Getting away from legislative reform for a moment and just looking at the actual boring election, this poll is just amazing. Liberal support at 42 percent, with the Conservatives at 27 percent (and dropping).
For those who don’t follow Ontario politics, which is a lot of you: you have to understand that going into this election, everybody figured that a Conservative victory was likely – either a majority or at least a minority. Dalton McGuinty is quite possibly the least popular provincial leader in Canada right now, and Howard Hampton both lacks personal charisma and leads the NDP, who provincially are still suffering the aftereffects of Bob Rae’s disastrous premiership of the early 90s. The Tories were slightly ahead of the Liberals and everybody thought it was a done deal.
Then John Tory decided to make public funding of religious schools into a campaign issue.
Now, Tory’s position isn’t senseless, because Ontario funds Catholic schools publicly. (For those of you wondering how this is so, it’s a quirk of early Canadian constitutional law that has survived to the present day; back when Canada was formed, educational protection for certain linguistic and religious minorities was written into the Constitution. However, many of these constitutional guarantees have since been repealed.) And any basic concept of fairness to all considered would allow one to argue for equal treatment for Jews, Muslims, et cetera.
Unfortunately, John Tory didn’t read the electorate even remotely wisely in this instance. It turns out that the majority of Ontarians, once they actually remembered “hey, wait, we fund Catholic schools,” remembered that they didn’t like that. Now we’re seeing polling data with seventy percent of Ontarians wanting funding for Catholic schools eliminated.
On top of that, elements of Tory’s core conservative support didn’t like it either! Why? Because there are those who vote Conservative (and, to be fair, those who vote for other parties) who are distinctly uneasy about the potential for public funding of Islamic madrassas – and Tory explicitly promised at the beginning of his campaign that Muslim schools would be paid for under his plan. Tory candidates started publicly stating they would not vote in favour of religious school funding – and not just Tories running in tough ridings, but those with relatively safe seats.
But wait, it gets better! In the last week and a half, John Tory has been backpedaling desperately, promising a free vote in the legislature on the religious school funding issue. (For those unfamiliar with parliamentary politics, that’s a vote where the party doesn’t bind the vote of the individual members.) Thus, John Tory managed, in essence, to break a promise before actually being elected. Worse, he did it and nobody believed him, because the Jewish school lobby that had been campaigning so hard for equal funding for religious schools kept telling anybody who would listen that a vote for the Conservatives was a vote for religious school funding – so now John Tory was just an out-and-out liar, or at least perceived as one.
And now John Tory is one day away from what’s possibly the worst electoral flameout since the federal Tory collapse of 1993. (Which, as others have mentioned, was a campaign in which John Tory was deeply involved.) The odds are strong that Tory will actually not even win his own seat, as he bravely chose to run in traditionally leftish Toronto against Kathleen Wynne, a popular minister in the current Liberal government, and she’s leading him in riding polls.
It’s a shame, because John Tory is, honestly, a reasonable individual – the exemplar of “welcome opposition,” a shrewd and personable technocrat who honestly enjoys writing public policy with an eye towards fixing things (from his admittedly biased perspective). But that’s how a life in politics goes, sometimes.