Despite the fact that just under a million more Ontarians turned out to vote in the Ontario election last week compared to 2014, the Ontario Liberal party lost more than 800,000 votes. While contemporary wisdom is that most of the lost Liberal votes went to the NDP we may never know how many disaffected Liberals voted for the Ford PC’s. If elections were an IQ test, Kathleen Wynne would probably still be premier. But they are not, and as smart and progressive as Wynne and her colleagues were, they missed the fact that the NDP is the established party of the left side of the political spectrum, and the Liberals, and more importantly, to their core supporters, are best positioned as a centrist party with progressive leanings. In the middle of the political upheaval that accompanied the Great Depression, Liberal Mitch Hepburn might have been able to win the premiership by declaring, “I swing to the left, where some Grits fear to tread.” But after he got elected, as the depression eased, he quickly reverted to the centre, becoming a friend of Bay Street.
Federally the most successful Liberal governments have been those who occupied the centre – Mackenzie King, St Laurent and Pearson. They implemented progressive policies, but always gradually, prudently and in most cases fiscally responsibly. Starting with McGuinty , the Ontario Liberals became a party of ideology. The pollution caused by coal-fired hydro generating plants could have been addressed far more cheaply than the billions spent on costly and inefficient wind and solar generation, but that would have deprived the government of the spectacular photo-ops of chimneys toppling down. The government could have allowed the needed gas-powered generating plants to have been placed at the existing Lakeview site in Mississauga, which would have avoided the subsequent gas plant scandal that, somewhat unfairly, tainted the Wynne legacy; but Lakeview had been levelled by then.
Metrolinx, established in part because the government did not trust the Ministry of Transportation to carry out the undeclared crusade against the automobile, has morphed into a branch of the Premier’s office; building subways, where LRT is the better solution, building LRT where buses are better and establishing GO stations in Ministers’ back yards where they are not needed. (Editors note: Stephen Del Duca, former minister in charge of Metrolinx was defeated in his riding as was Charles Sousa, in whose riding the gas plant scandal was spawned).
For the Liberals to rebuild, they need to put together a team and develop policies that compete for the centre where most Ontarians feel comfortable. If the Ford Tories beat them to the centre it could be a long time in the wilderness for what is left of the party.