What is the essence of Ontario’s provincial politics, as Canada emerges from the sesquicentennial of its initial confederation? This impressive new book of seventeen scholarly articles, each by a separate author, seeks to answer that question. With four to six discussion questions placed strategically at the end of each chapter, the collection is at least partly aimed at instructors of, and students in, post-secondary courses focusing on the government and politics of Ontario. However, the book will prove to be of major interest to any historian of Ontario’s recent past–that is, the period dating from the final eclipse of the forty-two-year Progressive Conservative “dynasty” that ended in 1985 until the present day. Given Ontario’s one-third share of the total Canadian population, its geographic location in the centre of southern Canada, and its historic influence on the nation’s economy, politics, popular culture, and communications media, scholars of other regions of Canada will ignore this collective scholarly work at their peril.
Although not so identified by the publisher, the current volume is in many ways the sixth edition of an edited series begun by Donald C. MacDonald in 1975. After three editions, the baton passed to Graham White, who oversaw the fourth and fifth iterations, with the latter published in 1997. Despite the twenty-year gap between the fifth and sixth versions, the goal has remained essentially the same: to engage the top scholars in the field in describing and analyzing Ontario’s system of government and politics as it plays out in the contemporary era. In their preface, the co-editors set the stage for the chapters that follow: “Authors carefully weigh the changes and continuities from the late 1990s to the present day and ask what they all mean for the [End Page 310] future” (xii). The chapters are divided into four sections: the setting, institutions, politics, and policy. The print content is bolstered by nineteen statistical tables and nine graphic figures that are sprinkled effectively through the text. Copious endnotes appear at the end of each chapter, providing the serious scholar with ample means to check out the evidential basis for the authors’ claims or to conduct further investigation. Finally, the comprehensive twenty-three-page index serves to unify the separate chapters into a single volume.
There has been no attempt to consolidate the separate essays into one unified theoretical whole, however. In fact, a multiplicity of political science models is evident throughout the book. The overall structure bears the imprint of David Easton’s classic “political system,” with successive sections devoted to input demands, decision-making bodies, and policy outputs, all operating within the political environment described in the opening section (The Political System: An Inquiry into the State of Political Science, Alfred Knopf, 1953). Closer inspection reveals one chapter specifically focused on the “political economy” of Ontario, while another targets the province’s “political culture.” Neo-pluralists can point to chapters on the news media and political parties, while neo-institutionalists will be happy with chapters on the provincial legislature and the premier’s office. The reality of regionalism is reflected in separate chapters on the North and the greater Toronto area. Policy analysts can sink their teeth into chapters on environmental policy and the politics of labour. Finally, post-colonialists will find more than a glimmer of hope in detailed chapters devoted to gender politics and multiple identities, with the latter including a welcome focus on the additional constraints facing Ontario’s Indigenous population. Ironically, given the preponderance of political scientists on the author team, the real unifying theme of this book is one traditionally associated with a historiographic approach–namely, the clear and sustained emphasis placed on change and continuity.
The volume has many strengths. All of the chapters are written in very readable prose, and each author has made a clear attempt to bring his or her study right up to the present. One overriding theme is the ongoing tension between change and continuity, as...