It began with a stillborn budget and ended in a flurry of bitterly acrimonious ads.
At one level, Ontario’s election campaign was about two quite different views of the economy.
Tim Hudak’s Conservatives promised to create jobs through spending cuts.
Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals and Andrea Horwath’s New Democrats said this kind of austerity could only make matters worse.
Yet at another level, the campaign wasn’t about much at all.
On health care, there was no real debate. Both the NDP and Conservatives have implicitly accepted the cutbacks to health spending instituted under the Liberals.
All three parties paid homage to the need for more home care. The Liberals promised better wages for personal support workers. The NDP said it would open more long-term care beds.
But behind these promises was the assumption that whoever forms government after the June 12 vote will somehow be able to find money for new projects — even as the health budget continues to be ratcheted down.
The Tories said they could save by eliminating health bureaucrats. The NDP has said it could save by cutting hospital CEO salaries.
Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals boasted that they were the party that had finally brought health-care spending under control.
Incidentally, the Tories also said they would offer OHIP patients more “choice.” When used by conservatives, the word “choice” is usually code for privatization. But there has been no debate on that either.
Climate change? Scientists call it the most important single issue of our times. But in this election campaign, it received barely a mention.
The Liberals made little effort to defend their only climate-change initiative — the badly flawed, green energy plan.
The Tories dealt with that plan as a deadweight cost that needed to be eliminated. The NDP didn’t talk about it much at all.
So, too, nuclear energy. Ontario Power Generation’s plan to bury intermediate and low-level nuclear waste beside Lake Huron has divided local communities there.
But in this campaign, no major party talked about what to do with the province’s growing stockpiles of nuclear waste.
Nor was there any serious debate on the costly and time-consuming refurbishment of Ontario’s existing nuclear plants.
Education is a major provincial responsibility. Yet only the Greens — with their plan to merge Catholic and public school boards — made it a priority plank in their platform.
The Tories focused on education as a cost problem, promising to cut teachers and increase class sizes. The Liberals pledged to introduce all-day kindergarten by the fall. The NDP said it would hire more educational assistances and specialist teachers.
There was almost no debate on whether schools are doing a good job.
The parties’ fiscal stances are different — but not wildly so. The Liberals and NDP say they’ll eliminate the deficit by 2017-18 (the NDP would raise corporate taxes). The Tories say they’ll do it a year earlier (they’d cut corporate taxes).
All three parties say they’ll be able to kill the deficit and spend billions on public transit.
Curiously, throughout the campaign, there was virtually no focus on the May 1 Liberal budget, the document that ostensibly triggered this election.
For instance: Does Wynne’s proposed new Ontario pension plan make any sense? The Liberals haven’t given many details and the other parties haven’t really asked.
But that should be no surprise. In the end, this election campaign wasn’t focused much on content at all. Nor, in spite of the leaders’ early efforts, was it focused on who would do the best job in government.
Rather it ended up being about who would do the worst job.
In the final days, advertising dominated the campaign. And the question pounded through those ads was stark: Whom do you fear most?
The Liberals and their allies say you should fear cost-cutter Hudak.
The Conservatives and New Democrats say you should fear being hosed — again — by the Liberals.