by Paul Barber
The elections earlier this year in Quebec and Ontario can each be encapsulated in a single moment. On Sunday, March 9, Parti Québécois Premier Pauline Marois introduced her star candidate, business executive Pierre Karl Péladeau (aka PKP). His fist pump and declaration that he wanted to make Quebec a country triggered fears that a reelected PQ would hold a new sovereignty referendum. Exactly two months later, Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak announced that in order to balance the books he “would reduce the size of the bureaucracy by 100,000 positions.” That statement, delivered in a blue suit and sombre tone, would doom his campaign.
In Quebec, the Liberals, led by Philippe Couillard, were already climbing in the polls when PKP entered the scene, but that moment would seal the fate of the PQ, which went on to defeat in the April election. In Ontario, Kathleen Wynne won a surprising majority for her Ontario Liberals in June, surprising because at the outset many observers were convinced that scandals, an abiding budget deficit and sluggish economic growth could mean an end to ten and a half years of Liberal rule in Ontario. Thus, Canada’s two largest provinces, which entered 2014 governed by minority legislatures, both have Liberal majority governments as the year comes to a close.
These two provinces, home to nearly 62 per cent of Canada’s population, will elect about 59 per cent of the House of Commons in 2015. Their sheer size and influence on 2015’s electoral outcome means that the two provincial elections will be scrutinized closely by the federal parties. One clear lesson is that the Liberal brand is not dead: it can win provincial elections. The federal Liberals have led the polls in both provinces this year, support that partly reflects the continued strength of the Liberal trademark, not just the popularity of Justin Trudeau.