Editorial board endorsements reflect electoral confusion, disappointment

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Over the weekend, the four major Toronto dailies endorsed their picks in the provincial election campaign. The National Post and the Toronto Sun threw their enthusiastic support behind Tim Hudak’s PC Party. The Toronto Star endorsed Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals, while the editorial board of the Globe and Mail all but threw up their hands in exasperation at the dearth of electoral options, and begrudgingly endorsed a PC government – but only if they are restrained by “the short leash of a minority” parliament.

The assessment of the current political situation was consistent across all four endorsements: the Ontario Liberals have been in power for a long time and are getting stale; they’ve enjoyed a long history of governing, and despite a change in leadership are dragging around all of the baggage that accompanies that history. But the solution proposed in response to this situation varies quite significantly.

For the Sun and the Post, the answer is quite simply to turf the Liberals. The Globe and the Star, however, take a more nuanced view, acknowledging that none of the available political options presents an ideal solution for the future of the province.

For the Toronto Sun, the primary concern is with getting government spending under control. As such, their endorsement unequivocally supports Tim Hudak’s proposed program of public sector cuts and corporate tax breaks. The National Post endorsement condemns what it sees as a Liberal track record of scandal and fiscal mismanagement, while insisting on the province’s desperate need for fiscal austerity and cheering Tim Hudak’s proposed war with broader public sector unions, lower corporate taxes and less regulation as the solution that will save the province from certain economic doom.

The Star, by contrast, throws its support behind the Liberals on the merit of Kathleen Wynne’s leadership over the last 16 months. Despite the Liberal Party’s baggage, they are presented as the only political option that can hold off the austerity agenda proposed by Tim Hudak’s PC Party and provide “a reasonable and balanced way forward for the province.”

The Globe and Mail endorsement is perhaps the most interesting (and perhaps confusing), insofar as it would be a stretch to even call it an endorsement. The Globe editorial board expresses its dissatisfaction with all of the parties – “to vote somebody out of office, you have to vote somebody else in. And the alternatives aren’t ideal.” The PC Party and its leader are presented as a barely-viable alternative to the Liberals, “running on a platform of simplistic slogans” and requiring significant maturation and moderation. The only way the Globe editorial could bring themselves to endorse a PC government was to specify that it would have to be a PC minority (a qualification that voters can’t actually act on at the ballot box).

The endorsements that come out in favour of the PC Party are all fixated on the need to adopt austerity measures in order to balance the budget and reduce the provincial debt, which is perceived as an impediment to economic growth. But the logic behind this kind of austerity has been debunked. Moreover, the PC Party endorsements fail to consider that despite their proposed program of corporate tax cuts, decreased regulation and public sector cuts would be economically devastating. Removing 100,000 good middle class jobs from the economy would harm economic recovery while harming public services.

Overall, the major endorsements are a response to the particular character of the election itself: low on substance, given to partisan mudslinging, dominated by glib slogans, and absent of important issues like health care and education. The endorsements are all over the map because the parties have either failed to articulate a clear vision for Ontario’s future, or presented a future so grim as to be unpalatable. Truly, a time for picking the least bad option.

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