The real progressive conservative wins a third term

TheStar.com – news/canada/politics
Published On Thu Oct 06 2011.   By Thomas WalkomNational Affairs Columnist

Think of Ontario as a one-party state.

Sometimes the governing party refers to itself as Progressive Conservative. Sometimes it uses the name Liberal. But no matter what it calls itself, the ruling party usually — usually — follows a standard pattern.

It intervenes in the economy to encourage business. It pays some attention to social needs (although it’s rarely accused of over-generosity). It doesn’t rock the boat. And, without being doctrinaire, it prides itself on being a competent manager of the province’s finances.

Very, very occasionally an outrider wins power at Queen’s Park: the United Farmers of Ontario in 1919, Bob Rae’s New Democrats in 1990, Mike Harris’s Common Sense Revolutionaries in 1995.

But even in the rare case where this occurs, the new maverick government comes under intense pressure to fall into line with Ontario’s robustly bland traditions.

Thus Bob Rae, the New Democrat of 1990, became Bob Rae the closet Liberal of 1993. Thus Mike Harris’s hard-line Conservative government morphed into that of Ernie Eves, a pinker kind of Tory.

All of this is by way of pointing out that Thursday’s election results should come as no surprise.

True to form, Ontario voters returned to power the moderate, small-c conservative government that’s been running the province for the past eight years.

Premier Dalton McGuinty and his gang may call themselves Liberals. But the voters saw through that veil.

They knew that, in reality, the McGuinty Liberals are the real heirs to the tradition of Leslie Frost, John Robarts and Bill Davis, the Progressive Conservative premiers who ran this province moderately and blandly for close to four decades.

And they feared that Tim Hudak — even though he calls himself a Progressive Conservative and tries to be boring — might, like Mike Harris, end up being just a little too piquant.

Andrea Horwath? Polls suggested that Ontarians thought the New Democratic Party leader might be a good person to have a beer with.

But in the main, they like to separate their premiers from their drinking buddies. So while applauding her spunk enough to give the NDP more seats, voters resolutely denied Horwath the top job.

Instead, after clipping his wings, they gave it once again to McGuinty.

Sure, they griped before handing him back the keys to Queen’s Park. They didn’t like his HST. They didn’t like his high electricity prices.

Some found his health-care reorganization scheme ludicrous. Others were furious about his policy of encouraging windmills.

The province’s long-term-care system for the frail elderly is still shambolic. And patients still routinely wait hours in overcrowded hospital emergency rooms.

Oh yes. And did I mention that McGuinty presided over the worst economic downturn to hit this province since the 1930s.

Still, in the end, enough voted Liberal to give McGuinty his third consecutive government. They may have agreed with Hudak when he called McGuinty’s eco-taxes sneaky. They may have applauded Horwath when she talked of taking the HST off gasoline.

They may have been heartily sick of McGuinty’s awkward mannerisms and goody-two-shoes persona.

More to the point, they may have been skeptical about his ambitious scheme to have government foster new green industries in Ontario in order to eventually replace the ailing auto sector.

But in the end, they appreciated that he — unlike Hudak and Horwath — at least had a plan, and that he was willing to use the clout of government to bring that plan to fruition.

All in the great Ontario tradition.

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