Ontario's election last week resulted in the first minority government elected since 1985 and while the seat counts within the legislature are more decisive than the 1985 result, the politics of Ontario is considerably more divided.
The last minority parliament saw a good regional mix of New Democrats, Progressive Conservatives and Liberals elected in all regions of the province with all three parties represented in the north, rural ridings, urban ridings, the GTA and the City of Toronto. Last week's result painted a picture of a starkly divided Ontario and should give Dalton McGuinty pause before he continues his 'business as usual' approach to governing.
The largest contributor to McGuinty's reduction to a minority government was his party's defeat in rural Ontario where the Liberals have been shut out in large part due to their instance to peruse their Green Energy Act agenda against the wishes of local municipalities and area residents.
Prior to the election, a total of 78 municipal councils called on the Government of Ontario to place a moratorium on further industrial wind development until health studies that satisfy the concerns of residents are completed to inform science-based setbacks, and local democratic planning for wind projects is restored to municipalities. The McGuinty government made a decision to ignore these motions, the protests, the rallies and the dominance of this issue at rural all candidates debates and their rural caucus paid for it with their jobs and cost his government their majority.
At some point, the validity of our democracy comes under question when local residents are ignored, when their city councils are ignored, when the results of an election are ignored and those in power continue to govern against the clear will of the people being affected by their decision making.
Going forward, it's going to be important for the Ontario Liberal Party to recognize that the reason they've been relegated to the cities electorally is due to their top-down approach to decision making and refusal to respect the wishes of rural Ontario.
The premier will have to decide whether the stale talking points that failed to protect his rural members electorally will continue to be used to justify his green energy plans or whether now is a moment to listen. If there are no adverse health effects as the premier says, why not do a health study that meets the demands of concerned citizens and 78 municipal councils to prove it and end the debate? If these projects are fundamentally good for municipalities and residents, why not let residents decide where they go?
Rural Ontario grows our province's food, provides aggregate for construction and roads, hosts more than it's fair share of urban landfills, and is now expected to generate electricity for urban areas as well, in the face of cancelled natural gas plants in areas where the demand for power is real.
The relationship has become imbalanced and Ontario's Green Energy Act served as a catalyst to demonstrate the Liberals' treatment of rural Ontario as a resource centre and a mandated host for infrastructure urban communities, want to benefit from, but don't want to live near.
For Ontario to succeed as a province, residents need to be united in common purpose and feel the same sense of place within our province. That can't happen, so long as Ontario has anti-democratic legislation built on the premise of satisfying urban voters sense of being 'green' at the expense of rural Ontarians who have soundly rejected the government's strategy and continue to be ignored.
Dalton McGuinty won the election, but does not have a mandate to continue treating rural Ontarians like second-class citizens. He will need to change his course to satisfy rural residents concerns, or accept the consequences that will surely follow from continuing a business-as-usual approach.