One Ontario Voter: Lost and Found

So, this Thursday is Ontario Election Day. Or more precisely, it’s the last day you can vote before the ballots are counted. So why is the political scientist in me not more excited? I should be planning my election night rituals – thinking what kind of pizza to order, compiling the list of candidates, looking at the riding results from last time and so on. Instead, I’ve been filled with policy wonk malaise. Maybe its because even the candidates in my riding of Leeds and Grenville can’t remember how long it has been since anyone but a Conservative has been elected. (The answer is 92 years and all signs indicate that the incumbent will have the Tories cruising in on 100.) Maybe it’s the generally lackluster campaign. Aside from “time for a change,” “you broke your promise” (eight years ago) and a mercifully brief controversy about “giving jobs to foreign workers,” there’s been little to excite even the most dedicated.

My own malaise has prevented me from voting so far. Marveling at the ease with which our students in residence could vote – polling stations in residence, candidate agents outside encouraging people to come in and cast their ballot – I set out to vote last week. It was a desultory and rather confused effort on my part. I looked on my voter’s card to find that the closest advanced poll had been shut down on Sept. 24. Ah, ha! I thought. I have a window when I can get to the main returning office in Brockville. Not to be. I drove down the main drag and missed it. No big yellow “X” on the roadside waving me in. A sign, perhaps, that this voter was not meant to be?

But I’ve now sat myself down and thought this through. I’ve come to the conclusion that, aside from the fact that voting is in my DNA as a political scientist; this is a very important election. My conclusion has global, as well as very local Carleton foundations. First, we are going through a period of international churn. We have a responsibility to think which party will guide Ontario best through the precarious economic, social and environmental shoals that we are in.

This question links to how we think it best to shape the relationship between our provincial government and our new majority government at the federal level. Some may long for the golden days of executive federalism, when premiers engaged with prime ministers on major issues from health care, to pensions to the Constitution itself. I don’t think we will see a return to that style of Canadian federalism any time soon – at least on our current Prime Minister’s watch. Neither is the cast of characters among the current provincial and territorial premiers likely to induce a return to late nights at Ottawa’s old railway station, once known nationally as the Ottawa Conference Centre. How many of us can even name all of the provincial and territorial leaders? But, as provincial voters, we need to think strategically about the benefits and potential pitfalls of political alignment between our provincial government and the feds. Do we need a provincial government that begins with political alignment or with a tendency to countervail?

Finally, there’s the Carleton angle. We all have a big stake in the future of post-secondary education in the province. Regardless of who wins, I don’t think we are in for an easy time. Funding will become tighter. But equally, if not more important in the long-term will be the new government’s approach to regulation of universities and colleges. Will each university be “differentiated” by the province – designated as research intensive, research “light” or primarily as a teaching institution? Many signs suggest that something like this may well happen, regardless of who wins on Thursday. For us, the way it will happen is crucial. Will we have the opportunity to define for ourselves what we want Carleton to be or will we be told? It is hard to tell from the party platforms how this will happen. But I for one want to be able to hold the next government to account for its actions on the post-secondary front, as well as in other domains.

So, I will be voting and I will be ordering that traditional election night pizza.

Prof. Katherine A. H. Graham is the Associate Vice-President Academic (Interim) at Carleton University.

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