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In a spring 2023 report on last June’s provincial election, Ontario’s chief electoral officer Greg Essensa has urged that in future “no public opinion polling results stating political party favourability ratings be published in the final two weeks before election day.”

Briefly, popular perceptions that the results of a coming election are already known through ubiquitous polling are arguably bound to “demotivate” voter turnout. And the argument here has been largely motivated  by the stark fact that in 2022 only “44 per cent of Ontarians cast their ballot, marking the lowest recorded voter turnout in the province’s history.”

Just after the release of the Ontario report the April 3, 2023 provincial election in Prince Edward Island similarly had “by far the lowest voter turnout of the last six decades.”

As in Ontario in 2022  in PEI in 2023 a “Progressive Conservative” government was re-elected with a strong majority of seats. (At the same time, “low turnout” in PEI was not quite 69%!)

Pollsters are bound to disagree with any polling ban. Whether polling does anything worse than sometimes exaggerate what is already there in the human political drama may equally be a question raised by the now rather long history of Ontario voter turnout.

Chief electoral officer Essensa’s Elections Ontario also publishes an online table of voter turnout and allied data for all 43 general elections in the province since confederation in 1867.

At the start of the story it is worth underlining a big change in 1919. Ontario became the fifth Canadian province to give women the vote in provincial elections in 1917. The October 20, 1919 provincial election was the first contest with this major addition to the voters list.

The 1919 election was unusual in a few other ways. In 1911 the province’s urban population had for the first time exceeded its rural population. And then unusually large numbers of young urban and rural Canadians had lost lives in the First World War that ended in 1918.

On October 20, 1919 the people of Ontario elected what would become Ernest Charles Drury’s unusual “Farmer-Labour” third-party government of 1919-1923. And in the current Elections Ontario table the 1919 election marks the high point of voter turnout down to the present.

Meanwhile, declining voter turnout since 1919 is nothing new! There were 14 Ontario elections from 1867 to 1914, another 14 from 1919 to 1967, and then 15 from 1971 to 2022. Average voter turnout has fallen consistently over these periods — from a 69% median for the male electorates of 1867–1914, to 65% for the all-adult electorates of 1919–1967 and 58% for 1971–2022.

Part of the explanation may be reflected in present-day differences between a still comparatively rural Prince Edward Island (with a historic low of 69% turnout in 2023) and an increasingly urbanized Ontario (with a record low turnout of 44% in 2022).

The record for the most recent 15 Ontario elections from 1971 to 2022 similarly shows continuing decline. The high point comes at the start of the period when almost 74% of the electorate turned out for Premier William Davis’s first election of 1971. Then turnout slipped to 68% in the 1975 election and 66% in 1977.

At the other end of the scale, the second lowest turnout (after the record 44% just last year) came in Premier Dalton McGunity’s last election of 2011, when less than a majority of the electorate (only 48%) actually voted for the first time since 1867.

Turnout was only 52% in the 2007 and 2014 Ontario elections, and 57% in 2003 and 2018. The seven of the last 15 elections with turnout over 60% were all in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. And the median voter turnout for the six elections of the 21st century so far is a mere 52%.

Since the advent of the present-day all-adult electorate in 1919 Ontario voter turnouts of more than 70% have been confined to the wakes of the two world wars in 1919  and 1945, the 1930s Great Depression (1934, 1937), and the 1971 election at the close of the 1960s age of change.

Whatever else, the trend toward lower and lower voter turnout, underway since the First World War and the fading of the old family farm democracy (with its largely all-male electorate), probably is rooted in something deeper than the impact of opinion polls in the final two weeks of an election campaign.

The people of Ontario may have to think a little harder about their provincial parliamentary democracy today to figure it all out.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

The Ontario election campaign has come to a close. It’s been over a month since the results came in. This means the Liberals have had time to reflect on their poor performance, the NDP has had time to reflect after their leader resigned, and obviously, the Progressive Conservatives have had time to name their new cabinet and new Parliamentary Assistants.

The Ontario Liberal Party hasn’t yet named a new Interim Leader, following Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca stepping down as leader of the party. Del Duca as leader of the party undoubtedly did things that perhaps other leaders wouldn’t have been able to do, such as pay off the party’s debt. However, there were most definitely questions as to his performance, only winning the party eight seats in the legislature and not evening winning his own riding of Vaughan-Woodbridge. The riding of Vaughan-Woodbridge has always been a toss-up riding, of course, it’s held federally by Liberal MP Francesco Sorbara and provincially by Michael Tibollio from the PCs, who of course is an Associate Cabinet Minister in the Government. Tibollio defeated Del Duca in 2018, and he did so again in 2022. The Liberals will need to do much reflection, which of course is something Liberal insiders and strategists are already doing. The party will need to pick a new permanent leader before for the next provincial election. It’ll need to be someone who can appeal to audiences specifically which Del Duca wasn’t able to do. The party is likely still recovering from the 2018 campaign, which was quite devastating for the party, and so no matter who was the Leader of the party, it still probably would’ve been a challenge to attract the groups of people Del Duca wasn’t able to do.

Del Duca didn’t make the number of gains he needed to in the GTA. Historically the GTA is generally where progressive parties such as the Liberals have their most success. There were also many examples of how Ontario’s system is designed to elect individual MPPs for each individual riding, such as Barrie-Springwater, a riding where the former Mayor of Barrie, ran against the incumbent Attorney General and MPP, where the former Mayor came in very close considering this riding is usually seen as a safe PC riding in the legislature. There were also many ridings, which some local candidates admit they could’ve had better organization and better ground game, ridings such as Ajax, Mississauga Streetsville, or even University-Rosedale. It can’t be read into very much though, nevertheless because the election was a contest of name recognition and the PC Leader had been on everyone’s television screen nearly on a daily basis throughout the pandemic, and the Liberal Leader would hold semi-daily press conferences but obviously in a crisis as big as the pandemic people want to know what the person in charge is saying because he’s ultimately the one with the decision making power at Queens Park.

The New Democrats didn’t make any gains on election night, but it was ultimately still enough to make NDP Leader Andrea Horwath announce her resignation on the night of the election. The NDP find themselves in quite a different situation from the Liberals because the NDP received thirty-one seats at Queens Park, still, enough for them to remain in the official opposition, and for Horwath to lead the opposition. Many people would argue she did the job of Opposition Leader very well, in being a critic of the Ford Government’s COVID-19 response and lending solutions in her press conferences that would follow any big decision from the Ford Government. The NDP is also in a different situation from the Liberals, primarily because they’ve already selected an Interim Leader. The party announced that they chose Toronto-Danforth MPP Peter Tabuns to serve as their leader on an interim basis. Tabuns has served in many roles in terms of Critics within the NDP caucus, he is well-respected by the NDP caucus and will likely serve as an effective NDP Interim Leader. The party will likely stay focused on having to unite the progressive portion of the party and the traditional labour faction of the party, something Horwath did quite well and something Tabuns has the ability to do well, too. They’ll want to focus on the issues, that Horwath focused on in her time as Leader of the party, issues such as Climate Change, Anti-Black racism, and they’ll likely continue to hold the Ford Government accountable for what they feel was an inadequate response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The voters of the riding of Guelph re-elected MPP and Party Leader Mike Schreiner. The party leader, Mike Schreiner has decided to stay on as Party Leader, after all, he’s the only re-elected MPP for the Green Party in the history of the party. It wasn’t all celebrations for party insiders and Green Party supporters on election night, however. The party was hoping to make gains in the Northern Ontario riding of Parry-Sound Muskoka. In that region of the province, the party ran a candidate who had been running for the Green Party since 2007, his name was Matt Richter, and the difference between Richter and the victorious PC Candidate Graydon Smith was only around five percent. The Green Party wants to be seen as a credible progressive opposition party at Queens Park, and well it’s true that Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner has punched above his weight, the party will still need to elect more MPPs if they want to be viewed as that credible alternative to those other progressive opposition parties at Queens Park in the legislature.

The PCs were of course the big story of election night, winning eighty-three seats, an even larger majority government than was won by the party in 2018. Of course, it is quite rare that the incumbent gets elected to a second consecutive majority government. The PCs will probably need to still reflect on some things, like how they will attract those audiences that they didn’t attract in this past election, but ultimately the party did what they needed to do in the election, in order for Doug Ford to be viewed as credible which was win a second term.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford and the Progressive Conservatives won the June 2 election in impressive fashion. They’ll form a second straight majority government after taking 83 of the 124 contested seats. That’s seven seats higher than they won in 2018, and a 16 seat increase from the dissolution of the previous legislative session.

The two main opposition parties, Andrea Horwath’s New Democrats and Steven Del Duca’s Liberals, earned 31 and 8 seats respectively. Both party leaders announced their resignations on election night. (The remaining two provincial seats were won by Green Party leader Mike Schreiner and Independent candidate Bobbi Ann Brady.)

With this victory, Ford established himself as one of Canada’s most important and influential Conservative politicians. This would have seemed like an impossibility several years ago.

Readers may recall the trials and tribulations involving Ford’s younger brother, Rob. A successful municipal politician, he was elected Mayor of Toronto in Oct. 2010. Alas, he had personal demons when it came to alcohol and drug use. Allegations of partying, lewd behaviour and smoking crack cocaine in one of his “drunken stupors” made local headlines. The story also went viral internationally thanks to frequent coverage by U.S. late night hosts like Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel and Jon Stewart.

Ford had been elected as a city councillor in Rob’s old stomping grounds, Ward 2 Etobicoke North, that year. He regularly defended his brother’s honour and reputation, and strongly pushed back against attacks from political opponents, critics and the media. They were part of a close-knit family. Wherever Rob Ford was, Doug Ford was close by.

When his brother, who had taken a leave of absence to deal with his substance abuse issues, was diagnosed with cancer in Sept. 2014, Ford ran for mayor in his stead and lost to John Tory. The former Toronto Mayor ran for city councillor, won his old seat back and passed away in Mar. 2016.

Some political observers understood why Ford had defended his younger brother on a near-daily basis. Many would have likely done the same thing if they had been in his shoes. The anti-Ford contingent, however, paid no heed to this and painted him with the same political brush.

When Ford unexpectedly abandoned his second mayoral campaign against Tory in Feb. 2018 to run for the Ontario PC leadership and won, his critics felt party members had made a poor decision and would live to regret it. When Ford won the general election on June 7, his critics pointed out the unpopularity of then-Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne and said he simply rode an existing wave for political change.

When Ford, as Premier, reduced the number of Toronto’s council wards from 47 to 25, supported cuts to bloated municipal services, reduced several costly educational programs (including free tuition for low-income students), enforced back-to-work legislation to end the York University strike and faced some backlash with several patronage appointments, his critics questioned his every move and basic motives. When Ford announced short-lived COVID-19 restrictions related to police powers, school closures and keeping playgrounds open, his critics said his political goose was cooked and would only be a one-term Premier.

They were wrong in each and every instance. His political opponents didn’t – and, to this day, still don’t – understand the key to his political success.

The Premier, along with his late brother, had built a unique brand of conservatism. His guiding philosophy, Ford Nation, combines populist rhetoric and conservative principles. It stands for lower taxes, reducing government expansion and interference, fiscal prudence, supporting individual rights and freedoms, standing up for the little guy – and giving power back to the people.

Ford isn’t a traditional conservative ideologue, however. He’s always believed in building bridges with individuals and groups who aren’t necessarily natural allies. He successfully worked hand-in-hand with Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland during COVID-19, for instance. He earned the endorsement of several unions while promoting free markets and free enterprise. He provided strong leadership during the pandemic by developing strong ties with a medical community that was somewhat skeptical of working with him at first.

This is pure retail politics at its core. There’s something in his plan for just about everyone, and many Ontarians found a thing or two to call their own. They also learned this Premier is the genuine article. The man I met in his late father’s legislative office many years ago is the same man who is currently leading Ontario, and not the one who was trapped in the difficult, circus-like atmosphere of Toronto politics over a decade ago.

Ford has identified a political formula that could potentially work for Conservatives in Liberal Canada. With the federal cousins in the midst of a tense and somewhat volatile leadership race, he’s provided acknowledged frontrunner Pierre Poilievre and others with some important food for thought. We’ll see if they opt to consume any of it.

It’s also worth noting former U.S. President Donald Trump, former Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson employed similar political messaging and strategies to Ford’s during their election campaigns. These men are all different from one another, but realized their brands of conservatism needed to have broader appeal to achieve greater electoral success.

A subtle nod to the growing legacy of Ford Nation, perhaps.

Michael Taube, a long-time newspaper columnist and political commentator, was a speechwriter for former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

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The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

This content is restricted to subscribers

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

If you don’t like the idea of burning piles of cash in your living room fireplace, the way political financing works in the province of Ontario will make your blood boil.

With election day a week away, millions of Ontarians are being forced to watch political ads that make them want to stop paying their cable bills.

But it gets much worse for taxpayers because we’re footing the bill.

Yes, we’re paying for those attack ads.

Every three months in Ontario, millions of taxpayer dollars go from the taxpayer cookie jar to the province’s political parties to spend on whatever they so choose.

Last year, taxpayers were forced to fork over more than $12 million to Ontario’s four largest political parties through what is commonly referred to as the per-vote subsidy.

This money isn’t for living or meal expenses for those who work at Queen’s Park. It isn’t paying for Elections Ontario’s operations or non-partisan get-out-the-vote efforts on election day. This is money politicians can spend on virtually anything, including attack ads during election campaigns.

Premier Doug Ford promised to scrap this politician slush fund four years ago. Instead, he increased the value of the payments being given to Ontario’s political parties and he even arranged for the four major parties to collectively receive $10 million in advance subsidy payments to help cover their election costs.

While the opposition parties howl in protest when Ford so much as breathes, they’ve all come together to quietly support Ford’s decision to keep the taxpayer party finance gravy train going.

Since Ford took office, Ontario’s four major parties have collectively received over $50 million in subsidy payments.

Politicians have long argued that these subsidy payments are needed to keep political parties afloat. NDP leader Andrea Horwath, for example, has claimed “there has to be a way of funding democracy.”

But candidates running in elections already get a significant amount of their election expenses reimbursed. Candidates that receive more than five per cent of the vote receive refunds for 20 per cent of their expenses.

Political parties also fundraise. In 2020, while the pandemic shut down much of the province, Ontario’s major political parties still raised millions. The Progressive Conservatives raised the most, at $3.4 million, followed by the Liberals at $2 million, the NDP at $1.7 million and the Greens at $700,000.

If politicians could raise millions during a pandemic, they can surely do so at an even faster pace at this point.

Many politicians claim that even with generous election reimbursements and strong fundraising numbers, their parties wouldn’t be able to survive without per-vote subsidy payments.

Attorney General Doug Downey suggested that in the absence of the subsidy, Ontario could face a situation “where parties aren’t part of the discussion because they can’t afford to be there.”

These claims are disingenuous. The Harper government repealed the very same program at the federal level more than a decade ago. Opposition parties warned that they wouldn’t be able to function without the cash. But the parties learned to adapt, relying more on fundraising, and have survived and thrived on their own.

If parties on Parliament Hill could figure out how to manage without political welfare payments, parties at Queen’s Park can too.

It’s time to take away the taxpayer cookie jar. Ontario’s political parties need to go on a diet. No matter which party wins this election, taxpayers should demand that politicians put an end to these wasteful entitlements and focus on serving constituents, not themselves.

Jay Goldberg is the Ontario Director at the Canadian Taxpayers Federation

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

It’s funny how the Overton window shifts.

Just two years ago, when now-MP Michael Coteau proposed fare-free transit as a signature policy in the 2020 Ontario Liberal leadership race, it was met in some places with incredulity.

But the simplicity of the proposal had obvious traction. Why is there a cash barrier to entering a subway or bus when (most) highways are free to drive? In an era where the twin crises of affordability and climate change are top of mind, eliminating transit fares, in the context of expanding service, would represent real pocketbook relief and would help get more commuters out of their cars, particularly in the suburbs.

In this provincial election campaign, all four major parties have put forward some version of fare reduction.

The Doug Ford Conservatives implemented free fares on municipal transit when connecting to GO transit. The Steven Del Duca Liberals pledge to temporarily slash all transit fares to “a buck a ride”, until 2024. The Andrea Horwath NDP are vaguer, but pledge things like a two-hour flat rate rather than distance charges. Mike Schrenier’s Greens propose off-peak fare discounts and would cut other transit fares in half.

All four proposals are intriguing and would, to varying degrees, move us toward a system where we would put the “public” back into public transit.

As Rick Salutin wrote recently, “A smart, incremental approach…would mean making additional needed services free… as we have with public education and health care. Why not public transit next? Why should we pay as riders when we’ve already paid as citizens?”

That word “incremental” is key. One of the innovations of Coteau’s 2020 proposal was to transition to fare-free transit over a decade, expressly in order to use free service as a relief for overcrowded lines. As Coteau wrote, “I’m also excited by the possibilities a decade-long implementation period presents. As we incrementally move to fare-free transit, we can look to nudge commuter behaviour, whether through implementing fare-free transit in off-peak times or on underused routes to redirect ridership from crowded routes using big data.”

Using free transit to incentivize beneficial changes in ridership patterns—such as initially offering free off-peak service—presents opportunities to more readily relieve crowding on transit than new relief line construction can provide. The notion of free off-peak service is even more intriguing today, as we all experience a post-COVID transition to hybrid or in-person office life.

However, the greatest impediment to fare-free transit, somewhat ironically, is the gas-tax transfer system.

Right now, municipal transit systems rely overwhelmingly on the provincial gas-tax transfer for the bulk of our funding. Yet, the transfer is calculated based on fare-paying riders. This means, in practice, that municipal transit systems are unable to eliminate fares, despite fare revenue often being a negligible percentage of operating costs.

The good news is the province already showed it could base its gas-tax transfer calculations temporarily off of ridership tracking even when the fare was eliminated as a COVID-19 relief measure.  Why not make that permanent? The need to base the gas-tax transfer on ridership can be met through any number of tracking tools used to count riders without them having to pay.

Changing this provincial policy can and should be done at a stroke of a pen, and would allow municipal transit systems to eliminate fares right away.

It is good that all four parties are discussing policy changes that would move us closer to fare-free transit. I believe as a general principle that transit should be a public service, free at the point of use.

Changing how the gas-tax transfer is calculated would allow municipalities to implement free local transit, to innovate and save commuters money, all while incentivizing transit ridership. It’s a simple change all provincial parties should commit to implementing.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

Mark Twain might have extended one of his celebrated aphorisms by saying Canadian political history seldom repeats itself but often rhymes in free verse.

As of May 10, 2022 there were 24 days before the June 2 Ontario provincial election. The opinion poll aggregator 338Canada.com  was still projecting that the Ford Nation Ontario PCs would win a majority of seats in the Legislative Assembly on election day. But the projected majority was lower than it had been a week before.

Meanwhile, the latest individual Nanos poll (May 7-8) put the PCs at 35.4%, Liberals 30.4%, New Democrats 23.7% and Greens 4.2%. Doug Ford was still ahead as preferred premier (29%). But Liberal leader Steven Del Duca was in second place (24.1%) — “more than a seven-point gain for Del Duca, who sat at 17 per cent support when the last survey was conducted on May 2.”

All this lends somewhat greater intrigue to the question of just what might happen over the final 24 days of the Ontario campaign. And a little revealing light could be shed in this direction by the history of opinion polling over the final 24 days of the 2015 federal election campaign in Canada.

Like the Ford Ontario PCs in 2022, the 2015 Harper Conservatives went into the campaign with a majority government. Many thought they would win another four-year term in office.

During the summer of 2015 it was not the Trudeau Liberals who seemed to be challenging this prospect. It was Tom Mulcair’s unusually Quebec-friendly New Democrats. By the middle of September, however, it was clear enough that Tom Mulcair was not going to form the first New Democratic federal government in Canadian history.

The 24 days before the federal election on Monday, October 19, 2015 began on Saturday, September 26. And the Harper Conservatives finished first in seven of the next 10 polls. A Mainstreet Research poll  released on October 1 put the Harper Conservatives at 37% support, and the Trudeau Liberals at only 29%. From here Conservatives placed first in polls released on October 5, 6, 7, 9, and 10!

By now the Trudeau Liberals were showing some strength. They also finished first in polls released on October 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10. But it was not until October 11 — only eight days before the actual election on October 19 — that the Liberals took the unchallenged lead in all subsequent polls that would blossom into their ultimate 2015 majority government.

Liberals alone finished first in the final 22 public polls from October 11 to October 18. But even during the last week of the 2015 federal campaign there was great respect for the Harper Conservatives’ almost 10 years in office. On the eve of  election day Maclean’s magazine was still contemplating the prospects for another  Harper Conservative minority government — this time possibly following the fate of Frank Miller in the 1985 Ontario provincial election!

Back in the present, as of May 10, 2022 the opinion poll aggregator 338Canada.com was, again, still projecting that the Ford Nation Ontario PCs would win a majority of seats in the Legislative Assembly on June 2.

But will things still look this way eight days before the 2022 Ontario election? Is there any  room for some kind of big enough surprise?

There still seems very little in the 2022 Ontario polling to suggest that any party other than the Ford PCs is at all likely to win the largest number of seats in the Legislative Assembly. And the first leaders debate on northern issues in North Bay on May 10 arguably did little to change this picture.

Yet the latest Nanos poll (May 7-8) which put the PCs at just 35.4% of the province-wide popular vote does hint at a Ford PC minority rather than majority government. And with all three major opposition leaders already having expressed their reluctance to support such a thing, there are good  reasons to wonder how long it could last.

For the moment voters who find the prospect of four more years of a Ford Nation PC majority government utter anathema can take at least some heart. The possibility of a highly unstable Doug Ford minority government has still not been altogether banished from the 2022 Ontario campaign.

Beyond this the 2015 Canadian federal election may offer one final piece of advice to voters in Canada’s most populous province in 2022: Wait until the last week or so of the campaign before taking the opinion polls altogether seriously.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.