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Ontario election: OK, that didn't really work … can we get back to being New Democrats now?

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Kathleen Wynne

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Well! That didn't work out quite as well as we'd hoped, did it? Can we get back to being New Democrats now?

I speak, of course, of the results of last night's Ontario provincial election -- in which it seems to me from my vantage point out here on the Great Plains that there are lessons in the vote for New Democrats in the west and the New Democrats in Ottawa too.

I realize that the great Canadian tradition of punditry is for the pundit to spin his or her favoured party's electoral defeat as really being a victory.

We'll be seeing lots of that this morning, I expect, as Conservative partisans at the National Post, Sun News Network and like outfits explain why Premier Kathleen Wynne's Liberals' decisive defeat last night of Tim Hudak's Tea Party Conservatives, through the medium of an an NDP budget, really means Ontarians want more conservative government, and, what's more, that it's actually good news for Stephen Harper's Reform Party Government in Ottawa.

Both those propositions are mostly baloney, of course, but that won't stop them from being trotted out by the very same people who just days ago were warning Ontarians not to fail to elect Hudak's destructive, dishonest, economically ignorant, anti-worker, fundamentally un-Canadian party just because it made up factoids, got caught lying about them, used the Koch Brothers' economist to cook the numbers, and planned to start off by destroying 100,000 jobs. Naturally, they'll also blame unions -- as if union members shouldn't have a right to vote.

Indeed, Hudak's program was so egregiously bad that even the members of the Globe and Mail's Tory-to-the-bone editorial board were set to endorse Wynne's Liberals until someone in the Roy Thomson Room at corporate headquarters picked up the good, grey telephone and gave them their marching orders.

Of course, conservative pundits out here in the west, and that's pretty well all of them, will be telling you the Ontario election is good news for Alberta because companies will move here now since this province is so well run. Don't believe that either. We're rich because we won the oil lottery. And we don't want to share.

Not being a real paid pundit, though, I'm going to break with tradition and say that the Ontario New Democrats, the party I not-so-secretly lean toward, could have done a heck of a lot better last night if they’d only acted like New Democrats instead of pretending to be conservatives.

Agreed, last night wasn't a rout for the NDP. They hung on to most of their voters, and shuffled the deck chairs to hold the same number of seats. Unlike Hudak, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath won't have to resign in ignominy. As Tom Walkom of the Toronto Star put it, they're merely back to Square One.

Still, surely they could have done better if they'd paid attention to the evidence that what the people of Ontario wanted was … a New Democratic Party government.

I've been thinking for months that the Ontario New Democrats really had a chance to win this one. After all, enough people in Ontario are genuinely progressive, plus it's been long enough for them to forget the NDP government led by Bob Rae, and he's a Liberal nowadays anyway. Polls suggested Ontario voters recognized the Liberals richly deserved to be punished for their myriad sins of the recent past. And Ontarians were smart enough to recognize that 11 years in power is too long for any party -- Alberta! Ah-hem!

But they were obviously pretty hesitant to use the sadistic wreckers of the unprogressive Ontario Progressive Conservatives to punish the Liberals because they recognized that, like the Harper Government in Ottawa, it held democratic institutions in contempt and has been infected with the extremist virus that has taken control of the Republican Party south of the Medicine Line.

The phrase "cutting off your nose to spite your face" springs to mind for using a party like Hudak's to punish a party like Wynne's. In other words, Ontario voters weren't fools.

All the New Democrats really had to do to have a chance to win the government of Ontario, it's said here, was act like New Democrats. For some reason, alas, Horwath decided to take another road, and by now we all know how that worked out.

So Horwath and her caucus voted down the budget that included a lot of what New Democrat voters pray for -- infrastructure spending, public transit, pension improvements. This brought down the Liberal government, setting up last night's less-than-optimum outcome from the NDP perspective.

Maybe just like generals are famously said to do, the NDP's strategists were fighting the last war. Ontarians obviously decided that they’d rather have NDP policies than the NDP name with Conservative policies. Under the circumstances, it’s pretty hard not to agree with them.

Of course the knock against Liberals -- entirely justified by history -- is that they blink left and turn right. So we’ll see if Wynne keeps her promise and passes the budget the NDP helped defeat. And then there are the next couple of budgets after that, when Ontario will have to confront its $12.5-billion deficit.

And, yeah, the Liberals obviously persuaded quite a few NDP voters to change their votes by saying the Hudak Cons were scary. But they were scary! That's the problem with the first-past-the-post system, which we're probably stuck with, because if Canada adopted proportional representation we'd have progressive governments forever.

As for the so-called Conservatives, there's a lesson for them here too -- but they're likely too far gone to take it. So many Canadians have had enough of their evil market-fundamentalist theology that they need to go back to being the kind of conservatives that actually conserve stuff worth keeping. Don't hold your breath waiting for that to happen.

For their part, Ontario’s Liberals need to recognize they got re-elected because voters wanted the policies they said they'd deliver. As a matter of fact, we've just watched this movie out here in Alberta, and it didn't have a happy ending for the lead character.

Folks here were richly sick of the Progressive Conservatives in 2012, and rightly so, but they didn't really want to elect a party that at the time sounded a lot like Hudak's Conservatives. So they participated in the weird Alberta custom of joining the PCs for $5 and helping the governing party choose its leader, picking the apparently most progressive candidate of the lot. In addition, many progressive Albertans voted PC, instead of their traditional parties, because they were afraid of the only likely alternative.

It all turned out to be a dirty trick, though, and after two years with Alison Redford at the helm, this time it looks like they will be less susceptible to taking the same bait again.

We'll see about that, I guess, but the advice from the Prairies to Wynne is to do what Redford should have done and govern like the progressive leader that electors voted for, not a Tim Hudak-Stephen Harper clone with delusions of grandeur.

But whatever the future holds, congratulations to Kathleen Wynne and her Liberals tonight. They certainly deserve it!

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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