Being a conservative (both economic and social) by nature, I tend to subscribe to a lot of Tory feeds on Twitter. You can therefore imagine the overall tone of my Twitter feed yesterday — perhaps a “progressive” ironist would even label it as appropriate for Friday the 13th.
Anyway. Now that people have had a chance to calm down and think about this, perhaps you’d like to hear an alternative take on the situation. Which begins as follows:
- This is not a disaster.
You want to see what real political disaster looks like? Take a glimpse at Ukraine, Iraq, Syria. The economic situation of the province isn’t peachy, but neither is it as dire as what’s happening in those nations — and even given our political situation, it’s highly unlikely that Ontario will fall to that level. And what’s more:
- The government is screwed, no matter who’s in charge.
This is the natural result of over a decade of errors in fiscal management by past governments: whoever was going to win Thursday’s vote was going to wind up hamstrung by the bureaucrats in the Ministry of Finance, pointing to balance sheets and telling politicians that whatever ambitious spending they want to do, they can no longer borrow more money to do it.
- Provincial Tories have a four-year opportunity to craft themselves into the next government.
During the past Wynne minority, Tim Hudak did a creditable job as Opposition leader, but his strategy was still based on the politics of protest. And voters know that a good protestor is not necessarily someone ready to handle power — that’s the convention that’s kept the New Democrats out of power on the federal level, and Bob Rae actually proved that maxim during his premiership.
Renewal, for the provincial Tories, has to mean more than just replacing the leader. It also means developing individual caucus members so that they turn into effective critics for their portfolios, ready to push Wynne’s ministers to the wall not only on the strength of rhetoric, but also on their knowledge of the topic and grasp of alternatives to whatever the government proposes. I’m not entirely certain that the typical Ontario voter can name the Tory finance critic, since the media focus was almost always on Hudak. That’s a situation that has to change, and the party has four years to do it.
Renewal also means growing the party base, something that Hudak neglected to do. Does anyone recall seeing an outreach to voters from the provincial Tories — town hall meetings, newsletters, updates to party websites that talk about something more than fundraising or the perfidy of the Government? As Jason Kenney can attest, outreach to communities can pay dividends at the voting booth.
- Ontario’s blogging Tories also have an opportunity to become a potent force in the political dialogue of the province.
They’ve now got the motivation; now it’s time to get serious, the way the Blogging Tories did on the national level in 2005-06. That means doing more — much more — that simply ranting at the latest policy announcement from Queen’s Park. People dismiss partisan rants. They can’t as easily dismiss properly informed criticisms.
It means doing research, relying on more than reporting from legacy media. It means scanning the Ontario Gazette, perusing Hansard, going through committee reports and transcripts, looking at the stuff that reporters and pundits leave out of their own dispatches, to find and make critical points about Wynne’s policies that will resonate with their audience, both the dedicated partisan and the casual browser.
Of course, earning credibility in the eyes of the blog reader will depend crucially on the following step:
- It’s now time to give proper respect to the accomplishment of Kathleen Wynne.
This is something I have always stressed, in discussing politics: you must always respect your opponent. If you do not respect them, you will dismiss them; if you dismiss them, you will ignore them; if you ignore them, you will forget them; if you for get them, you will not know what they can do to you — until it’s too late. And Premier Wynne is no exception to this rule.
She has fans, many from outside the province who aren’t eligible to vote in Ontario but who admire her for what she’s accomplished. That is something that must be borne in mind: that whatever criticism is to be made not be based on an assumed stereotype or shallow knowledge.
It’s time to acknowledge this possibility: that, four or five years from now, Premier Wynne can call an election, conduct a good campaign, and secure a second majority. If the conservative movement in Ontario does not want this to happen, then the serious work of rebuilding itself has to begin now.