1. Faith-based schools did not lose the PCs the election;
2. Right-wing policy isn't necessarily needed for PCs to win, but it helps
3. It wasn't about leadership; and
4. John Tory should step down.
These are four things that, unfortunately, most Tories don't seem to realize.
First of all, let me get this off my chest: No, no, no, the PCs would NOT have a majority if it wasn't for faith-based schools. 26 seats! Wake up, people.
People who hate John Tory are using faith-based school funding to blame him and people who love John Tory are using it to shift the blame from him. But the problem wasn't that policy. Don't get me wrong - obviously it was very unpopular in most of Ontario, but the void of policy proposals surrounding it meant that there was nothing else of substance for the PC Party to talk about and no real message control was the problem - not the policy alone.
This void was partly a result of the party's decision not to release policy until right before the election. Members were told that the party had done research and learned that releasing policy early doesn't increase your polling numbers, but gives the opposition a chance to "steal" your ideas.
When the Common Sense Revolution was released early, Mike Harris' poll numbers didn't jump at the popularity of the ideas, but once they got into the campaign, what the early release did do was make sure that all members and candidates and many non-partisan Ontarians knew what the issues and promises of the PC party were and there was absolutely no room for the Liberals to try to define anything. Message control was achieved before the writ ever dropped.
If faith-based school funding had been released early, it would have done at least one of two things: the messaging would have been more refined to increase support for the proposal and to go after McGuinty for his hypocrisy, and/or it would have given the party a clear idea of how unpopular it was so that a free vote could be proposed before the writ dropped.
Besides, if the Liberals had spent the election stealing PC policy, that would have meant the PCs designed the policy, knew how to frame it, and were the ones putting forward ideas in the election. Ontarians would have recognized these facts and the PCs would probably be in government right now.
Without something substantially different to talk about, the PCs were left in the situation the Liberals would have been in if they'd stolen PC policy. When the Grits took up faith-based school funding as a way to talk about McGuinty's strongest issue, education, during the campaign, all the PC party had to respond with was, essentially, Liberal messaging.
This brings me to my second assertion - that right-wing policy (and/or a right-wing leader) isn't needed for the PCs to form a government.
(I really, really wish that this wasn't the case. I wish for nothing more than to be able to accurately say that if the PC Party promised tax relief, cutting government pork and delisting a few ridiculous government agencies (liquor control board, anyone?) that the PCs could roll right into majority territory, but I can't.
You pick which party to support by donating and volunteering based on policy, but good policy isn't what wins elections. Never forget that with enough spin, you can sell almost anything to the electorate.
All this said, "true blue" policy would have accomplished all of what I'm about to say - it just wasn't necessary.)
What the PCs did need was, as I hinted to above, some sort of policy that was specific to the PCs. When you are attacking a governing party, they have far greater resources to publicize and define policies than opposition parties do. Thus, pushing for substantially different policy that you have designed and defined is important.
Policy should also be complete - what the problem is, what you're going to do to fix it, and why it will fix it should be laid out. Don't give a general statement about something needing to be fixed and then let anyone interpret what it means.
Had the PCs had many policy issues that were different from the Liberals, they would have controlled the messaging of their own issues, they would have had lots more to talk about than faith-based schools, and it would have helped to neutralize the issue, rather than letting it escalate day after day throughout the campaign.
Heard this one yet? "Next time around, leadership won't be the issue."
Well, guys, you're right about that, but if leadership and honesty were the issues this time around, John Tory would be premier right now.
McGuinty is not a great leader, and he lied, point-blank, to Ontarians. Everybody knows that. It wasn't some kind of secret that PCs had to let Ontarians in on - but people don't vote out politicians for lying - that's just what politicians do. (Or, even if you disagree with that, at least it's the perception.)
Relying on leadership and honesty as the main election issue was a bad call, and one that should have been obvious after it went so terribly for Eves.
John Tory needs to step down as leader. This has nothing to do with his personal views on public policy.
Organization counts in politics. While Tory deserves to be commended for his hard work canvassing and eliminating the party's debt, he was at the helm of a party that made key organizational mistakes excusable only to political rookies. His staffing and internal party administration decisions led to all of the problems the PCs encountered in this election. Here's a smattering of examples:
- The party held back ridings from holding their nomination meetings until the very last minute, stopping them from doing the on-the-ground work that needs to be done as early as possible and for as long as possible in non-incumbent ridings.
- John Tory's decision to eliminate all paid positions with the party and rely on volunteers to help eliminate the party's debt was the wrong decision in at least one area, which was database upkeep, management and tech support. This is an area that should have been high priority for the party, but obviously took a back seat to debt elimination which, while positive internally, does nothing to help get more votes in a general election. Because the database was neglected, work that had been done in the past was lost, and the database was even unavailable, at length, immediately before the campaign, delaying the work pushed back by late nomination races even further.
- The policy process, as I mentioned, was a sham, in spite of a Tory promise to put it back into the hands of members. The party under Tory made the decision to make the policy process so nontransparent that nobody knew what the policy would be, and then made the decision not to release the policy that they did come up with until it was far too late.
- The people John Tory selected to run his headquarters never seemed to get their act together. Locally, we came up with a saying whenever someone expressed frustration when trying to get hold of someone at the party: "It's the Ontario PC Party - nobody's home." Unless you had some personal connection within the party hierarchy the odds of you getting an answer to any question or a solution to any problem were not good.
John Tory touts himself as a man who's been involved with the PCs since he was 14. Everyone who voted in the 2004 leadership heard that line. In the light of this, and taking into account the fact that he ran Kim Campbell's 1993 campaign, which should have given him a heads-up on a lot of these failures, there is no excuse for the rookie mistakes that plagued this entire campaign.
The only explanation I've been able to come up with is that Tory must have surrounded himself with his loudest cheerleaders, and that experience, common sense, leadership and organization skills took a back seat to the loyalty that yes-men seem to emanate. He may not even have been aware of many of these issues - but that's no excuse, as it would be a result of the people he picked to keep closest to himself and their continuing quests to cheer loudest and hide their and Tory's mistakes.
I think that Tory could stay on as leader and be successful doing so if he was willing to bring in outside help to tell him exactly where he went wrong, acknowledge the failures, take responsibility for what he was personally responsible for, cut loose or severely demote incompetents and those who were to blame for various blunders and take the steps to show that he will learn from other successful campaigns what needs to be done to win an election and implementing those measures as soon as possible.
Unfortunately for Tory, I think that the way he ran this election and the way that he has run other elections in the past shows that that's not the kind of man and leader that he is, and even if he was, this course of action would likely cut or severely demote many of his strongest supporters, which would likely leave him without the support he would need to stay on as leader anyway.
If he wants the PC party to win the next election, John Tory needs to step down as soon as possible and make way for someone who is willing to put the organization (and policy) in place to heal and advance the party for the next four years.