It’s about Ontario, not the crooning of Danny Boy

October 6th, 2008
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God is on the side of the largest battalions, or so said Napoleon. This is the prospect facing western Canadians in the rundown to next week’s election. Pluralities or majorities across western Canada decided some time ago how they think the country should be run. Other regions have exhibited a fey whimsicality, to put it daintily. More crudely, informed by their always-trustworthy political leaders of the centre-left to loony left that the Conservatives are scary, they have proved easily scared.

So far. Although it’s unlikely the election will be “decided” by the time denizens of the central time zone switch on their TVs next Tuesday, the scope of the result will largely be shaped by the nation’s bulging populous midriff (leaving some suspense over how B.C. might split).

Much of the focus so far has been on the Conservative’s apparently flagging support in Quebec, following the surge that at one point suggested a huge gain of seats. At least one article questions the most recent conventional wisdom on the downturn, however. Quebec provided a significant victory for the Tories in 2006, both for its unexpectedness and for its crucial role in helping the party form a slim minority government.

Even more significant was the Conservatives’ failure to make strong inroads in Ontario, where the number of seats is so much greater. Dr. J. was reminded of this interminably over the last 18 months by a veteran Ontario Blue who could reel off the challenges Conservatives faced in winning over the doughty though guarded yeomanry of Upper Canada. Adding insult to injury was the reminder of just how many seats were at play in the GTA or Greater Toronto Area relative to the vast, less populated regions of the country. (We’ll stop there before we descend into a full-blown 80’s-vintage Senate reform rant).

Over the past several days the main focus for journos has been on the compelling narrative of Quebec turning its back on the Tories because of their brutal, philistine cuts to the arts and their urges to hang every sticky-fingered teenaged Jean-Claude, Jean-Marc and Jean-Guy who couldn’t resist pocketing a cube of maple sugar. Quebec’s cooling electoral ardour is important, if true, though more on the level of foregone opportunity than outright defeat, since nobody is predicting an expulsion.

In our judgment, the more important story is that sizable areas of Ontario that until now twirled and minced just out of grasp, resisting sufficiently to prevent significant seat gains, appear to be shifting enough to turn a significant number of seats. See this story.

Looking more closely at the polls shows it appears to be considerably more about the Liberal drop in Ontario (from 39 percent support in the last election to 28 percent in this poll) than about a Conservative surge (37 percent then, 40 now). The party we back is benefiting handsomely from the crowded market on the left, something Mr. K. wrote about in the Calgary Herald nearly a year ago.

The movement in Ontario is far more significant than the threat of losing two seats in Newbrador due to Danny Williams’ “ABC” campaign, as entertaining as the premier’s histrionics may be to journos.

With five federal parties drawing meaningful public support, four of them on the left and all with unevenly and in some cases bizarrely distributed support, there could still be some surprising results. The election’s outcome – including the crucial issue of a Conservative majority or minority – could hinge on strange party vote splits in B.C.’s Lower Mainland. However, the overall magnitude of the Conservative Party’s gains – barring a last-minute collapse – will be set by Ontario. Biggest battalions.

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By John Weissenberger and George Koch