Thursday, July 02, 2009

Will Hudak Become Ontario's Premier?

Margaret Wente is a generally small 'c' conservative Globe columnist (remember her persistent denials about climate change earlier in this decade) so her perception of the neo-Harrisite party that just selected Tim Hudak as their leader as "a bunch of old white guys so lost in the woods they make Stephen Harper's crowd look enlightened", should be making the Tories nervous. Wente is also a Torontonian.

Memories are short. The big victory of the Harris Conservatives in 1995 included victory in a majority of the constituencies in what is now Toronto (they won most of Etobicoke and Scarborough plus ridings like Willowdale and Don Mills, even the downtown riding of St. George-St. David). Merely to recount this is to say how much the world has changed since then. The context that permitted Harris to be successful in 1995 is no longer around with one exception.

Mike Harris was elected at the end of a long economic downturn. The Ontario Liberals will be coming to the end of their second term in 2011 and the economy could still be quite weak. This would be a potential electoral asset for Hudak depending on many circumstances currently unknown.

A key difference is going to be strategic voting - not a factor in 1995. The election of Hudak is potentially a disaster for Andrea Horwath's Ontario NDP: many New Democrats will vote strategically to avoid a return to the Harris years. Numerous others will be receptive to Liberal messaging we will soon hear over and over again that attempts cement the impression of Margaret Wente in the minds of the Ontario electorate.

Many neocons here yearn for the Harris years the way Republicans yearn for Ronald Reagan - a return to a mythical glamourized past. A Hudak premiership will more than likely be comparable to the regime of George W. Bush, ideological to be sure, but ultimately a political disaster. However, Hudak may never make it that far.

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