[Ontario’s Major Role in Canadian Developments]
Ontario, Canada’s most populous province with 13 million people,
is the destination of over half of immigrants to Canada. Toronto has
especially become a cosmopolitan megalopolis, with close to half of
its population consisting of “visible minorities,” a term
of official usage. The Greater Toronto Area (GTA) — which extends
far beyond the city of Toronto itself — has a population approaching
5.5 million. In the current federal Parliament, 106 of 308 seats are
from Ontario, giving that province’s voters enormous clout. The
federal party that holds the majority of Ontario’s seats is likely
to be the government of Canada.
Ontario’s provincial politics have followed a somewhat different
course than federal politics in Ottawa. In 1942, the federal Conservative
Party changed its name to “Progressive Conservative” in
an attempt to attract the support of the Western-Canadian-based Progressive
Party — although the name was also convenient in a society that often
looked with disdain at right-wing politics. All the provincial wings
of the party eventually followed suit in the name change.
From the 1940s, the provincial Progressive Conservatives successively
won elections as the government of Ontario. However, the Progressive
Conservatives under Premier Bill Davis from 1971–1985 had been largely
hostile to any manifestations of social and cultural conservatism.
They were pragmatic managers in a period of massive social upheaval
and transformation largely generated by the Liberal federal government
in Ottawa. Frank Miller, Bill Davis’ successor, was only briefly
Premier, and was characterized as a political dinosaur by the media,
the opposition parties, and some members of his own party. Miller’s
defeat in 1985 ushered in two years of a Liberal-New Democratic Party
The NDP was Canada’s (and Ontario’s) comparatively small
but highly ideologically energetic social democratic party. In 1987,
Liberal Premier David Peterson turned on his coalition partner and
won a majority government. In 1990, the NDP rather unexpectedly won
a majority in the provincial election that Peterson had imprudently
called early. The NDP endeavored to push through a decidedly left-wing
program, which resulted in wide unpopularity. It also tried to impose
certain stringencies on the provincial civil service in the face of
the recession in the early 1990; these stringencies undermined its
usual support from the leadership of the big unions.
In 1995, Progressive Conservative Mike Harris was elected Premier
of Ontario with a strong majority. The provincial Progressive Conservatives
were decidedly more right-leaning than the federal wing of the party,
partly because of the reaction to the five years of NDP government
in Ontario. Indeed, the unpopularity of the NDP brought in Mike Harris
and his so-called Common Sense Revolution — whose main focus were
tax-cuts (especially for lower- and middle-income earners), as well
as certain budgetary stringencies. Harris reduced welfare payments
that had been among the highest in North America and introduced so-called “workfare.”
He also tried to bring some fiscal discipline to various public sector
unions such as schoolteachers. Mike Harris won another majority government
in 1999, but he resigned in 2002. Although Harris claimed to resign
for personal reasons, the controversy over Walkerton — where a number
of people died from an infected water-supply and for which the main
blame was firmly placed in many people’s minds on Harris’s
privatization policies — was certainly a factor. Subsequent to his
departure from office, Harris continued to be demonized as much as
during his eight years in power. He is today a touchstone of condemnation
for most Canadian left-liberals. Anything negative that is happening
in Ontario today is almost reflexively blamed on Harris.
The Progressive Conservative party leadership race between Ernie
Eves and Jim Flaherty brought the decidedly more moderate Eves to the
Premiership. However, in the October 2, 2003, election, the Liberals,
under Dalton McGuinty, won 72 seats (with 46.5 percent of the popular
vote); the Progressive Conservatives, under Ernie Eves, won 24 seats
(with 34.6 percent); and the NDP, under Howard Hampton, won 7 seats
(with 14.7 percent). (As in federal elections, the provincial election
operates under a system of “first-past-the-post” where
candidates are elected from geographic districts called ridings.)
The three candidates for the leadership in September 2004 were Jim
Flaherty, Frank Klees, and John Tory. John Tory, a protégé of
Bill Davis and a professed moderate or “Red Tory,” had
an opportunity to build up his base in Toronto when he ran in an energetic
but ultimately unsuccessful campaign for mayor in 2003.
Upon coming to power, Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals had broken
a number of major promises to the electorate, in a fashion more egregious
than usual, for example, raising taxes, running the provincial budget
into a deficit, and introducing a health-care levy based on a person’s
income (in support of the strained public healthcare system). So John
Tory, who won the leadership of the PC party in 2004, was in a good
position to pursue victory in the provincial election — fixed by provincial
legislation for October 10, 2007.
However, in that election campaign, the PCs led by John Tory obsessively
focused on the proposal to extend public funding to faith-based schools.
Under the Canadian constitution, education is under the jurisdiction
of the provinces. Catholic schooling had received public funding since
Confederation, although it is possible that this has contributed to
diluting the Catholic content of the “Catholic public” school
system. Faith-based schools in Ontario today would include Jewish,
Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh private schools.
However, along with the public money, the Ontario government’s
supervision of what is taught in those schools would increase. So they
might be required, for example, to include “anti-homophobic” instruction.
In fact, the earlier proposal to give tax credits to parents paying
for tuition at private schools was probably a more sensible educational
policy plank. John Tory stubbornly lumbered along with his funding
to faith-based schools proposal — which proved extremely unpopular
with the Ontario electorate. This one issue diverted people’s
attention away from what could be seen as the considerable failings
of Dalton McGuinty.
Indeed, in the October 10, 2007, provincial election, the Liberals
won 71 seats (with 42.2 percent of the vote), the PCs won 26 seats
(with 31.6 percent of the vote), and the NDP won 10 seats (with 16.8
percent of the vote). The Greens had 8 percent of the vote but did
not win a single seat. A referendum to change the current provincial
first-past-the-post electoral system to a form of proportional representation
(PR) lost by huge margins. Nevertheless, the turnout in this election
— 52.8 percent of eligible voters — was the lowest in Ontario’s
history. At least some of those not bothering to vote were probably “small-c
So Dalton McGuinty is solidly in office for at least four years.
Ironically, John Tory — although he had failed to win even his own
seat in the provincial election -- held on to the leadership of the
Ontario PCs. Indeed, he received about a 67 percent endorsement by
party delegates chosen by the general membership during a leadership
review vote in 2008. Being a protégé of Bill Davis and
representing the “moderate” or “Red Tory” wing
of the party, it looks like John Tory is virtually unremovable from
One could ask, in regard to many of the current-day infelicitous
trends, who is more responsible for their enactment: those who enthusiastically
carried them into practice, or those who — while claiming to represent
an opposition — mostly went along with them, being mostly captured
in their own minds by the directions of the times.
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Mark Wegierski is a Toronto-based writer, social critic, and historical
researcher and is published in major Canadian newspapers, as well as
in U.S. scholarly journals such as Humanitas,
Review of Metaphysics, and Telos, and in U.S. magazines such as Chronicles
and The World & I. His writing has also appeared in Polish, British, and German publications.
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