conclusions drawn by most of our chattering classes, after the surprising return to power and majority government mandate of the Gritty Ontario Liberals:  1) Negative advertising works.  2) The Liberals had a better GOTV (get out the vote) operation than either of their rivals.  3) The election was essentially decided in swing or “marginal” ridings of the 905 and 416 area code (a.k.a. the outer and inner suburbs of TO).  4) Harper isn’t popular in Ontario, especially in Toronto.  Much of this was known or suspected before the candidates ever got to the hustings, but the substantial victory of the Ontario Liberals confirmed that this is true of provincial politics and, most probably, are the same factors that will determine the next federal election in Ontario and, by extension, maybe even the whole country!

Regardless of how Kathleen Wynne did it, it’s now a fact that the Liberal governments (traditionally not the closest political family) are now in power in the three most populous provinces in Canada (BC & Quebec, being the others) and this will most likely favour Trudeau the Younger’s attempts to make inroads within all of these come October ’15.  But even though he was able to campaign with some success alongside Wynne and draw big crowds all over Ontario by echoing her anti-Harper rhetoric, many have noted Ontario’s bizarre history of voting one way at the provincial level and another at the Federal.  Does this mean that many of those who voted for Wynne might hedge their bets and go blue in next Federal election?  Trudeau will, of course, be trying to develop stronger ties between his party and the Ontario big-red Grit machine to deliver the same votes that got the latter elected, especially in the Greater Toronto Area, where the Federal Liberals struggled badly the last time around losing many of their former strongholds to the Tories.  But in Quebec and BC, where the Liberals are only distantly related to their Federal cousins (BC premier Christy Clark is really a Liberal in name only) it’s unlikely that he will get much of a helping hand in either province.  It remains to be seen if Trudeau will be able to hitch their organizations to his 2014 campaign wagon.

In any case, Justin’s team is definitely more hopeful than the Conservatives about the results in Ontario.  Tim “Tea Party” Hudak (as former Liberal strategist Warren Kinsella memorably dubbed him) is dead and buried, politically speaking, and to some extent, so is his Harper endorsed strategy of promising major austerity to get the province out of its fiscal hole.  One can help but feel that this dramatic loss has the Harper government’s finger prints all over it.  The Ontario ministers in Ottawa (Tony Clement and Joe Oliver, among others) got into mud-slinging matches with Wynne over her Ontario Pension Plan scheme and enthusiastically endorsed Hudak’s dubious economic agenda for the province.  And Hudak didn’t exactly do much to distance himself from the perception that he was more of Reform type Conservative than a Progressive Conservative (note to Ontario PC Party: can we finally retire this contradictory, outdated, misnomer of a term???)  Rumour even has it that some of these same Harperistas might even want to take another kick at the can in Ontario after graduating from the Mike Harris school of conservative politics (the so called “common sense” revolutionaries) back in the 1990s and joining the Harper government.

The good news for Harper is, that his party may benefit from the aforementioned tendency of voters in Ontario to balance things out by voting for a different party in Federal elections.  Plus, Wynne’s lack of progress economically by October of next year and a possible end to her honeymoon with voters, could make it even easier for the Conservatives to sell their brand of fiscal conservatism to Ontario voters.  Besides, he can always find encouragement for his anti-green economy stance in the fact that environmental issues were apparently ignored in the Ontario election by all the major parties (except the Green Party) and climate change barely even being mentioned during the only debate of the election.

What the Wynne government and the Horwath defeat means for the federal NDP chances in Ontario the next time around is far from clear, but it’s safe to say that it generally doesn’t bode well.  The fact is the NDP is the most centralized of all the major political outfits in Canada, meaning that they would rely heavily on many of the same organizations that failed to deliver for the Ontario NDP, especially in the Toronto ridings where the party suffered two big losses to the Grits in previously safe ridings (Michael Prue & Rosario Marchese.)  This would appear to reinforce the classic Liberal strategy of pressuring Dipper voters into voting strategically for the Libs in order to defeat the Conservatives, although this is debatable.  Certainly there are some in the Federal NDP, including veteran Ottawa MP Paul Dewar openly wondering if the scare-the-crap-out-of-the-dippers strategy cynically applied by Wynnes campaign, had the desired effect. “They were able to convince that…they had to vote Liberals to stop Hudak. That obviously hurt us.”

Can Trudeau pull off the same trick, in the next federal election?  The NDP and Tom Mulcair will be watching the results very closely in the upcoming by-elections in the bellwether ridings Trinity-Spadina and Scarborough-Agincourt, in their ongoing attempts to see which way the wind is blowing in the year leading up to the next big political dance.

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Other articles by David DesBaillets

New Bloc leader Mario Beaulieu will drive party into the ground
Bedford 2: This time it’s personal!
Supreme Court Chief latest victim of the Harper shoot-the-messenger policy
Chickens coming home to roost on “open nominations” promise
What’s really behind the silence of Harper on the trial of Fahmy in Egypt

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