Tim Hudak offered a vegan tasting menu when all Ontario wanted was the fish

Posted on in Governance Debates

NationalPost.com – Full Comment
June 15, 2014.   John Moore

It’s hard to exaggerate how Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives got their clocks cleaned on Thursday. Against a tired old scandal-ridden Liberal government they managed to place worse than they did the last time they ran against a tired old scandal-ridden Liberal government.

The party and its supporters were astonished (which is part of the problem but more on that later). They shouldn’t have been. The writing was on the wall for most of the campaign: Ontarians weren’t buying what PC leader Tim Hudak was selling. It’s not because the voters are stupid or because unions run the table. It’s because certain notions that have become common currency in some quarters of the right are actually much more like Canadian Tire money in the mainstream.

It’s a shame the Conservatives tacked right when they could have won handily by standing still. Time Hudak tried to serve Ontarians a vegan tasting menu when all we really wanted was the fish.

Here are just a few lessons we can take away from Hudak’s shellacking:

Firstly, the PCs put an unnecessary scare into voters by trying to retail a form of Tea Party inspired economics that has little appeal in Canada. They doubled down by soliciting the endorsement of one of those rent-a-gun U.S. economists who never seem to remember that Reaganomics lead to an historic deficit.

The right has to dial down this monomaniacal notion that everything in an economy hinges on taxation. If business activity and jobs varied inversely with the level of taxation the world’s epicenter of commerce would be the Bahamas. When Tim Hudak promised to lower business taxes all voters in this program-rich province saw was lower government revenues.

Both the PCs and the NDP also made an error in abandoning all proportion. Not every government foul-up or misstep is an epic and shame-worthy calamity on a par with the Sponsorship Scandal and Watergate. To be sure the Liberals had a badly stained record but simply repeating the word “corruption” over and over doesn’t mean voters will see these money-burning gaffes as anything more than the kind of cost overruns that they now expect of government.

Along similar lines, hyperbole is the enemy of reasonable discourse. Everyone knows Ontario faces some major fiscal challenges but to suggest it is Greece or Portugal is a frothy fiction. And since Ottawa runs deficits of choice it’s clear enough to everyone that deficits are not in fact toxic by definition.

Another lesson worthy of note — and here we come to the aspect of surprise amongst conservatives to Thursday’s verdict — don’t drink your own bath water. Ontario’s right was so convinced of the self-evident superiority of its product the Conservatives actually thought they were winning. Never assume everyone hates your opponent as much as you do.

One last suggestion: try a little positivity. There is a fatigue factor to relentless anger and disapproval. A dour Tim Hudak was always tut-tutting his opponents while some of his supporters in the media (particularly talk radio) seethed with indignation. They mashed the three major Liberal scandals into a single Gollum-worthy phrase “E-healthorngegasplants” and repeated it over and over like a conjuring spell as if through sheer will they could lift the Conservatives to power. Voters decided they liked the smiley grandmother over the Nixonian alarmist and part of the reason is people generally prefer positivity over pique.

These are the lessons from which both Ontario’s provincial Conservatives and their federal cousins could learn. Canada is not in fact turning to the right so it’s up to the nation’s conservatives to change course if they want to woo rather than war against the electorate.

John Moore is host of Moore in the Morning on Newstalk Radio 1010 in Toronto.

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