ontario news watch

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Ontarians should listen for a giant sucking sound from Queen’s Park.

Now that the election is over and MPPs know that they don’t have to directly answer to voters for another four years, you can bet that Ontario’s political parties will team up once again to funnel even more money from taxpayers’ wallets into party coffers.

For those who didn’t know, Ontario’s political parties are giving themselves millions of dollars four times a year through a process known as the per-vote subsidy. Each party gets a set amount of money based on how many votes they received in the last election with no strings attached. Parties can spend that money on whatever they want, including lawn signs and attack ads during election campaigns.

But earlier this year, Ontario’s political parties did something unprecedented. All four of them took nine months’ worth of quarterly political welfare payments early, so they could spend the money during this spring’s election campaign.

Never before have Ontario’s political parties taken a payday advance from taxpayers. But thanks to legislation the Ford government passed last year, with no quarrels from the opposition, that’s exactly how it played out.

Roughly $10 million was loaned from you, the taxpayer, to Ontario’s political parties to finance their election campaigns.

Yet now that election day has come and gone and the money is spent, Ontario’s political parties are waking up to the fact that they won’t get quarterly payments for the next nine months, having taken the money early.

Without having to face the wrath of voters for another four years and hungry for cash, you can bet dollars to donuts that Ontario’s political parties will team up once again and try to alter the payday advance to make it a forgivable loan and make sure they get taxpayer cash over the next nine months.

Political parties will pretend they desperately need this cash. As former NDP leader Andrea Horwath said, “there has to be a way of funding democracy.”

But democracy isn’t about sweetheart handouts from taxpayer coffers to partisan politicians. In fact, these payments erode democracy by allowing political parties to skip the legwork to connect with everyday voters and earn donations from supporters. And it certainly isn’t democratic to take the same money twice.

Plus, political parties still raise millions from their supporters. In 2020, while the pandemic led to an economic contraction, Ontario’s political parties still managed to raise millions. They raised nearly $10 million combined. That was actually over and above what the parties raised in 2019, which totaled just over $7 million. This fundraising increase kills any narrative that Ontario’s political parties can’t fund their own operations because of declining donations.

If parties are short on cash, they should be turning to their supporters to help finance party operations over the next nine months. Asking Ontario taxpayers to allow them to double dip by taking a payday advance and getting their pay a second time would be unconscionable.

At the federal level, parties don’t get quarterly payments from taxpayers and all of them have been raking in millions from their supporters. In 2021, their fundraising hit an all-time high. If federal parties can manage to keep the lights on from individual, small dollar donations, their provincial counterparts surely can too.

Four years ago, Premier Doug Ford promised to scrap Ontario’s political welfare regime. At the time, Ford declared that he did “not believe the government should be taking money from hard-working taxpayers and giving it to political parties.”

But instead of ending the system, he expanded it. He also arranged for the payday loan Ontario’s political parties were given this spring. Ford certainly can’t claim he’s fighting for taxpayers if he chooses to move ahead with political welfare double dipping.

The political welfare payday loan was even more evidence that Ontario’s political parties cannot be trusted with taxpayer cash. Taxpayers should say no to double dipping. After that, Ontarians should demand that the program be scrapped altogether. It’s time for Ontario taxpayers to get out of the political party welfare business.

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.

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The “2021 Ontario Economic Outlook and Fiscal Review” released this past November 4 at least seemed to make one thing clear.

With the next provincial election only seven months away, the document underlined the evolution of the original “For the People” regime advanced by Premier Ford back in 2018 into the reformed “Working for Workers” Ontario PC government today.

Working for Workers is only one of three main 2021 Outlook policy themes. The other two are “Protecting Our Progress” and “Building Ontario.”

But it is the lead implementing action of Working for Workers — “to increase the general minimum wage to $15 per hour effective January 1, 2022” — that has grabbed headlines.

As it happens, this is something the Wynne Liberals had scheduled for three years ago. And the original Ford For the People regime cancelled the increase in September 2018 (along with freezing the earlier $14 per hour  minimum wage for two years).

As urged by various observers in various ways, the Ford government’s earlier minimum wage policy can only cast doubt on the depth and sincerity of its broader Working for Workers theme in the fall of 2021.

At the same time, many were also surprised when two prominent union leaders showed up in support of Premier Ford’s pre-Outlook announcement of the minimum wage hike, on November 2 — Unifor’s national president Jerry Dias, and the president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, Smokey Thomas.

CBC News has suggested that this “can only be seen as a big political win for the PCs.”

A somewhat different report in the Globe and Mail urged that even the full slate of Working for Workers actions in the 2021 Ontario Economic Outlook “do not go nearly far enough … It’s like handing out lollipops when people need a three-course meal.”

Still, Jerry Dias and Smokey Thomas sharing a stage with Doug Ford can make even a cynical observer wonder about the current regional political mood.

Moreover, it is not just in Ontario that some conservative politicians are nowadays working to build new connections with workers. This past spring The Independent in the United Kingdom was asking : “The working class is voting Tory. Why?”

The headline went on: “The political world is turning upside down, with Conservatives winning more blue-collar votes and Labour seducing the middle classes.”

Just this past September another Globe and Mail headline advised Canada’s most populous province (with a Union Jack still in the canton of its old imperial-colonial provincial flag) that “Boris Johnson faces dissent in Tory ranks over his embrace of big government.”

Yet despite much apt criticism, the latest opinion polls are showing that Johnson’s worker-friendly Tories still have a slight lead over the Labour Party, with Liberal Democrats and Greens well behind.

Meanwhile, back in North America, the November 2 somewhat surprise election of Republican businessman Glenn Youngkin as Governor of Virginia can also be read as adding weight and heft to Working for Workers in the current Ontario PC lexicon.

In Virginia as in Ontario the working class in the 2020s is in some respects an increasingly rural/small town (and/or exurban/suburban) phenomenon.  (See also small-town Pennsylvania in the new US TV series “American Rust.”)

Ontario finance minister Peter Bethlenfalvy alluded to this side of the broader picture when he presented his 2021 Ontario Economic Outlook and Fiscal Review to the Legislative Assembly.

As reported by the Toronto Star Mr. Bethlenfalvy complained that “Liberals and New Democrats are fixated on ‘downtown activists’ instead of suburban commuters. ‘It is time to get the 413 built.’”

This new superhighway strategy may remind a few much older voters that there was recently a large commemoration of the late widely (and justly) admired Ontario PC premier William Davis, in the provincial capital city.

And the Ford government’s fresh financial emphasis on building more GTA superhighways — 413 and the Bradford Bypass —  points to a 2022 election strategy almost the complete opposite of Brampton Bill Davis’s winning “Stop the Spadina Expressway” campaign of 1971.

All that, however, was 50 years ago. Times have changed, especially with the apparent newfound workers’ profile induced by the global pandemic. And maybe, in a global village where Boris Johnson is Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Doug Ford does not seem quite so not-quite-right as Premier of Ontario.

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.

“Wait! Don’t be fooled. She’s just a regular Malibu Stacy with a stupid, cheap hat. She still embodies all the awful [aspects] she did before.”

—“Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy,” The Simpsons, season five, episode fourteen

New Ontario Liberal leader Steven Del Duca is promising to bring ranked ballots to provincial politics if his party forms government next spring. But such a reform offers only minuscule improvement at best, threatens to send third parties into electoral oblivion, is premised on a disingenuous rationale (if not an outright lie), and is more about feathering the Liberals’ nest than improving democracy.

At the Ontario Liberals’ annual general meeting this past Sunday, Del Duca promised to change the type of ballot used in elections, as a “first step” to purportedly enhancing the province’s democracy. With ranked ballots, rather than marking an “X” for only their favourite candidate, voters would instead rank the candidates in order of preference. It’s not clear if this proposed change would involve a referendum or simply be ushered in by legislation, but thus far it sounds like the latter.

Del Duca also claimed he would resign if he doesn’t implement the aforementioned ranked ballots during Ontario’s 43rd Parliament, and that Liberals would subsequently form a citizens’ assembly to gauge further democratic changes.

A Liberal party, temporarily banished to the political hinterlands of third-party status, making flowery offers regarding electoral reform.  Where might we have heard this before, dear reader?

To Del Duca’s credit, he is refreshingly honest about which electoral system Liberals prefer, rather than the usual Grit tactic of being coy about such crucial details. And, at least thus far, it sounds like he’s promising to implement electoral reform without delay, rather than stymie the process with a referendum intended to fail, as former Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty did 14 years ago. However, if we’re being cynical – or perhaps realistic – there’s still time for Del Duca to acquire cold feet after getting elected and suggest a referendum would be needed after all, just as both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Quebec Premier François Legault did in recent years when they realized their reform promises threatened their respective routes to re-election.

But if Del Duca is being surprisingly open about which electoral system he intends to switch Ontario to, he’s not being honest about why.

The Ontario Liberals claim elections that use ranked ballots would foster greater civility and less vitriol – that politics would be characterized by consensus rather than conflict – because candidates would require more than just first-preference votes. In other words, candidates would have to appeal to as many voters as possible, even to those who prefer another candidate/party, to acquire enough second-preference votes. It would no longer be possible to get elected with just 40 percent of the vote, and thus the tone of politics would naturally become more cooperative.

Except for one problem: this claim is largely nonsense.

Admittedly, it’s true that ranked ballots can encourage politicians to tone down the toxicity – but only in non-partisan contests devoid of political parties, such as municipal council elections featuring independent candidates. However, Ontario’s provincial elections are partisan – they involve political parties – and that wouldn’t change with the adoption of ranked ballots.

The suggestion that Ontario’s rival parties would suddenly join hands and engage in a harmonious rendition of Kumbaya just because of ranked ballots is completely without basis. Just look at the Australian House of Representatives, which uses the electoral system Del Duca is proposing for Ontario: ranked ballots and single-member ridings, formally known as “instant-runoff voting.” Politics “Down Under” is arguably more acerbic than here in Canada. In fact, the United Kingdom’s Report of the Independent Commission on the Voting System from 1998 specifically noted that Australian “politicians tend to be, if anything, more blunt and outspoken than [their British equivalents]”. Note that Australia adopted this voting system way back in 1918; if 103 years hasn’t been long enough for ranked ballots to bring civility to Australian politics, perhaps it’s time to admit such claims are complete codswallop.

One positive outcome that ranked ballots would actually achieve for Ontario’s elections – oddly unmentioned by Del Duca – is the elimination of strategic voting. Ontarians would be liberated to support their favourite candidate without fear of “splitting the vote,” and no candidate/party would be too minor to vote for.

However, because ranked ballots would be paired with single-member ridings under Del Duca’s proposal, there would be no improvement to the diversity of Ontario’s legislature. In fact, the two largest parties would likely come to dominate even more. Of the 151 seats in Australia’s House of Representatives, two parties won all but six seats in the most recent federal election. That is even less proportional and more skewed than the first-past-the-post system currently used in Canada’s provincial and federal elections.

Instant-runoff voting makes it difficult even for large third parties to get elected in Australia, where the Greens only have one federal Member of Parliament, despite earning 10.4 percent of the vote in 2019. (Under a proportional system, they would have received 16 seats.) Make no mistake: like Ontario’s current voting system, Del Duca’s proposed instant-runoff voting is a “winner-takes-all” system that favours the status quo – and might actually make it worse.

So sure, with ranked ballots you could vote Trillium instead of Tory, or Moderate instead of Liberal, or Communist instead of NDP, or Go Vegan instead of the Greens, without having to worry about “wasting” your vote. But the reality is none of these smaller parties would come close to winning a seat under instant-runoff voting. In fact, if Australia serves as an example, even a larger third party – normally the NDP in Ontario – might struggle to retain official party status at Queen’s Park under such an electoral system.

(Strangely enough, when the British Columbia Liberals and Conservatives conspired to introduce ranked ballots for that province’s 1952 election in an effort to snuff out the rapidly-growing CCF/NDP, it was instead the Grits and Tories who inadvertently became the third parties, pulverized almost out of existence. Be careful what you wish for, Mr. Del Duca.)

Would getting rid of strategic voting really be worth Ontario having a less diverse Legislative Assembly? Do Ontarians really want to cram their four political parties into a voting system even less tolerant of multiple options? How would this possibly lead to better democratic outcomes, as Del Duca claims?

If adding ranked ballots to Ontario’s elections wouldn’t improve civility as the Ontario Liberals attest, and would actually make the Legislative Assembly less reflective of social diversity than it is now, it’s worth asking why Del Duca is pushing for this reform.

There are likely two reasons, in addition to trying to squeeze the Ontario NDP and Greens as mentioned above. First, Del Duca’s reform proposal presents him as an exciting reformist courageously confronting a bully, rather than a dull-as-dishwater technocrat. It’s an opportunistic ploy: last year, Doug Ford undemocratically quashed ranked ballots from Ontario’s municipal elections, so Del Duca hopes to portray Ford as the autocratic villain while presenting himself as the saviour restoring democracy – and extending such reforms to the provincial level. After all, successful politics requires you to define your opponent before they define you.

But the most likely reason is that an electoral system that captures voter preferences – rather than only their favourite option – is bound to favour a large, centrist party. A lot of Conservative, NDP and Green voters would mark the Liberals as their second preference, allowing the Liberals to win more seats than under the current first-past-the-post system.

In other words: this proposal is really about Liberal self-interest.  Plus ça change

Earlier this year, the Ontario Liberals conducted a policy survey called #TakeTheMic, meant to shape the party’s priorities ahead of the 2022 provincial election. According to the responses, adopting a system of proportional representation was more popular than adopting ranked ballots (instant-runoff voting), and yet Del Duca has chosen to ignore this advice, as proportional voting would likely deliver fewer seats to the Liberals.

Del Duca’s ranked ballots proposal is not about reinvigorating Ontario’s democracy. It’s about retaining a winner-takes-all status quo, and possibly further inflating the Liberals at the expense of third parties. It’s about getting back in power at Queen’s Park – and staying there.

Interestingly, during his speech this past weekend, Del Duca proactively attempted to disarm those who would rather see Ontario embrace a proportional voting system.

“Now, there are people who will say that [instant-runoff voting] is not a perfect solution, but the status quo is simply not serving people’s interests, and something needs to change.”

Those people are Ontarians, Mr. Del Duca. The same people who responded to your party’s recent policy survey, who you are now choosing to ignore because their answers didn’t align with your premeditated motives.

Del Duca is right on one thing: something needs to change. But by merely adding ranked ballots to Ontario’s elections, it’s barely a change at all. In fact, if Australia is any example, instant-runoff voting might further erode the province’s democracy.

Adopting ranked ballots might be a half-decent improvement for Toronto’s non-partisan city elections, but not for Ontario’s provincial elections contested by political parties. Del Duca disingenuously insists otherwise, which should make voters question whether they can trust him.

If the Ontario Liberals genuinely want to improve the province’s democracy, they should listen to the Ontarians who responded to their party’s policy survey and opt to champion proportional representation. Otherwise, they’re wasting our time by peddling the electoral reform equivalent of snake oil.

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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Cabinet ministers in Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government have insisted throughout the pandemic that when they close schools or businesses they are guided by science and following the evidence.

But they have ignored the evidence when it comes to regulating political advertising.

The government recalled the legislature in June to tighten restraints on pre-election ad spending by so-called “third parties” (advocacy groups other than political parties).

The old law let groups spend up to $600,000 in the six months before the official starting date of the election campaigns. The new law extends the time to spend $600,000 to 12 months prior to an election kickoff.

The government lost a court decision when a judge decided the $600,000 cap over 12 months was an unconstitutional curb on the “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression” in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Days later the Conservatives deployed the Charter’s rarely used Section 33 — the “notwithstanding clause” — in a bill to overrule the court.

The opposition parties voted against the bill, probably figuring they benefit from more ads that attack Conservatives. But essentially the opposition and the government agree. They all agree the new law will reduce the influence of election ads, and they all think voters are naïve and gullible.

The government house leader in the Legislature, Paul Calandria, compared spending by the PCs’ opponents with American super PACs, the corporate and union political action committees that spend limitless funds supporting or attacking election candidates.

Without tighter limits on third-party spending, Calandria asserted, “a few wealthy elites, corporations and special interest groups… would be allowed to interfere in and control our elections with unlimited money….”

By reversing his government’s court defeat, premier Doug Ford said he’s “protecting democracy.” But from what?

There is no evidence the public needs protection from political ads because the ads don’t work.

The New York Times columnist David Brooks cites U.S. research showing “in state and national elections” there is “barely any relationship between more spending and a bigger victory.” The evidence Brooks cites found that if one candidate ran 1,000 more commercials than an opponent it translated into “a paltry 0.19 per cent” advantage in the results.

The authors of the book “Negative Campaigning,” political scientists Richard R. Lau of Rutgers University and Gerald M. Pomper of Princeton University, reviewed more than 100 studies and experiments conducted during U.S. elections, concluding that “advertising, negative or positive, appears ineffective at increasing turnout or persuading voters.”

After carrying out experiments during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, University of Rhode Island political scientists Liam C. Malloy and Shanna Pearson-Merkowitz concluded, “…Negative advertising appears to never be effective in either increasing a candidate’s margin of victory or driving up turnout for the candidate or driving down turnout for the competition.”

Like other paid advertising, people bypass political ads. Commercials, radio spots and print ads for all kinds of products are failing to deliver. A University of Southern California professor, Gerard J. Tellis, analyzed 750 studies on advertising effectiveness published between 1960 and 2008 and found a 10% increase in ad spending led to only a 1% increase in sales.

Updated research shows ad effectiveness continues to descend.

Sales would rise by only 1% if a firm doubled its TV advertising, according to a study published this year by University of Chicago researchers. They focused on 288 popular consumer goods such as Diet Coke and Bounty paper towels, concluding that the return on investment was negative for many products. Companies spent more on commercials than they earned back in additional sales.

Voters don’t need government protection from election advertising. They are protecting themselves. Around the globe, hundreds of millions have downloaded ad blockers. Voters also have natural defence systems against incoming political missiles. In a national poll in 2011 for the Advertising Standards Council of Canada, 57 per cent said most advertising is truthful, but just 30 per cent said the same about political advertising.

When they make policies about Covid-19 — or about political advertising —  politicians should follow the evidence.


Marc Zwelling is the founder of the Vector Poll™ (www.vectorresearch.com) and author of Public Opinion and Polling For Dummies, published by Wiley (2012) and Ideas and Innovation for Dummies (Wiley, 2021).

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.