Provincial elections: will Ontario put all its eggs in one basket?

If current trends continue, the next Ontario government will be a Conservative majority.

But with ten weeks until voting day, the election outcome is far from assured. As we’ve seen with previous Ontario and federal elections, campaigns matter, and there’s many a slip ‘twixt cup and lip. It’s still possible for the Dalton McGuinty Liberals to stage a comeback and win a third term, but they will need to rethink their strategy.

Right now, the Forum Research poll published on July 30 reveals a strong Conservative lead. Of the 2,256 Ontarians surveyed on July 27 and 28, 38% intend to cast their ballots for the Conservatives, 28% will vote Liberal, 24% support the NDP and 7% are Green voters. These results are accurate to within 2.8%, 19 times out of 20.

How would this particular provincial poll translate into seats at Queen’s Park? The research firm doesn’t provide any answers, but we can attempt a projection based on a rough model. First, subtract current voting intentions from the election results of each party in 2007. This gives an idea of the direction opinion is moving in the province: +7.23 (NDP), +6.38 (CON), -1.02 (GP) and -14.25 (LIB). Apply these current trends to the 2007 results in each district, and voilà, we have our seat projection.

The details are available here, and they’re pretty interesting. They predict the Conservatives in a majority government with 64 seats, the Liberals reduced to 26 seats and the New Democrats gaining 17.

According to this model, Tim Hudak and Andrea Horwath would handily win their districts, but Dalton McGuinty would have trouble getting elected. The Liberals would lose most of their current cabinet members, including Leona Dombrowsky (Education Minister), Deb Matthews (Health), Kathleen Wynn (Transport) and Sophia Aggelonitis (Revenue).

On the other hand, the Conservatives would elect four star candidates: Jack McLarren (former president of the Ontario Landowners Association), Rocco Rossi (former federal Liberal organizer and Toronto mayoral candidate), Donna Skelly (a local TV host) and Simon Nyilassi (CEO of Caldwell, an investment company).

Any Conservative win would be at the expense of the Liberals. Gains would be made:

  • in the 905 region (Ajax-Pickering, Oak Ridges-Markham, Richmond Hill, Bramalea-Gore-Malton, Mississauga South, Mississauga Erindale, Brampton-Springdale, Brampton West, Etobicoke Centre, Etobicoke-Lakeshore, Pickering-Scarborough East, Scarborough Southwest, Scarborough-Guilwood);
  • in the North of Toronto (Don Valley West, Eglinton-Lawrence, Willowdale, York Centre);
  • in Ottawa and the East of the province (Ottawa South, Ottawa West-Nepean Ottawa-Orleans, Northumberland-Quinte West, Prince Edward-Hastings Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry)
  • in Kitchener and the Centre-West of the province (Guelph, Huron-Bruce, Kitchener Centre, Kitchener-Conestoga, Perth Wellington, Wellington-Halton Hills).

The New Democrats would retain all their current seats and gain four new districts in the North of the province (Algoma-Manitoulin, Thunder Bay-Atikokan, Thunder Bay-Superior North, Timiskaming-Cochrane). They’d pick up two more in Toronto (Davenport, South York -Weston), and could also take Ottawa Centre from the Liberals.

A majority of provincial districts would thus align with their federal riding counterparts. In Toronto, the polarization that played out in last municipal election might be repeated, with urban areas supporting centrist or progressive platforms and the suburbs voting for right-wing candidates. These projections paint a picture of a three-pronged right-wing hegemony in the Toronto, Ontario and Canadian governments.

But this model is pretty rudimentary, and it’s not perfect. It doesn’t take into account the electoral advantage usually enjoyed by party leaders, former ministers, incumbents or star candidates. In addition, the data shows a pretty narrow margin of victory (<5%) in more than a quarter of the districts. That leaves plenty of room for local conditions and plain uncertainty to have a profound influence.

Nevertheless, this analysis raises alarm bells. In Canada, all levels of government have considerable power, but federalism maintains a system of checks and balances. It allows ambition to counteract ambition and limits the abuse and corruption that inevitably results from the concentration of power. By electing three levels of government with same conservative agenda, Ontarians would drop this counterweight. They’d be putting all their eggs in the one basket.

Will Tim Hudak join Steven Harper and Rob Ford on their fishing trip next summer? Ontario voters have until October 6 to decide.

 


Translated from the original French by Jamie McLennan. © 2011 Gaston Murdock

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