By Sally Barnes
Congratulations to the 124 women and men who were winners in the Ontario election and condolences to the 777 losers and the taxpayers who shelled out millions for this exercise in democracy.
The people have spoken and in the process have raised some serious questions about how our elections are conducted and why this one was treated with such apathy.
Both winners and losers should be angry with the some six million eligible voters who didn’t vote. Some who failed to exercise their hard-earned right to vote did so because of health issues or other credible reasons. But many were just plain lazy or couldn’t be bothered.
The 43 per cent voter turnout was the lowest in Ontario history. For shame.
Some blame fatigue caused by the stress and carnage of a two-year pandemic. God forbid we should face another major crisis of disease or pestilence or war. As a society we will be just too pooped to participate.
While candidates and their supporters worked their hearts out, 55,000 Elections Ontario staff and an army of citizen volunteers put the machinery in place and taxpayers paid through the nose. But the majority of eligible voters gave democracy the finger.
(Total costs are not available but Elections Canada says last fall’s federal election cost about $630 million.)
Much has been written criticizing political parties and their leaders for causing the apathy. I agree that this wasn’t the most exciting group of political leaders and issues, but I put the blame for poor turnout squarely on the shoulders of voters.
Don’t like the choice of movies at your local theatre? Okay, so stay home. Restaurant prices too high? Stay home and whip up some mac and cheese. But none of us has the right to skip our responsibility to vote just because we’re too busy or the candidates on offer don’t meet our standards and expectations or we’re just mad at the world.
I know some people just get tired of losing. Usually, they are backing candidates who represent fringe parties or they live in ridings that have stubbornly elected the same major party’s candidate for generations.
I know what it’s like to lose. I was raised in a family who voted Liberal come hell or high water and lived in a riding that had been Conservative since Confederation. My friends’ parents celebrated with champagne on election night. At our house we cried in our beer.
I became a political junkie despite those formative years and stood as a Conservative candidate at the time of Mike Harris’s Common Sense Revolution.
Despite a Conservative sweep in that election, I lost by about 1,500 votes to the Liberal candidate, who was a popular three-term mayor. He turned out to be an excellent MPP and eventually became a senior cabinet minister when governments changed. I was always grateful that if I had to lose it was to an honourable and worthy opponent. Not all losing candidates are so lucky.
I was writing a column at the time for the Toronto Sun and gave that up to devote my full time to campaigning. The day after the election I submitted a firsthand account of the whole experience. The editors dubbed it: “So they started the revolution without me.”
I wrote about how a losing candidate feels she/he has let down the legion of family, friends, and party supporters who worked for weeks to raise money, knock on doors, stuff envelopes, and pound signs into the ground.
In coverage of the election results, media who earlier courted your comments and advertising now make only passing reference to you as the candidate who came second.
I’ve known losing candidates who for months after an election could not drive or walk by their former campaign headquarters. Another wore a hat and dark glasses for months after her defeat in hope of not being recognized.
Many candidates go into campaigns unaware of the pressure that politics places on families and colleagues. One candidate was a major supporter of countless local good causes and was shocked and hurt when longtime friends and people she had helped abandoned her as a candidate because she ran for the Tories. Best friends would not accept a lawn sign for fear of social or financial repercussions.
Believe me, for every one person who has benefited from letting their name stand for public office, there are scores who have paid a high price for their involvement.
Campaigns cost money and when they go into debt it often takes a long time to repay the money—especially if the candidate ends up the loser.
Then there are all those who run for provincial and federal seats in the belief that if they win, they will be appointed to prestigious cabinet positions. Alas, there are countless examples of highly qualified people who step away from their jobs to campaign, win their seat, but find themselves on the opposition benches for four years with limited to no opportunity to influence government policy or win support for projects in their riding.
Or, in the case of majority governments, there is a surplus of cabinet minister material available and gender, regional, and diversity representation can take precedence over other qualifications.
Losers in the cabinet stakes often become bored and disgruntled backbenchers with too much time on their hands and a thorn in the side of their own caucus and party leader.
In sports and politics, everyone loves a winner. Losers? Not so much.
In the Thursday night results, defeated Liberal leader Steven Del Duca hit rock bottom, failing to win even his own riding and leading his party and caucus to the brink of obliteration. But he delivered an immediate resignation speech that was classy and it’s a pity he hadn’t shown that sincerity and distinction during the campaign.
By contrast, his arch enemy, NDP leader Andrea Horwath, couldn’t rise to the occasion. She was a bad loser, sobbing at her bad luck after four tries to put the NDP in government. She used her last hurrah to lecture and berate Conservative leader Doug Ford one last time when clearly many progressives had voted for him.
Horwath appeared like the rejected lover who shows up at the wedding of her ex-lover and bad-mouths the bride. Cringe-worthy!
So here we are with a new government chosen by 43 per cent of those who voted. Given that the majority did not vote, the hard truth is that 18 per cent of Ontarians eligible to vote have returned Ford to office with a huge majority.
The Liberal Party has been reduced to a small rump without official status and the resources needed to be effective. The leaders of both the Liberals and NDP have resigned, further weakening these parties’ ability to hold the government to account.
Curiously, each of the two major opposition parties received about 1.1 million votes but because of the quirkiness of our voting system the Liberals won eight seats and the NDP reaped 31.
The Greens? There is still only one of them in the Legislature. They get much more media attention than they deserve. In my view they remain the comfy party where people park their vote if they don’t like all the others.
The election outcome will again increase pressure for reform of our voting laws but as usual we are faced with a government that was a big winner thanks to the status quo and suggested change would be as popular as a skunk at a garden party.
The Conservatives won big-time and deserve to celebrate.
The smart ones among them are nervous as they face the huge challenges ahead.
They know there will be temptation to abuse the huge power bestowed upon them. Humility is not a familiar face in the halls of power.
Much courage and wisdom will be required of the Ford team to provide the strong leadership and direction that is needed and expected of this new government by the people of Ontario—including those who didn’t vote for them or didn’t vote at all.
Sally Barnes has enjoyed a distinguished career as a writer, journalist and author. Her work has been recognized in a number of ways, including receiving a Southam Fellowship in Journalism at Massey College at the University of Toronto. A self-confessed political junkie, she has worked in the back-rooms for several Ontario premiers. In addition to a number of other community contributions, Sally Barnes served a term as president of the Ontario Council on the Status of Women. She is a former business colleague of Doppler’s publisher, Hugh Mackenzie, and lives in Kingston, Ontario. You can find her online at sallybarnesauthor.com.