Ontario Provincial Politics ~ Kitchener-Waterloo By-Election

the Ontario flag flag flies against a blue sky

If memory serves, the well respected Elizabeth Witmer, was one of only two or three Conservative MPs who actually retained their seats after the Mike Harris Government was voted out. Ms Witmer has been Minister of something more often than not during the course of her career, so her Kitchener-Waterloo riding was the very definition of a Conservative “safe seat.” So long as she occupied it.

During the election, Ms Witmer insisted more than once she would serve out her term if elected. Now, less than a year in, Dalton McGuinty has generously appointed her Chair of Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board. .

So there will be a by-election in her vacant Kitchener-Waterloo riding. Strategically this election is very important, since a single seat is all that stands between the McGuinty Liberals and a majority. Dalton McGuinty has got to want that seat very badly.

I received a robo-call inviting me to Wednesday’s Kitchener-Waterloo Progressive-Conservative “Town Hall” to meet Tim Hudak and Tracey Weiler, the new Progressive-Conservative Candidate who will be running in the by-election caused by Elizabeth Witmer’s resignation.

But I don’t live in that riding.

Not even close, and my phone number is clearly tied to a street address in my riding. So why did I get the call?

Probably because I listened to a robo-call “Town Hall” over the very same phone line during the last election. It turned out to be what sounded like a tightly scripted conversation between Tim Hudak and my riding candidate, and felt kind of like a personalized election commercial. My guess is that the party would assume anyone willing to listen to such a thing would be a supporter.

Thing is, I’m not. I don’t support any political party. I don’t even like the party system, particularly as practised here. I don’t vote by rote. Every election campaign is a new adventure, and I learn who the candidates are and try to find out what they stand for before casting my vote.

As long as we continue with this antiquated electoral system, the absolute last thing we need is a majority government. Still, even if I went to the meeting and decided Tracey Weiler was the perfect candidate, I can’t vote for her unless I move there. Not gonna happen.

So why would   the PC party want me there? Perhaps to pack the hall with party faithful, more than can be drummed up from the actual riding. Having a full house would make for better photos. These days the appearance of strength has the power to tip an election. When you have an adversarial system like ours, backing the winner can be its own reward. In the same way polls can help manipulate an electoral outcome, this is a clear case of messing with the electorate’s perceptions. It’s exactly the type of thing that makes me dislike party politics.

Even so, if you live in the Kitchener-Waterloo riding, you might want to check out this Town Hall.

the ontario flag hangs limp

I can well understand why Mr. McGuinty would want to regain a majority: it’s much more difficult to govern a province democratically. Except for the term limit, any majority won under our inequitable electoral system is indistinguishable from a dictatorship, so a government majority is never good for citizens.

I agree with the Fair Vote Canada contention: “Your vote should count,” which is why strategic voting is not something I ever endorse. Even if it brings the short term result I’d like, but it is really an attempt to game the system that only helps entrench it. We’ll never change it if we think we can fool it into working. My thinking is simply that we will never elect the candidates we want if we don’t vote for them.

But this isn’t a general election. This is a by-election which could turn the McGuinty Liberal Minority into a Majority. Which is, of course, the only explanation why a Liberal Premier would give such a plumb to such a powerful enemy. It’s why all the parties are campaigning so hard for this crucial seat.

And it’s another reason I dislike our system.  Although the politicians we elect to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario are supposed to govern Ontario on our behalf, the winner-take-all nature of our adversarial political system discourages anything like co-operation, instead polarizing the parties into enemy camps. Political parties look out for the party first, and constituents second.  I’d prefer to live in a place where the Premier would make such an appointment because it was the right thing to do, not because it gives him a second chance at a majority. Instead live in a province where patronage is the norm.

So although I don’t actually live in the Kitchener-Waterloo riding, I would be seriously considering voting strategically in this by-election if I did. Because no majority government is ever good for the citizens.  And I wonder,

Can Ontario really afford another majority government?

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