“We’re not toast,” insisted Ontario Premier Ernie Eves last weekend. As he spoke, however, the fact that his government had already begun to turn visibly brown and crispy was clear to all who have been following the election. By the time polls closed on Thursday, we all had to unplug the toaster, turn it upside down and shake it vigorously in order to see the last charred crumbs of the Eves government.

The defeat of the Common Sense Revolution (which Elizabeth Witmer prematurely declared “over” when she launched her leadership bid), can only be a good thing. For eight years, the Harris and Eves governments systematically undermined our health care and education systems, our key public services, and the very social fabric of the province of Ontario. They targeted the poor, immigrants, workers, young people, teachers, and public servants for particularly bad treatment, but virtually every Ontarian has suffered in some way from the actions of this government. Only the richest one per cent emerged unscathed.

So, the defining question of this election was not whether we “choose change;” voters had already decided to do that. The real question was and is, what kind of change we will get with a Liberal government.

Now, I know that many people in the Liberal Party are sincere in promising that their government will reverse the worst excesses of the Tories. I also expect that they will make a few highly symbolic changes to start off their term, and I will welcome those changes as much as the next person. But, over the long term, my fear is that a McGuinty government won’t really be that much different at all.

Even assuming that the Liberals intend to do everything that they’ve promised to do, it appears very unlikely that they’ll be able to afford to do so. The Infomercial Budget projected that they would be starting off their term in government with balanced books, but economists, bond rating agencies and interest groups of all political stripes are projecting that they will actually be looking at a deficit of between $2 billion and $5 billion. Moreover, the Liberals have grossly underestimated the cost of some of their promises, including the very worthwhile objective of limiting primary class sizes to 20 children, and the more questionable objective of forcing people to go to school until they turn 18.

Dalton McGuinty has already admitted that he may have to break some of his election promises, but he won’t say which ones he’ll break. The most specific answer he was willing to give is that he “may have to slow down the pace of change.” Given that the Liberals proposed pace of change is already plenty slow enough, that’s enough to make those who voted Liberal stop and think. Instead of increasing the minimum wage to $8 an hour over four years, will he slow down the increases to $8 an hour over eight years? Will he build 20,000 units of affordable housing over ten years, instead of over four years? Inquiring minds want to know.

I was never naïve or optimistic enough to think that the NDP was going to overtake the Liberals and form the next government. But with NDP numbers going up, and the Tories in a free fall, I did think that Howard Hampton could easily have become the Leader of the Official Opposition. Who forms the opposition, and how strong that opposition is (both in terms of seats and popular vote), makes a real difference in how any government acts. Remember the contrast between the progressive Peterson Liberal government of 1985 to 1987 and the corrupt Peterson Liberal government of 1987 to 1990? Remember how right wing the Chretien government was from 1993 to 1997, when the NDP didn’t have official party status and the time in Question Period that goes with it? Giving any party too large a majority breeds arrogance and contempt for opposing views.

Other than the sheer satisfaction of seeing so many Tories go down to defeat, one of the principal benefits of a Tory collapse has been that voters actually felt free to vote for what they believe in. Campaigning for the NDP, I can’t tell you how many times I heard in 1999 and in the early part of this campaign that people preferred our platform and our candidate, but felt that they simply had to vote Liberal to stop the Tories. That was no longer the case, after the Liberals firmly reestablished their wide lead in the provincial polls, after the Kitchener-Waterloo Record published its own local polls showing the Tory vote collapsing, and after Howard Hampton won the Leader’s debate. Now, more than any time since 1990, voters are coming back to the party in significant numbers.

As Howard Hampton said when he was in Waterloo last Saturday morning, “You no longer have to base your vote on what you fear; you can base your vote on what you want.” That — along with the election results themselves — calls for a toast.


Scott Piatkowski

Scott Piatkowski is a former columnist for rabble.ca. He wrote a weekly column for 13 years that appeared in the Waterloo Chronicle, the Woolwich Observer and ECHO Weekly. He has also written for Straight...