Ontario’s growing economic and political polarization

In a recent article in Inroads: The Canadian Journal of Opinion called “Ontario’s ‘Places That Don’t Matter’ Send a Message: The Fault Lines Dividing the Province are Getting Deeper”, I argue that the long-term changes in Ontario’s economy are driving political polarization on rural, small urban, and metropolitan lines. The Conservatives won virtually every rural seat outside metropolitan Toronto and Ottawa in southern Ontario in the June 2018 election. The NDP took almost every riding containing a city or town of any size, while Green Party leader Mike Schreiner won in Guelph. While largely squeezed out by the NDP, the Liberals hung on in core areas in Toronto and Ottawa.

Geographer Andrés Rodríguez-Pose argues that progressive elites have erred by focusing on growing income inequality (the expanding divide between rich and poor people) while ignoring territorial inequality (the expanding divide between successful and declining places). Populists has been most successful in subnational regions that are the casualties of globalization: rural and old industrial regions that have experienced sustained job loss and decline relative to high-growth metropolises where the high-value-added service economy is concentrated. In the article, I make the case that this is what has occurred in Ontario, and that a retreat from polarization is unlikely given current trends.