There is a something going on within the Ontario Liberal party right now that carries a distinct aroma. It’s hard to put a finger on, but it bears more than a hint of Hillary Clinton.
The Toronto Star, which lives to promote eternal Liberal rule, has been dropping heavy hints that Premier Kathleen Wynne ought to give some thought to retirement, clearing the way for a more popular person to lead the party into next year’s election, presuming one could be found. On Tuesday it ran a front-page story in which unnamed (i.e. very nervous) Liberals shared their frustration at Wynne’s extreme unpopularity, and the dark portents it carries. One clearly perplexed loyalist shared what must be a common complaint: not only is Wynne tracking way behind the opposition Tories, but she’s way behind a Tory party led by Patrick Brown.
According to the Star report: “There’s no way we should lose to Patrick Brown — he’s an empty suit with no plan.”
Another Liberal complained: “If our vote collapses, there’s a very real possibility (NDP leader) Andrea Horwath could be the next premier of Ontario … Andrea is more dangerous to us than Patrick.”
If this sounds vaguely familiar it may be because it’s exactly the problem that vexed members of the Clinton campaign team as they struggled to understand how their dear leader could possibly be doing so badly against two such obvious (to them) lightweights as Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.
To Clintonites, it was inconceivable that so many Democrats could prefer Sanders, the wild-eyed socialist senator from Vermont, to Clinton, the former FLOTUS, senator and secretary of state. Once Clinton managed, barely, to wrestle the party nomination from Sanders, they were even more baffled that she had such trouble putting any distance between herself and Donald Trump, the crude, cartoonish, ill-informed reality TV star who owned a bunch of real estate in New York. Right down to election night they refused to consider the possibility that Americans might actually prefer Trump. Clinton herself had to be nudged, twice, by Barack Obama to pick up the phone and concede defeat, long after it was clear all hope was lost.
You get that same sense of disbelief — and perhaps a touch of denial — from Ontario Liberals, and not a few Tory sympathizers as well. Much as voters express dislike of Wynne and the deeply indebted, overburdened and overregulated province her Liberals have created, they find it difficult to accept that voters will opt for Brown instead. In the 19 months since he unexpectedly won the Progressive Conservative leadership he’s barely scratched the surface of public awareness. Image-wise he’s had all the impact of weak tea.
He’s so little-known that Liberals struggle to smear him. They’d like to trash him as a hard-right social conservative ex-Harperite who hates immigrants and would impose extremist values on an unsuspecting province, but can’t make it stick. Perhaps that’s because Brown won the nomination by relentlessly courting ethnic Ontarians in towns and cities across the province. In February he easily evaded a Liberal trap, speaking firmly in favour of a motion condemning Islamophobia. “Whether it’s hate against any faith, it’s wrong. I will always stand in opposition to any form of hate. Islamophobia is a problem and we must stand up against it,” he asserted.
He’s even spoiled Liberal hopes of tarring as a knuckle-dragging climate-change denier, pledging party support for a carbon tax, albeit one he says will return the money to Ontarians rather than spending it on new projects as the Liberals plan to do.
The Liberals won the past three elections with a great deal of help from stumbles by their opponents. They are counting heavily on Brown to help them do that again — given their track record, and the deep well of dissatisfaction percolating through the province, it’s almost all they have to cling to. Their success in escaping defeat so often in the past means few prognosticators are willing to write off their ability to do so again, just as the U.S. press overwhelmingly resisted accepting that Clinton could indeed lose an election to Donald Trump. No one liked Dalton McGuinty much either, and he won three times, right? Maybe Ontarians are just that addle-brained that they’ll continually vote for a government they can’t stand, who knows?
A new book on the Clinton defeat puts her loss down to a monumental sense of hubris within the campaign and a mountain of mistakes and misjudgements that finally caught up to her. Americans, it turned out, had had enough of Hillary Clinton, and wanted someone else. Ontario Liberals don’t want to believe that can happen here. But people are funny, and when they’ve had enough, they’ve had enough.
National Post by Kelly McParland
April 21st 2017