The Meaning of Change: Your Guide to the Upcoming Ontario Election

In advance of the June 7, 2018 Ontario election, we asked the authors of The Politics of Ontario, Cheryl N. Collier and Jonathan Malloy, to outline how their recently published book will provide Ontario voters with the necessary background to make an informed decision. 

In the run-up to the Ontario provincial election on June 7, what better guide to the Ontario political scene than our recently-published book The Politics of Ontario? We led fifteen expert contributors from across Ontario in an in-depth analysis of all aspects of the Ontario political scene, from the economy to the media to racial diversity and much more. The result is an engaging book that connects short-term current issues and partisan debates to the long-term context of Canada’s most populous and diverse province.

Elections are always about change, but the contrast in 2018 is particularly stark, with the Progressive Conservatives and NDP both challenging the long-entrenched Liberals with two very contrasting directions for change. The underlying theme of The Politics of Ontario is also change—but more precisely, uneven and contested change. What has happened to Ontario in recent years? What hasn’t happened? And has too much happened—in some cases, too quickly?

For example, our book outlines the remarkable and ever-growing racial diversity of the province and the “firsts” of Kathleen Wynne as an openly gay woman premier, but also the underrepresentation of women and racialized minorities and the continuing dominance of traditional male elites in political and economic life. We examine the decline of Ontario’s traditional manufacturing base, its lurching and uncertain fiscal health, the largely failed Liberal green energy strategy, and the decline of Ontario’s preeminence in Confederation. Despite these challenges, Ontario maintains a fundamental diversified strength and continuing position of wealth within Canada. We review the massive upheaval of municipal institutions in Ontario over the last two decades, and whether any of this was necessary. And we offer an insider’s look at the McGuinty and Wynne governments and the tension between public policy decision-making at Queen’s Park and the reality of politics on the ground. We also analyze:

- The distinct political culture of Northern Ontario and the “politics of extraction”
- The relevance of traditional media and the Ontario press gallery in the twenty-first century
- The roller-coaster state of labour relations in Ontario over the last thirty years
- The legislative and executive institutions of Ontario and where power really lies
- Ontario’s unusual confluence of environmental and electricity policy, often with unexpected and costly consequences
- The growth of Toronto as a global city ambivalent about its role and standing in the province

So, when all is said and done, has Ontario politics really changed? Graham White’s opening chapter asks “whether the scale of social change evident in Ontario since 1950 has been matched by a similar scale of change politically” (3) and our book suggests it has not. We outline how Ontarians both historically and today have been mostly politically indifferent, with a limited appetite for new ideas or profound change. We stand by this assessment even in the era of Doug Ford, who brings a new style to Ontario politics but with a familiar message that recent changes have happened too fast and need to be frozen or turned back. Again and again, The Politics of Ontario finds surprisingly limited change. Ontario has among the lowest voter turnout levels in the country, and the exact same three political parties in the legislature for over sixty years—no other party has even briefly broken into the club, unlike every other province in Canada. Instead, the existing parties constantly change and adapt, often very opportunistically. In fact, the very way in which:

- Doug Ford was able to discard Patrick Brown’s entire platform and strategy;
- The Wynne government could flip the script from a priority of balancing the budget in 2017 to blowing out the deficit this year; and
- The Rae government’s hard-won lessons about the perils of promising too much appear to have been entirely erased from NDP party history and platforms;

…all show the essential hollowness and lack of enduring principles that characterize Ontario political parties, who as we say in the book, “...show little aptitude for ideas that endure beyond the next election date; nor do they engage citizens and societal forces beyond their small bands of loyalists… [E]ven by the modest standards of Canadian political parties generally, Ontario parties are weak as democratic vehicles, and serve primarily as election machines at the disposal of their leaders.” (206)

The Politics of Ontario does not predict the winner of the 2018 election; it is written for the long run, and about the challenges that will face whoever does win. It presents both valuable background history and current analysis that provide illumination through the fog of election campaigns.

The 2018 provincial election is likely to be bitter and tough, and The Politics of Ontario will be a valuable guide to what change really means in Ontario.

The Politics of Ontario is edited by Cheryl N. Collier and Jonathan Malloy with chapters contributed by:

Graham White
Matthias Oschinski
Rand Dyck
Peter Woolstencroft
Tracey Raney
Bryan Evans
Daniel Henstra
Julie M. Simmons
Tamara A.Small
Gina Comeau
Anna Esselment
Mark Winfield
Myer Siemiatycki
Larry Savage
Martin Horak

Cheryl N. Collier is Associate Professor and Undergraduate Chair in the Department of Political Science and Co-Director of the Health Research Centre for the Study of Violence Against Women at the University of Windsor.

Jonathan Malloy is Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science at Carleton University.