Ontario’s 43rd general election is beginning. As things stand, Premier Doug Ford, leader of the Progressive Conservatives, could hold on to government with a parliamentary majority. Anyone who believes that we live in a society and owe things to one another may wish to take a deep breath right now. Or stare into the abyss and wonder where it all went wrong.
Yes, it’s true. Despite four years of bungling, buffoonery and cruelty, Ford just might hold on to his parliamentary majority. It baffles the mind, until you consider that, while voters are fickle, plenty of them are also selectively forgetful, self-interested, ideologically pre-committed and uninspired by the alternatives. That means Ford’s record of pandemic mismanagement, long-term care crisis, canceling a minimum-wage increase, delaying the implementation of pay transparency legislation, leaving disability benefit rates at rock-bottom levels, botching a redesign of the province’s license plates, and failing to procure provincially-mandated anti-carbon tax gas pump stickers that actually stick to things (incidentally, they were also illegal) might not be enough to usher in a change in government.
Accounting for the usual caveats — elections matter, nothing is decided until the votes are cast and so forth — Ford’s conservatives are the current favorite to win the most seats in the legislature. According to 338 Canada, a statistical electoral projection model, as of April 30, the PCs are projected to win 77 seats compared to 26 for the Ontario Liberals, 20 for the New Democrats and one for the Greens. The 338 projection gives Ford a 77 percent chance of winning a majority and a 97 percent chance of winning the most seats.
Research from Abacus Data finds 37 percent Ontarians saying the province is headed in the “right direction” compared to 38 percent who say it’s on the “wrong track.” A full 62 percent say the state of the economy is “excellent,” “good” or “acceptable.” And 61 percent rate Ford’s performance as premier the same. While 49 percent of Ontarians strongly prefer a change in government, a plurality — 37 percent — expect Ford to win.
Once again, no projection or polling can predict electoral outcomes with certainty, especially so far out from election day on June 2. But currently, Ford is in fine shape — which is far better than he deserves. The man who should have resigned a year ago — the man who should never have won in the first place — could remain in power. Ontario could face another several years of disastrous government.
There is a chance, however, that Ford’s party will win the most seats on election night but not a majority. The Liberals, New Democrats or Greens — or indeed, all three — could see their stock rise during the election period. In light of how much of a train wreck the Ford government has been, the ongoing pandemic, and the fact that climate change is an existential threat about which Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives care not a whit, the three opposition parties should commit right now to bringing down the Ford government if the premier fails to secure a majority and working with one another in whatever way they must to form a non-Ford government.
As Mike Crawley reported for CBC News in late March, the Liberal and New Democrat leaders are clear they would not back Ford if he wins fewer than 50 percent of the legislature’s seats. But this week, the parties ruled out a deal similar to the current federal bargain between the governing Liberals and opposition New Democrats. The likelihood of a formal or informal anti-Ford bargain has to be weighed against that. Still, the parties could change their positions post-election.
No doubt Ford would be desperate to bargain with an opposition party to remain in power, but no party should work with him. For four years, the opposition parties have railed against Ford as a dangerous, incompetent premier who is unfit to govern. Last April, both Steven Del Duca and New Democratic and official opposition leader Andrea Horwath agreed Ford should resign. If those leaders can force Ford from government after June 2, it would be craven and irresponsible for them to choose otherwise, regardless of the sort of deal they might have to make to get that done.
The laws of electoral politics, in all their informal glory, dictate that each party must focus on pretending there’s only outcome they are working toward: winning. But, based on polls, a majority of voters prefer a government that is not run by Ford. The opposition parties ought to make clear their commitment to delivering just that — by whatever arrangement it takes. The stakes are too high to do anything else.