Election 101: Here's what you need to know about the Ontario election

A leaders debate has already been held but the 2018 Ontario election officially launches today.
Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne and Progressive Conservative leader Doug Ford. (Chris Young/Canadian Press, Michael Charles Cole/CBC and Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

A leaders debate has already been held but the 2018 Ontario election campaign officially launches today.

The writ will drop today, signalling the start of the campaign. What is the writ and what does it mean when it's dropped? What services does the provincial government provide? Should you vote for the party or your local candidate?

We put these questions to Laure Paquette, an associate professor of political science at Lakehead University.

Laure Paquette, is an associate professor in the department of political science at Lakehead University. (John Nistico)

What does it mean that the writ has dropped?

Paquette says it means the premier of the province has gone to the lieutenant governor and asked for the election to be called.

"It's now the election law that the writ must be dropped on a Wednesday," she said.

"The campaign ends on the day of the vote which has to be on a Thursday, five weeks hence."

She adds once the writ is dropped, rules about election spending and fundraising are put in place.

Who are you voting for in a provincial election?

Paquette says you're voting for a representative of a party in your riding.

"Whichever party elects the most members gets to form the government," she said.

"The only exception is if there's a three-way split, then sometimes you have to have a coalition."

What about independent candidates?

Paquette says these are candidates who are not running to represent a particular party.

"If one of them is elected, then that person is an MPP at Queen's Park, gets the salary and everything, but doesn't belong to a party caucus and therefore doesn't have party support to get elected and doesn't have party support to get legislation passed," she said.

"The role of the independent MPP I would say is, at best, to be a thorn in the side of the authorities."

So how is the premier chosen?

The premier is the leader of the political party that gets the most seats, Paquette said and the leader of a party is chosen before an election.

Ontario Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne speaks at an event on May 8, 2017. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

In Ontario, Kathleen Wynne is the leader of the Liberal Party, Doug Ford is head of the Progressive Conservatives and Andrea Horwath is the leader of the NDP.

Do leaders have to run in a riding to win?

Paquette says all the leaders have to run in their own ridings and get elected.

"Usually as a courtesy the other parties don't campaign too hard in those ridings so that the leaders can focus on what's going on in the province at large," she said.

"If you're looking for people who are serving the party with no hope of getting elected, look no further than the candidates running against the leader of the party in those ridings."

Is it possible to have a premier who does not win a seat?

Paquette says this scenario does happen from time to time.

Doug Ford held a press conference about education on May 8th, 2018 in Toronto, Ontario (David Donnelly/CBC)

"In that case, usually the party will say to some poor soul 'you've held this safe seat for our party for 20 years, why don't you go out to pasture and we'll put up the premier there,'" she explained.

"What's more common is a newly elected leader who doesn't have a seat in the house, runs."

Should I vote for the party or the candidate?

That's a decision that's up to you, Paquette says.

"However, if you decide to vote for the individual, which many people do, you have to be cognizant of the fact that that person doesn't not have the freedom to vote on legislation the way that he or she would like," she said.

"There is something called party discipline in Ontario and federally as well, and that means that they have to follow the party platform and party voting guidelines."

What can I expect from my elected representative at Queen's Park?

You can expect that representative to vote with the party he or she belongs to, but says you can still get help on individual concerns, Paquette explains.

"You can expect the constituency office to help you navigate the Ontario bureaucracy if you need that kind of help," she said.

What areas of life does the provincial government control?

A variety: health care, education, some Indigenous issues, highway maintenance, transportation, police administration and police services.

Andrea Horwath is the leader of the Ontario NDP. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

"The government that affects the citizens the most directly is the municipal government and yet that's the election where there's the lowest participation rate."

So what does the municipal government control that the province doesn't?

Again, a variety: recreation, bicycle trails, pools, public training facilities, education taxes, snow removal, road maintenance.

But what about that provincial funding announcement in my community for a municipal program or service?

Paquette points out that the province can provide money for municipal projects, such as the $4M recently given by the province to the City of Greater Sudbury for a soccer bubble.

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