(Part 1 here)
The Ontario election was a referendum on fiscal conservatism. Or so quite a few opinion pieces amongst various media outlets tell us. (I know these two are from the Natioal Post, they're the only ones I could find that were minimally hyperbolic.)
I think that is too simplistic a view of what happened. As I argued in Part 1, many voters wanted a minority government. When people want a minority government, they are not voting for or against a platform. They're trying to form a government based on compromises; attempting to force the parties to check and balance one another. What is written into the party platform is largely discarded, as logically in a minority situation, it can not be expected that a government will have the votes necessary to implement that platform.
Ask any voter why they voted the way they did, and you will get a
variety of answers. The one answer that does commonly crop up is along the lines
of "Tim Hudak says he'll create a million jobs after firing 100,000
people? Right. Pull the other leg." People did vote against that
message, which means if any conclusion is to be drawn, it was the
message, not fiscal conservatism that was rejected. It is a tenuously
drawn argument that links Tim Hudak's message of "firing 100,000 people
equals hope" to a platform of fiscal restraint. Andrew Coyne tried,
but even that argument was unconvincing. Granted, Tim Hudak was not
going to fire 100,000 people, he was going to let attrition account for
most of that. Not hiring replacements does not equal firing. However,
the phrase "fire 100,000 people" stuck like glue to him. And he did
sweet dang all to change that perception. If you want a concrete
conclusion of what people rejected, it was that nobody believed Tim
Hudak, and thought he was a bag full of bovine excrement. People can
support the message of fiscal conservatism but reject the messenger. And
unfortunately when at the ballot box, that's about all voters can do.
It's not like voters can add a rider to their ballots, "I support the PC
Party, but their leader is a moron and needs to go."
But I believe that the larger message that is being ignored is that there was a very vocal expression of voter unease leading up to the election. And as a result this election appeared to be more emotionally based then in the past. A prevailing sentiment was that voters were choosing the least worst option. Given that the PCs still finished in second place and that the Liberals were seen as the least worst, this wasn't a clear vote for a free-spending government. It was a wishy-washy collective "hold-our-noses and mark our X" vote. Draw specific policy conclusions at your own peril.
That general sense of voter unease and dissatisfaction is what we need to discuss and bring to light. Maybe many do want more fiscal responsibility out of this government, but no one is bloody well asking us. The results of the election selected winners and losers, and that's it. And that's just not good enough, which is true most of the time, but more-so for this election result in particular.
So what do Ontarians want from this government? It would be nice if someone asked us. Maybe then we can draw clearer conclusions. But to think that one ideology or another was clearly endorsed at the ballot box? To borrow Andrea Horwath's term, bullspit.