Analysis

Ontario election 2014: Too soon to rule out a coalition

There’s a very real chance Ontario voters will deliver another minority government to Queen’s Park - be it Progressive Conservative or Liberal. So, enter the "C" word. Coalition.

Polls suggest a tight race that may not give any party a majority

There’s a very real chance Ontario voters will deliver another minority government to Queen’s Park in the June 12 election. So, enter the “C” word -- coalition, writes Genevieve Tomney. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

If the polls are any indication, the weeks immediately following election day could be even more full of political manoeuvring than the long, winding trail of brinkmanship that got us here in the first place.

This week's leaders' debate was not the kind of dramatic rumble likely to swing the campaign momentum in one direction or another. Rather it seems to be firming up what we already knew. It's a race so tight, that one leader may need a shoehorn to squeeze into the role of premier at the end of it.

There's a very real chance Ontario voters will deliver another minority government to Queen's Park — Progressive Conservative or Liberal. So, enter the "C" word. Coalition. 

Only a few days ago, Kathleen Wynne wouldn't rule out the possibility that her Liberals and Andrea Horwath's New Democrats could suck up months of rancour and make nice — if their union could keep Tim Hudak from becoming premier.

But in a post-debate world, careening toward the June 12 election, Wynne's taking a different tack. On Wednesday, she stated, "whoever wins the most seats in this election has the right to form government."

The strategy

Granted, Wynne wasn't getting much love from the NDP. Grilled about it this week, Andrea Horwath repeated that she had no intention of propping up the "corrupt" Liberals any more. Still, there's obvious strategy behind the Liberal leader's move. 

First, if left-leaning voters think they can go orange or red on election day and still get a progressive government — there's risk of splitting support. Eager to win her own majority mandate, Wynne's doing a bit of scare-mongering, effectively taking that option off the table and hoping to galvanize the vote in her camp.

Wynne's stance also puts up a shield against Hudak using the spectre of a left-wing coalition to help get his supporters to the polls and try to bring some of the more centrist, undecided voters his way.

That said, there is precedent for a kind of coalition government in Ontario. It happened in 1985 when David Peterson ended 42 years of conservative government in the province by creating "The Accord" with the NDP leader at the time, Bob Rae.

Turbulent decades

That move was just the beginning of two turbulent decades in the history of Ontario provincial politics. 

The next three elections delivered majorities to all three parties. First the Liberals, then an NDP victory (which stunned even Bob Rae) and finally a hard turn to the right under Mike Harris and his PC ‘Common Sense Revolution.'

After nearly 11 years of Liberal rule in Ontario, 2014's snap election could be a harbinger of another kind of shift in the political landscape  a shift that could create some serious potholes and usher in a period of uncertain times, if a minority government should land on the doorstep of Queen's Park once again.

For now, the "C" word has become a foul word on these crucial final days of campaigning.

But, despite the protestations of all three party leaders, it's likely far too soon to rule anything out.

About the Author

Genevieve Tomney

Ontario Votes

Genevieve Tomney joined CBC News as a reporter in 2007. She's had the opportunity to work on both the east and west coasts of Canada in Vancouver, Halifax, Fredericton and Saint John. In 2010, she jumped at the chance to move back to her hometown of Toronto and join the CBC News Toronto team. She has covered major stories for CBC News, from the Russell Williams sentencing hearings in Belleville to the Toronto leg of CBC's Gemini Award-nominated coverage of the Queen's 2010 Royal Visit. She is reporting from the leaders' campaigns during the 2014 Ontario election.

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