What does the Ontario PC landslide mean for education and for progressive politics?
It looks like the Ontario legislature will look, in many ways, like the outgoing seating plan, with an 83 seat (+7) PC government based on 41% of the vote, a 31 seat NDP official opposition (-9) based 0n 23.6% of the vote, and an 8 (+1) seat Liberal third party without official party status based on 23.7% of the vote, such are the distortions of the first past the post electoral system. There was also one Green Party MPP elected and one independent MPP. This we all know by now but what does it mean for education?
Let’s look at the plus side. Ford signaled the day after the election that it may be time to raise the wages for teachers, along with nurses and other public servants. Nobody should should hold their breath waiting to be compensated for the lost pay due to Bill 124, but on a go-forward basis it's a tiny bit of progress. A full restoration of free collective bargaining should be the only position acceptable to the unions.
Hopefully Ford can be persuaded to destream grade 10 after grade 9, and continue baby steps forwards on a destreaming agenda for all grades. On the down side, class size relief would be a blessing but may be a bridge too far for the PCs.
Ontario politics, however, may be in for a realignment. For the second election in a row, we have a PC government with a fairly strong NDP official opposition, and they are the only two official parties! The Liberals are in single digits notwithstanding the fact that they got slightly more votes than the NDP. The Liberal vote is what the pollsters and pundits call “inefficient” in that it produces a large number of 2nd place showings but few seats. Could this result be the death knell for the Ontario provincial Liberals as we have seen across western Canada (the BC Liberals are a conservative party in a red sweater). In the west, the NDP is in first or second place in all four provinces.Could this be extended from Victoria to Cornwall? The next couple of elections could determine this.
One sure sign of Liberal problems is a shift of building trades unions away from the Liberals to Ford’s PCs as the PCs reoriented themselves away from a cutbacks agenda towards an infrastructure and industrial agenda of building hospitals, schools, highways and the conversion of Ontario’s critical auto industry to electric vehicles. We seem to be witnessing a shift of Ontario’s PCs back towards its “Red Tory” center-right Bill Davis incarnation and away from hard right positions that characterized the Mike Harris years, the Pierre Poilievre leadership bid, and even Ford’s own first term.
Ford teased Andrea Horwath during the debates that he now had union backing, but the construction trades unions (the aristocracy of labour), with the exception of perhaps the ironworkers,never really supported the NDP, but were actually Liberal supporters. The NDP’s labour supporters were concentrated in manufacturing, resource extraction, and the public sector. Still, the loss of building trades is a tough blow for the Liberals.
In their important 2018 book “Why the Left Loses” Rob Manwaring and Paul Kennedy surveyed the social democratic and Labour left across Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada (NDP), to document the reasons behind a decade-long series of electoral setbacks between the 2008 financial crisis and 2018. They blame timid, over compromised leadership, populism on the right that attracts many working class voters, mission accomplished beliefs that some voters have, that the welfare state is complete and therefore the social democrats are no longer needed, unfair media particularly the Murdoch Press in the Anglosphere, and too many parties splitting the center-left lane. Germany may have since patched up this problem post Merkel, with a center-left-green coalition due to its MMP style PR system, Australia grabbed a Labour victory this past month, but the problems remain in Ontario provincially and Canada federally. No political scientist would call either Ontario’s or Canada’s Liberals “left” but they are centrist on a good day, and at least half and as many as two thirds of their supporters are progressive, left of center voters that would vote NDP if the Liberals disappeared. Add this to the Greens and 53% of Ontarians voted center-left as opposed to the PCs plus fringe right parties at 45%.
The solution then, might be posed as the elimination of the Ontario Liberals as an electoral force, as in western Canada alongside a transition to a much greener NDP to absorb the green vote - easier said than done.