Politics of Ontario

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The Province of Ontario is governed by a unicameral legislature, the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, which operates in the Westminster system of government. The political party that wins the largest number of seats in the legislature normally forms the government, and the party's leader becomes premier of the province, i.e., the head of the government. Ontario's primary political parties are the centre-right Ontario Progressive Conservative Party (PC Party), the centre-left Ontario Liberal Party and the social democratic Ontario New Democratic Party (NDP). The Ontario Green Party has seen its support grow over the years - to 8.1% of the vote in 2007 - but has yet to win any seats in the Legislature.

Liberal hegemony before 1905[edit]

Elections to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario (1867-1902) - seats won by party
Government Conservative Liberal
Party 1867 1871 1875 1879 1883 1886 1890 1894 1898 1902
Liberal 41 43 50 57 48 57 53 45 51 50
Liberal-Equal Rights 2
Liberal-Patron 12
Liberal-P.P.A. 1
Conservative 41 38 34 29 37 32 34 23 42 48
Liberal-Conservative 1
Conservative-Equal Rights 2
Conservative-P.P.A. 6
Conservative-Patron 1
Patrons of Industry 3
Protestant Protective Association 2
Conservative - Liberal 1
Conservative - Independent 2 2 1
Liberal - Independent 1 2
Independent 1 1 1
Total 82 82 88 88 88 90 91 94 94 98

After the Province's indecisive first election in 1867, in which the Conservative John Sandfield Macdonald became the first Premier, the Liberals under Edward Blake gained power in 1871 which they would hold until 1905. Blake left for federal politics in 1872, and Oliver Mowat would then serve as Premier until 1896.

Secure in its predominance in the rural parts of Southwestern Ontario, the Liberals also received support through their friendship with the Roman Catholic hierarchy, their use of patronage for political ends, and their dealings with the liquor trade.[1] Mowat's success was buttressed by Arthur Sturgis Hardy's activity as a hard-nosed and down-to-earth politician in his service, as noted by Grip:

Acting as his own Attorney General, Mowat successfully promoted the cause of provincial sovereignty before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, winning key controversies over Provincial boundaries,[3] jurisdiction over liquor licenses,[4] trade and commerce,[5] rivers and streams,[6] timber,[7] mineral rights[8] and other matters.

Mowat was cautious in his approach to reform, preferring to do so by instalments.[1] As George William Ross observed later, it reflected Mowat's cunning:

The agrarian revolt and anti-Catholic sentiment in 1894, exemplified by the rise of the Patrons of Industry and the Protestant Protective Association, was deftly handled by the Liberals and Conservatives declining to nominate a full bank of candidates in that election and fielding candidates that were nominated by these protest groups.[1] The Patrons and PPA ceased to exist by 1898.

After Mowat left for federal politics in 1896, the premiership was passed to Hardy, who promoted the development of New Ontario with measures for colonization and incentives for the development of lumber and mining operations.[2] He was followed by Ross in 1899, but a series of scandals in Ross' term of office would lead to his defeat in 1905.

Early 20th century, 1905-1943[edit]

Elections to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario (1905-1937) - seats won by party
Government Conservative UFO-Labour Conservative Liberal
Party 1905 1908 1911 1914 1919 1923 1926 1929 1934 1937
Conservative 69 86 82 84 25 75 72 90 17 23
Liberal-Conservative 1
Liberal 28 19 22 24 27 14 14 13 65 63
Liberal-Temperance 1
Liberal-Prohibitionist 1
United Farmers of Ontario 44 17 3 1 1 1
Progressive 10 4
Liberal-Progressive 4 1 4 2
Labour 1 1 1 11 4 1 1 1
Co-operative Commonwealth Federation 1
Liberal-United Farmers 1
Labour-United Farmers 1
Soldier 1
Liberal Independent 1 1 1 4
Conservative Independent 2 2
Progressive Independent 1
Independent 1 1
Total 98 106 106 111 111 111 112 112 90 90

Through reforming the Conservatives by establishing the Ontario Liberal-Conservative Association, reaching out to Catholics, and distancing the party from its federal counterpart, James Pliny Whitney was able to win the election of 1905.[9] In office, he worked to promote Ontario's industrial development through the creation of the Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario, and to promote social welfare through the passage of the first workmen's compensation law.[9] He also maintained the party's support from the Orange Order by suppressing French-language instruction in schools through the issue of Regulation 17.[9] He continued as Premier until his death in 1914. William Howard Hearst then took over as Premier, and served until his defeat in 1919.

The rise of activism amongst farmers and workers following World War I resulted in the United Farmers of Ontario - Labour coalition government headed by E.C. Drury, which was in power from 1919 to 1923. The Conservatives then returned, and would retain control until the onset of the Great Depression, at which time the Liberals returned under Mitchell Hepburn, who would pursue aggressive policies in promoting Ontario's interests until 1943.

The Big Blue Machine, 1943-1985[edit]

Elections to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario (1943-1981) - seats won by party
Government Progressive Conservative
Party 1943 1945 1948 1951 1955 1959 1963 1967 1971 1975 1977 1981
Progressive Conservative 38 66 53 79 83 71 77 69 78 51 58 70
Co-operative Commonwealth Federation 34 8 21 2 3 5
New Democratic Party 7 20 19 38 33 21
Liberal 15 11 13 7 10 21 23 27 20 35 34 34
Liberal-Labour 3 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Labour-Progressive 2 2 2 1
Liberal Independent 1
PC Independent 1
Total 90 90 90 90 98 98 108 117 117 125 125 125
“Bland works.”
Bill Davis explaining his success in politics.[10]

The Progressive Conservative Party dominated Ontario's political system from 1943 to 1985 and earned the nickname of the Big Blue Machine. During this period the party was led by Red Tory premiers: George Drew, Leslie Frost, John Robarts and Bill Davis. These governments were responsible for some of the province's most progressive social legislation (including the Ontario Code of Human Rights), the creation of most of Ontario's welfare state and social programs, the creation of many Crown Corporations, and strong economic growth. Though the Conservatives were reduced to a minority government in 1975 and 1977, they stayed in power as they moved to the left of the rural-based Liberals. In addition, the Liberal and NDP opposition parties had been unwilling to cooperate. The Conservatives' were returned with a majority government in 1981.

“In the Maritimes, politics is a disease, in Quebec a religion, in Ontario a business, on the Prairies a protest and in British Columbia — entertainment.”
Allan Fotheringham, Malice in Blunderland (1982)

However, in 1985, the party came back to the right, electing Frank Miller as leader at a leadership convention, following the retirement of popular longtime Red Tory Premier Bill Davis. This shift in policy did not help the party's fortunes, nor did Davis' announcement to extend full funding for Catholic schools, the latter which alienated the Conservatives' rural supporters. After 42 years of governing Ontario, the 1985 election reduced the Tories to a minority in the Legislature, with only four seats more than the opposition Liberals. The Tories won fewer votes overall than the Liberals. Miller attempted to forge an alliance with the NDP, as Bill Davis did during his minority terms (1975–1981), but they were unable to come to an agreement. The Liberals of David Peterson and the New Democrats of Bob Rae signed an accord (not a formal coalition), ousting Frank Miller, and ending one of the longest political dynasties in Canadian history.

After the Machine's collapse[edit]

Elections to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario (1985-2014) - seats won by party
Government Liberal NDP PC Liberal
Party 1985 1987 1990 1995 1999 2003 2007 2011 2014
Progressive Conservative 52 16 20 82 59 24 26 37 28
Liberal 48 95 36 30 35 72 71 53 58
New Democratic 25 19 74 17 9 7 10 17 21
Total 125 130 130 130 103 103 107 107 107

Liberals and NDP Control The Legislature, 1985-1995[edit]

Peterson was able to re-energize his party and lead them back into office. The Liberal-NDP coalition of 1985-1987 worked very well with David Peterson at the helm as Premier. In exchange for supporting certain Liberal policies and not defeating Peterson's government in the Legislature, the Liberals agreed to pass certain NDP policies to which Miller had been unwilling to agree.

In the 1987 election, Peterson's Liberals won a substantial majority in the Legislature. Peterson's record in office was a mixed one. During his five years in power, Ontario recorded some of its best economic times; however towards the end of his tenure government spending increased. Although his government predicted a surplus, the Liberals plunged the Government of Ontario into a $3 billion deficit by 1990.[citation needed]

The Social Contract[edit]

The Liberals paid dearly by calling a snap election three years into their mandate in 1990. Before Peterson called the election, his government stood at a 54% approval rating in the polls. However, the early election call turned out to be his undoing as the public interpreted it as arrogance. Several scandals also broke out after the election call and some suspected the Liberals of calling an election just to dodge the upcoming recession. In the most surprising election results in Ontario's history, the NDP was able to win a majority government, however with only 37% of the vote. This government was Ontario's second social democratic government (after the United Farmer's government of Ernest Drury 1919-1923), and its track record would keep the NDP out of serious contention for power in Ontario until the present.

The NDP took power in the midst of one of the worst recessions since the Great Depression. Though they campaigned predominantly on the promise of a public auto insurance system, they backtracked on this policy, causing a split between Premier Rae and his more left-wing ministers. Initially, they increased spending in the public sector to stimulate employment and productivity. However, due to the unforeseen severity of the recession, it angered the business community while not doing enough to provide for public relief.

Faced with a skyrocketing deficit, the New Democrats introduced cutbacks to social spending as well as the Social Contract, which forced public-sector workers to take unpaid "holidays" or "Rae Days" every year. They also introduced wage freezes.[citation needed] The Social Contract led to most of the labour movement, especially longtime NDP ally Buzz Hargrove and the CAW (Canadian Auto Worker's Union), along with the Ontario Public Service Employees Union and other public sector unions turning its backs on Bob Rae, many of their members vowing to bring his government down. Rae also introduced unpopular revenue-raising taxes and operations that hurt his election prospects. Thousands of party members resigned from the NDP and it became evident that the party was headed for a defeat in the 1995 election.

By 1995, Ontario's unemployment rate was skyrocketing and the deficit was growing bigger, leaving most people convinced that the government of Bob Rae had become ineffective. Commentators predicted an easy win for Lyn McLeod's Liberals, but the resurgent Progressive Conservative Party of Mike Harris, which had been reduced to third-party status since the 1987 election, made a comeback and won a majority. Macleod alienated voters by flip-flopping on campaign issues such as civil unions for same-sex couples. Towards the end of the campaign, the Liberals attempted to copy many Tory policies. Mike Harris, on the other hand campaigned on a controversial, but straightforward agenda known as the Common Sense Revolution, promising to solve Ontario's economic woes and problems with lower taxation, smaller government and pro-business policies to create jobs. He also campaigned as a populist, which gave him the support of several working-class ridings that normally voted NDP. The 1995 election gave the PC Party a large majority, bringing the Tories back into power, however not under their traditional centrist or Red Tory agenda.

The "Common Sense Revolution", 1995-2003[edit]

The new conservative government of Mike Harris implemented a programme of cuts to social spending and taxes (the "Common Sense Revolution") that exploded the budget[citation needed] and lowered taxes for most Ontarians[citation needed] and especially businesses. However, it also drew controversy for "downloading" or transferring the cost of programs and responsibilities to municipalities, without supplying finances to do so.

Teachers' Strike[edit]

In 1997, the teachers' union protested with a province-wide two-week strike against the Harris government's education initiatives. It was the largest teachers' strike in North American history. The teachers had a current contract so the government determined that the strike was illegal.[11] 126,000 teachers went on strike which affected 2.1 million students in the province. The strike was over the contentious issue of who holds the power to set education policy in the province. Bill 160 put control of the education system in the hands of the provincial government. It eliminated the ability of school boards and teachers' unions to set classroom and teaching conditions through collective bargaining. The bill also allowed the government to regulate class sizes, education property tax rates, teachers preparations time, the amount of time teachers and student spend in class and the use of non-certified instructors.[11]

That year, the Harris government also amalgamated Metro Toronto and its six cities into the new "Megacity" of Toronto despite their opposition.

Mike Harris was re-elected with a majority, despite a loss of 23 seats in the 1999 election, defeating Dalton McGuinty's Liberals, which gained 5 seats (27 seats were eliminated from legislature from the 1995 election). Harris' victory was largely due to a strong campaign by the NDP, as McGuinty's Liberals were able to gain only 8.8% of the popular vote to finish at 39.9% vs. the Tory 45.1%. In addition, the emergence of the Canadian economy from the recession led to many jobs in Ontario since the time Harris had taken office, and Harris' record on tax and deficit reduction all were positive features to Harris campaign. Negative campaigning by the Tories, which featured ads claiming that McGuinty was "not up to the job" also helped Harris's re-election bid.

Afterwards, the government's critics alleged that the government's cuts to the Ministry of the Environment and privatization of water-testing laboratories led to the lack of oversight that resulted in contaminated water at Walkerton. Harris first balanced budget was also revealed to have occurred because of the sale of the 407 highway tolls. Harris stepped down in 2002 and was replaced by Ernie Eves following a leadership election. Eves's government was chiefly notable for stopping Harris's unpopular plan to privatize the public electricity utility, Ontario Power Generation (formerly Ontario Hydro), but not before some parts of the utility had been sold to private interests such as Bruce Power.

The Liberals return to power[edit]

In the October 2003 election, Dalton McGuinty led the Liberals to victory against Ernie Eves and his controversy-plagued Tories, coming in with a solid majority. McGuinty's major promises revolved around increasing health care funding, unraveling Mike Harris's education reforms, and not raising taxes.

Shortly after the election, however, the former provincial auditor undertook a study that revealed that the Harris-Eves Tories had hidden a deficit of at least $5.6 billion. Minister of Finance Greg Sorbara released a budget introducing tax increases on commodities and businesses, the introduction of a new income tax called the "Ontario Health Premium" for all but low-income Ontarians, the de-listing of health-care services from Ontario Health Insurance Plan. The budget, along with the failure to prevent construction on the environmentally sensitive Oak Ridges Moraine after his election made the McGuinty government unpopular during its first few months. During his second month in office, McGuinty had an approval rating of only 8%, a record low. Somewhat surprisingly, even though the new Liberal government were viewed to have broken some of their promises, on December 14, 2003, 60% of Ontarians in an Ipsos-Reid Poll (on behalf of Globe and Mail/CFTO/CFRB) said they were better off governed by the Liberals now than the Conservatives under Ernie Eves.

However, things improved after his first year in office for the public opinion of the Liberals. The Ontario government was able to negotiate a national health accord with the federal government and the other provinces. Free immunizations against chicken pox and meningitis were added to the list of OHIP-covered immunizations for children, McGuinty announced plans for the creation of the "Green Belt" in the Greater Toronto Area to help control urban sprawl, and plans for the creation of a "Citizen's Assembly" to research electoral reform were also announced. The Tories on the other hand took a shift back to the centre and elected John Tory, a former aide of Bill Davis, to lead the party. John Tory stated he opposed the privatization that was advocated by Mike Harris and Ernie Eves, and supported the elimination of health premiums.

The McGuinty government also brought forward a number of regulatory initiatives including legislation to allow patrons to bring their own wine to restaurants, banning junk food in public schools, restricting smoking in public places, especially where minors are present, and requiring students to stay in school until age 18. The government also enacted changes to the Ontario Heritage Act in 2005. Following a series of high-profile maulings, the government also moved to ban Pit Bulls; a move which has generated mixed support.

In the summer of 2003, an Court of Appeal for Ontario rulings resulted in Ontario becoming the first of Canada's provinces and territories to legalize same-sex marriage. (See Same-sex marriage in Ontario.) In response to the court decision, the McGuinty Liberals updated the province's legislation relating to married couples to include same-sex couples.

In 2007 it was announced that the Ontario Citizen's Assembly on Electoral Reform had recommended that Ontario switch to a new electoral system known as Mixed Member Proportional Representation. As a result the Government of Ontario set the date for a referendum on the issue to be October 10, 2007, which is also the date set for the provincial election. The Government also set a "super majority" requirement that requires the support of at least 60% of voters and majority support in 60%[12] of all Ontario ridings for the proposal to be adopted. The MMP system was rejected by Ontario voters.

In 2012, Dalton McGuinty announced his intention to resign from his post as Premier, which left the legislature hung for 6 months and the Liberal Leadership open. On Saturday January 26, 2013, Kathleen Wynne prevailed at the party's convention. She became the first female Premier of Ontario and she became the first gay premier, of any province.

Overview of Ontario federal politics[edit]

Map of Southern Ontario with the ridings shaded based on how they voted in the 2006 federal election.

In general, Ontario is a mixed bag in terms of political trends, despite the fact that the federal Liberals dominated the province from 1993 to 2004 against a "divided right" between the centrist Progressive Conservative Party and strongly conservative Canadian Alliance. However, the merger of these two right-wing parties into the new, right wing Conservative Party of Canada in 2003 has reduced this Liberal dominance.

  • The Greater Toronto Area tends to be split between Conservative and Liberal support. The inner "416" ridings (i.e., those inside the City of Toronto) are usually Liberal and NDP, while the surrounding region "905 belt" is split between Conservatives and Liberals.
  • Most of Northern Ontario is a hotbed for Liberal and NDP support. The southern border areas are more conservative than the northern areas, however, both fiscally and socially. This is most notable in the Parry Sound and Muskoka, Nipissing Districts.
  • Southwestern Ontario is similar to the adjacent US Midwest, with the urban areas generally leaning left (especially Windsor, which is a union bastion and thus an NDP stronghold), and the rural areas being far more conservative.

Further reading[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Romney, Paul (1994). "Mowat, Sir Oliver". In Cook, Ramsay; Hamelin, Jean. Dictionary of Canadian Biography. XIII (1901–1910) (online ed.). University of Toronto Press. 
  2. ^ a b Burley, David G. (1994). "Hardy, Arthur Sturgis". In Cook, Ramsay; Hamelin, Jean. Dictionary of Canadian Biography. XIII (1901–1910) (online ed.). University of Toronto Press. 
  3. ^ "Ontario-Manitoba Boundary Case". 1884. 
  4. ^ Hodge v The Queen (Canada) [1883] UKPC 59, 9 App Cas 117 (15 December 1883), P.C. (on appeal from Ontario)
  5. ^ The Citizens Insurance Company of Canada and The Queen Insurance Company v Parsons [1881] UKPC 49, (1881) 7 A.C. 96 (26 November 1881), P.C. (on appeal from Canada)
  6. ^ Caldwell and another v McLaren [1884] UKPC 21, (1884) 9 A.C. 392 (7 April 1884), P.C. (on appeal from Canada)
  7. ^ St. Catherines Milling and Lumber Company v The Queen [1888] UKPC 70, [1888] 14 AC 46 (12 December 1888), P.C. (on appeal from Canada)
  8. ^ The Attorney General of Ontario v Mercer [1883] UKPC 42, [1883] 8 AC 767 (18 July 1883), P.C. (on appeal from Canada)
  9. ^ a b c Humphries, Charles W. (1998). "Whitney, Sir James Pliny". In Cook, Ramsay; Hamelin, Jean. Dictionary of Canadian Biography. XIV (1911–1920) (online ed.). University of Toronto Press. 
  10. ^ "Bill Davis' politics were anything but 'bland'". Toronto Sun. June 30, 2009. 
  11. ^ a b Anthony DePalma (October 28, 1997). "Teachers Strike in Ontario, Closing Thousands of Schools". The New York Times. 
  12. ^ Perrella, Andrea M.L.; Brown, Steven D.; Kay, Barry J.; Docherty, David C. (2008). "The 2007 Provincial Election and Electoral System Referendum in Ontario". Canadian Political Science Review 2 (1): 78–87. Retrieved October 25, 2013. 

External links[edit]