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Ontario's election isn't really about Ontario at all

Editorial cartoon by Brian Gable

Brian Gable/The Globe and Mail

The Ontario election heads to the finish line Thursday, and more and more of the polling suggests the Liberals will rack up another win. Afterward there will be lots of analysis of the campaign, what worked, what flopped and so on, but my sense is that this election – if it turns out the way it looks right now – won't have much to do with what happened on the campaign trail.

A few things strike me about this election:

1. It really hasn't been about the last four years. Tim Hudak has put considerable effort into rallying anger about the miscues and misdeeds of the McGuinty government, but many voters seem to be tuning this out. It's not that voters doubt that Dalton McGuinty has raised taxes or that energy prices have gone up on his watch. It just isn't creating broad or deep outrage.

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2. The election also doesn't seem to be all that much about the next four years. All parties have made promises in this campaign, but it's hard to find many voters who have been captivated by what's on offer. Mr. McGuinty's opponents have tried to scare people about what will happen if the Liberal Leader wins another term, but that's not really catching fire either. Struggling campaigns have a "tell," which is usually flinging hopelessly ineffective attacks designed to shock voters into attention. On Tuesday, the Hudak campaign was again trying to convince people that Mr. McGuinty wants to teach your six year old about sex, secretly. This kind of thing almost never works, and telegraphs a desperation that Mr. Hudak could do without.

3. But what's most fascinating about this election is that it may not really be about what's going on here in Ontario. Even thought none of the leaders spend much time talking about it, the election is also about the rest of the world. Which is a truly frightening place right now. The European economy is in brutal shape and the European Union might crack up. The United States is drowning in debt and self-doubt. Anyone who watched Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke testify about the perilous, shaky, only-baby-steps-away-from-much-harder-times U.S. economy, will have trouble believing that Ontario just needs to vote out this government and the good times will roll.

In any other global economic context, the Liberals might well be heading for the dressing room. There's enough unemployment to make people restless, and enough scandal to get them angry. All the domestic preconditions are there for voters to say it's time to put some fresh legs on the ice. Instead of thinking things could be worse, we'd be certain that things could be a lot better.

But in this election, at this moment in history, Ontarians who are at least "getting by" tend to crave stability. They are not in much of a mood for revolution, common sense or otherwise. This prevailing instinct has been good news for federalists in Quebec, for Conservatives in Ottawa, for New Democrats in Manitoba, for Liberals in PEI, and it may just be about to re-elect Dalton McGuinty on Thursday.

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About the Author
Bruce Anderson

Bruce Anderson is the chairman of polling firm Abacus Data, a regular member of the At Issue panel on CBC’s The National and a founding partner of i2 Ideas and Issues Advertising. He has done polls for Liberal and Conservative politicians but no longer does any partisan work. More

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