October 9, 2011
Ontario, Opinions

Geography is still working against Ontario Liberals

Kelly McParland, National Post, nationalpost.com 9 October 2011

Examine the map of Thursday’s election results in Ontario and you get a picture that isn’t evident from the headlines alone.

The province appears to be divided in two, split between the NDP in the north (huge geographical area, itty-bitty seat count) and the Progressive Conservatives everywhere else. Other than a dozen or so splotches of red, you wouldn’t know the Liberals were even in the game.

That’s because support for Dalton McGuinty’s victorious government is largely confined to a narrow crescent along Lake Ontario, based in Toronto and extending a short drive to the east and west. It dies out before you hit Hamilton on one side, and Whitby on the other, although there’s another isolated pocket in Ottawa, where the McGuintys live and civil servants know a friendly government when they see one.

It was enough to keep the Liberals in office for a third mandate, but – while celebrated in the wine bars and latte shops of downtown Toronto – carries a sobering message. Mr. McGuinty’s Liberals appear to be heading down the same route followed by the once-mighty federal Liberals, who complacently sat around watching their voting base shrink to the point it was limited to three urban centres – Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal – while support in the rest of the country withered and died. For a time it didn’t matter, because there were enough seats in those pockets to keep them competitive. But eventually the rot spread even to those bastions. The consequences became evident in May, when the NDP and federal Conservative made serious inroads into the urban vote and the Liberals were left with 34 seats and yet another leadership crisis.

Mr. McGuinty has been too happy at having survived Thursday’s election to pay much attention to the narrow confines of his authority. In effect, people who live within commuting distance of Toronto think he’s great – well, maybe not great, but acceptable. Or bearable, anyway. OK, let’s just say the 49% of voters who bothered to cast a ballot are willing to put up with him if they absolutely have to – but get too far from the 401 or the QEW and he’s definitely premier non grata. Rural voters (if you can classify everything south of Sudbury, east of Windsor and west of Quebec as rural) don’t want anything to do with the Liberals. They did OK in London, Windsor and Ottawa, but everything in between is either blue or orange.

It’s a reflection of how out of synch Toronto is with the rest of the province. Toronto can live with the premier’s affection for windmills, because there’s little chance of one being erected anywhere nearby. The one time it appeared city residents might get stuck with the same ugly blight spreading across more remote parts of the province, when Toronto hydro proposed a wind farm off the Scarborough bluffs, there was an immediate outcry and the plan was quickly scuttled. Poor Toronto Hydro didn’t even get past the first stage of a pilot project – a small data collection platform two miles off shore – before the environmental commitment of Toronto’s citizens evaporated and they were crowding community centres to voice their opposition. It’s fine to blight the land for miles on end along Lake Huron, but in Scarborough? Forget it.

The same thing occurred when the premier, having stated his categorical refusal to be influenced by NIMBYism, discovered people in Mississauga and Oakville were opposed to power plants being plunked down in their neighbourhoods. Both were cancelled; the Liberals held onto the Oakville seat and swept Mississuga.

What happens if the Tories find a leader who is slightly more adept at selling himself to urbanites than Tim Hudak? Or if Mr. Hudak, having learned something from his first campaign as leader, drops the Tea Party routine and crafts a more sophisticated approach next time around? Stephen Harper, after several tries, demonstrated in May that Toronto isn’t entirely hostile to conservative values, you just have to know how to package them. By 2015, date of the next election, Mr. Hudak might absorb the same message. And having alienated much of the rest of the province, the Liberals may discover themselves with nowhere to turn. If they want to know how that feels, they can easily contact Michael Ignatieff, who has a new job at the University of Toronto, across the street from Mr. McGuinty’s office.

URL to article:  https://www.wind-watch.org/news/2011/10/09/geography-is-still-working-against-ontario-liberals/