Provincial elections were held in Ontario (Canada) on June 12, 2014. All 107 seats in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, elected by FPTP in single-member constituencies (ridings) were up for reelection.
In 1999, Premier Mike Harris’ Conservative government reduced the number of seats in the provincial legislature from 130 t0 103 and aligned the borders of the new provincial ridings with those of the province’s federal ridings. Ontario’s provincial ridings were redistributed in 2005, increasing the number of seats to 107. In southern Ontario, the borders match up with the federal ridings of the 2003 redistribution. However, in northern Ontario, which lost one seat in the 2003 federal redistribution, the provincial redistribution in 2005 opted to retain the old borders – meaning that northern Ontario’s 11 provincial ridings still correspond to the 1996 federal redistribution (with one exception). Federally, the 2013 redistribution, which will be first used for the 2015 federal elections, increased the number of federal seats in Ontario from 106 to 121. It is unclear whether or not there will be a provincial redistribution during the term of the upcoming Legislative Assembly.
This election came over a year early, because the Liberal minority government fell after both opposition parties announced that they would not support the government’s budget tabled in early May 2014. Premier Kathleen Wynne formally asked the Lieutenant Governor to dissolve the legislature and call an election for June 12.
The Ontario Liberals have been in power since 2003 – they won reelection with a second majority in 2007 but they were reduced to a minority government in the October 2011 election. The Liberal government has had a remarkably long shelf life, especially for a government which rarely was very popular or at least enthusiastically supported by voters.
Dalton McGuinty led the Ontario Liberal Party to a large victory in the 2003 provincial election, after 8 years of Progressive Conservative (PC) governments under Premiers Mike Harris (1995-2002) and Ernie Eves (2002).
The Tories themselves had swept into power in 1995, on the back of five years of Premier Bob Rae’s woefully unpopular New Democratic Party (NDP) government. Mike Harris ran on a populist, anti-government platform – the ‘Common Sense Revolution’ – which proclaimed that government was broken, and promised to create over 700,000 jobs, cut personal income taxes by 30% and reduce the size and role of the provincial government. Uncharacteristically for a party which had hitherto been known for its moderate, pragmatic and inoffensive centrist managerialism under the ‘Big Blue Machine’ governments (the PCs ruled Ontario from 1943 to 1985), the Harris PC government ruled very much from the right. It cut taxes, balanced the budget, slashed public spending, repealed NDP ‘job-killing’ labour legislation, introduced workfare programs, cut social assistance benefits, deregulated the energy market (it stopped short of privatizing Ontario Hydro, but split it off and opened the market to competition), undertook a massive programs of forced municipal amalgamations (which led to the creation of large single-tier metro municipalities for Toronto, Ottawa, Hamilton and other urban centres), laid off public servants (including nurses), closed some hospitals and downloaded the costs of many programs on the municipalities. Harris’ legacy remains complicated – depending on who you ask, he may be painted either as a visionary who set the economy straight after the NDP ‘disaster’ or as a heartless monster whose slash-and-burn policies led to higher poverty and inequality.
At any rate, after Harris was reelected to a second term in 1999, his government’s popularity dwindled as a result of a series of unpopular policies and crises (notably the Walkerton tragedy, where 7 people died from e. coli. contaminated water, which was largely blamed on the Conservatives’ deregulation of water testing and cuts to inspection services). After Harris’ retirement, his successor, Ernie Eves, signaled a return to a more moderate and less confrontational style of Ontarian conservatism. He cancelled the planned privatization of hydro and deferred tax breaks for corporations and private schools; but the PCs remained in the ditch due to an uptick in hydro prices after deregulation, cabinet ethics scandals and the presentation the budget at the headquarters of Frank Stronach’s Magna International (for which Eves’ government faced a contempt motion).
Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals, who had been defeated by Harris in 1999 despite a coalescing of anti-Harris support around the Liberals, were the favourites to win the 2003 election. The PC’s attempts to flash-polarize the election against the Liberals, which had worked well in 1995 and 1999, failed as most voters sought change and others were turned off by the Tories’ negativity (including, famously, a bizarre PC press release which called McGuinty an ‘evil reptilian kitten-eater from another planet’). The Liberals ran on a fairly bland and centrist managerial platform emphasizing protection of public education and healthcare (smaller class sizes, reducing wait times in hospitals), good fiscal management, environmental protection, freezing taxes (no tax cuts, but a clear promise not to raise them) and generally giving the image of being a positive change after Tory divisiveness. It worked, as the Liberals won a majority government with 72 seats (and 46%) against 24 (and 35%) for the PCs.
McGuinty’s government more or less lived up to the general flair of the Liberal campaign, but he quickly broke key a Liberal campaign pledge not to raise taxes by imposing a new health premium in their very first budget – which the government argued was needed because of a ‘hidden deficit’ inherited from the Tories and the Liberals’ policies of reducing wait times and improving treatment in hospitals. Although the Liberals would continue to be dogged by their first broken promise, which earned them the epithet ‘lieberals’ from their strongest opponents, the first McGuinty government managed to remain relatively popular as the economy still sailed quite smoothly and the provincial government had achievements to its records (balanced budgets from 2005-6smaller class sizes, investments in education and healthcare, investments in public transit, child benefits, successful negotiations with public sector unions, environmental policies).
In the 2007 campaign, the Liberals faced criticism from the NDP and the PCs (now led by John Tory, who set the PCs on a moderate Red Tory course) for broken promises and other weaknesses in their record. The PCs moderate campaign targeted the unpopular ‘health premium’ (which they promised to repeal) and McGuinty’s “spending spree” (public spending had indeed grown dramatically since 2003) but themselves promised more money for public education and healthcare and to clean up the environment. The NDP promised better healthcare services (also including a repeal of the health tax), a post-secondary tuition fee freeze and excellence in schools. Given broken promises and other issues, the Liberals were vulnerable going into the campaign, but they ran a very strong campaign which successfully turned one minor plank of the PC platform into the defining election issue – Tory’s pledge to extend public funding to faith-based schools (under Ontario’s constitutionally-entrenched separate schools, the province funds English and French Catholic schools in addition to English and French public, non-denominational schools). It was very much of a wedge issue (only the Green Party opposed the status-quo, by promising to create a single public school system), but it divided and dragged down the PCs – fatally. The Liberals were reelected with a second majority, winning 71 seats (down only 1) and 42.3% against only 26 for the PCs (and 31.6%) and 10 seats (16.8%) for the NDP.
The Liberals’ second term proved significantly tougher for them, as the government faced an increasing number of scandals and the economic recession which began setting in after 2008. Ontario has been hard-hit by the recession – the province’s manufacturing-driven and export-oriented economy has been badly hurt by subdued domestic activity and declining demand from the US. The province’s economy took a hit (-3.2% recession in 2009) and government finances were deep in the red due to decreased revenues – the Ontario government posted a large $3.9 billion deficit in 2008-9, which grew to $19.3 billion (3.2% of GDP) in 2009-10. The province became heavily indebted as a result, from 28% of GDP in 2008-9 to 36% at the time of the 2011 election (and 40% this year). After tax cuts in the 2009 budget, the government was unable to offer very many goodies and tax reforms in following years, although it tried its hand at fiscal stimulus before turning towards more restraint after 2011 (although the government resisted austerity and chose to support public services over deficit elimination, projected for 2017-8). Employment-wise, Ontario lost many jobs during the recession, with unemployment hitting 9%, but the Liberals later insisted that Ontario’s recovery from the recession had been more robust than that of its Canadian and US neighbors.
Some of the government’s policies were controversial and unpopular. Beginning in 2009, Ontario transitioned towards the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST), a single 13% sales tax which merged the provincial and federal sales tax; consumers largely disliked the measure because it generally meant higher prices, but Ontario’s HST did not face the same kind of populist, bottom-up anger which led to British Columbia’s HST being repealed by voters in a referendum. The McGuinty government placed heavy emphasis on green, renewable energies and, with the Green Energy Act in 2009, the Liberals made significant investments to support new renewable technologies and promised that their green policies would create over 50,000 jobs. However, job creation has been far below target and the Tories pummeled the government for higher hydro bills.
The Liberals faced their toughest election yet in 2011, with a weaker and more unpopular record than in 2007 and enough ammunition for the NDP and PCs to attack the government from all sides. The PCs, which had shifted back towards the right and populism under Tim Hudak (elected in 2009), relentlessly attacked the McGuinty government for its several tax increases (and promised tax cuts), skyrocketing hydro bills, growing bureaucracy and shabby economic/jobs record. It promised lower taxes, HST breaks on energy bills, downsizing the bureaucracy, cut red tape, cut corporate taxes, a balanced budget with spending cuts but also more investments in healthcare and education. The NDP, under new leader Andrea Horwath, also had a populist campaign – from the left. Horwath promised to remove the HST from daily essentials (electricity, heating and gas), regulate gas prices, freeze transit fares, reduce hydro bills by cutting CEO pay, stop corporate tax giveaways, reward companies which create jobs in Ontario, protect domestic industries and natural resources, cut ER wait times by half, tackle growing healthcare costs shouldered by patients and cut wasteful spending.
The Liberals ran a cautious, centrist campaign built on the notion that they had a ‘good story to tell’ as a government – in terms of higher educational achievement, strong economic recovery, the innovations in green technologies and protecting public healthcare. The general gist of the platform is summed up with its insipid title ‘Forward. Together’ – more or less, keep doing what we’re doing with a few added promises (full-day KG – a landmark initiative of the government; a 30% off post-secondary tuition grant; continuing to attract new businesses and foreign investment) and lots of stuff about ‘preparing for the future’. The Liberals were seriously in the ditch following the May 2011 federal election, which saw their more hapless and incompetent federal counterparts take a thumping and place third for the first time. However, the Ontario Liberals again proved that they had a strong machine, and they roared back to make it a close race – never missing a chance to attack the PCs by tying them to Mike Harris, and taking advantage of voter unease with Hudak’s hard-hitting plan (the Liberals alleged there was a $14.8 billion ‘hole’ in the PC platform), Hudak’s gaffes and his penchant for cheap soundbites (the PC campaign eventually repeated ‘tax grab’ and ‘high hydro bills’ at every opportunity).
As in May 2011, voters opted to stick with ‘experienced and proven government’ in tough economic times, and the Liberals were reelected – although they were reduced to a minority and the party suffered major loses in parts of the province. McGuinty’s Liberals won 37.7% and 53 seats (falling one seat short of a majority), against 35.5% and 37 seats for the PCs and 22.7% and 17 seats for the NDP. Turnout fell to only 49%.
Economic growth slowed to 1.4% in 2012 and 1.2% in 2013, although growth should increase to 2.1% this year. The provincial government has been forced to deal with, since 2008-2009, a very large deficit and ballooning public debt. The 2013-2014 deficit projection is $11.3 billion, up from a $9.2 billion deficit in 2012-2013; the province’s debt has continued increasing. The size of Ontario’s debt and deficit has led some fiscally conservative economists to liken Ontario to California and Greece. Economist Don Drummond was appointed to lead a commission to examine the province’s finances, which reported in February 2012 and called on policy-makers to take tough actions (austerity measures) or else Ontario would face dangerous runaway debts and deficits. Some of Drummond’s recommendations – such as limiting spending increases in education and healthcare, scrapping full-day KG, increasing class sizes, eliminating sector-specific subsidies (notably for green energy) and reduced public sector benefits – went against the Liberals’ traditional platform, and they chose to silently ignore them.
The Liberal government introduced a severe austerity-minded budget in 2012, including very tight control of public expenditures and a two-year pay freeze for public sector employees (including teachers and doctors). The PCs rejected the budget out of hand, claiming it did not do enough to curb “runaway spending” and debt. The Liberals were forced to reach a compromise with the NDP. In April, the NDP agreed to prop up the government in return for the inclusion of a tax on high incomes, although in June the province seemed to be on the verge of an election when the NDP and the PCs started voting against key planks of the budget. McGuinty threatened to call an election until the NDP blinked and abstained on the final vote, allowing the minority government to survive its first supply vote.
The government’s decision to impose a two-year pay freeze on public employees was met by strong opposition from teachers and their unions. In September 2012, the Liberals – with PC support – passed the very controversial Bill 115 (‘Putting Students First Act’) which severely limited teachers’ right to strike and imposed the two-year pay freeze (along with less benefits). There were rolling one-day strikes by elementary school teachers throughout the province in early and mid-December. The government and the unions finally reached agreement shortly after the bill’s December 31 deadline, and Bill 115 was repealed in January 2013. However, elementary and high school teachers promised province-wide one-day walkouts until the Ontario Labour Relations Board ruled the walkouts illegal.
To make things worse, McGuinty’s Liberals were constantly dogged by various high-profile scandals which have seriously undermined the government’s legitimacy and popularity. In December 2011, the government was drawn into the Ornge (the province’s air-ambulance service) scandal, after allegations of financial irregularities, cost overruns, huge salaries for managers and kickbacks. It was later shown that the McGuinty government had wasted thousands of taxpayer dollars in Ornge and had turned a blind eye to earlier reports of corruption.
However, the most damaging scandal has been the power plants scandal. In 2009, the Liberal government, which had closed down two polluting coal-powered power plants in southern Ontario approved the construction of two new natural gas-fired power plants in Oakville and Mississauga, two suburban communities in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) – a key electoral battleground. However, the plants faced the opposition of local residents, which forced the Liberals to cancel the Oakville plant in October 2010. In September 2011, a month before the elections and facing a strong challenge – notably in Mississauga – from the Tories and the NDP, the Liberals cancelled the Mississauga power plant. The Oakville cancellation cost $40 million and the Mississauga cancellation cost $190 million. Today, the total cost for the cancellation of two plants – which includes the need to build two new plants to replace them – could be $600 million.
The Liberals were reelected in October 2011, and held seats in Mississauga and Oakville. In the summer of 2012, the emboldened PCs and New Democrats called on Liberal energy minister Chris Bentley to hand over all documents related to the gas plant cancellations, which he refused to do, until September 2012. In early October, Bentley was facing an opposition motion which would hold him in “contempt of Parliament” – a very serious and rare offence which might have meant jail time for him.
The power plant scandal was one of the major factors which led Premier McGuinty to announce his surprise resignation on October 15, 2012. However, at the same time, the outgoing Premier prorogued Parliament – effectively killing off the opposition’s contempt motion.
The Liberal leadership election on January 26, 2013 opposed six candidates – the top three being former MPP and cabinet minister Sandra Pupatello, incumbent cabinet minister Kathleen Wynne and former provincial cabinet minister and former federal Liberal MP Gerard Kennedy. Kathleen Wynne, considered as being on the left of the party, won on the third ballot at the convention, with 57% against 43% for Pupatello.
The Liberals, who had dropped to third place and oscillating in the low-to-mid 20s, saw their support increase considerably after Wynne’s election, shooting into second or first place and over 30% – in some cases over 35%. There were rumours – unfounded – that Wynne would seek a mandate of her own and take advantage of her honeymoon. She did not.
In May 2013, the NDP once again backed the Liberals’ 2013 budget, which included a few NDP-influenced goodies (15% cut in auto insurance, new funding for youth jobs etc) while continuing with the government’s stated intent to achieve a surplus in 2017-2018. Two of the NDP’s three post-budget demands were satisfied by the Liberals. The gas plant scandal continued to hurt the Liberals, with recent revelations of Liberal cover-ups or attempts to intimidate the Speaker. Wynne struggle to shake off the perception that she was only a new face on the McGuinty Liberal government, rather than a clear break with McGuinty’s tainted legacy.
In her first electoral test as Premier, she faced five by-elections in August 2013, all in Liberal-held ridings. The Liberals lost three of these seats – two (London West and Windsor-Tecumseh) to the NDP and one (Etobicoke-Lakeshore, in Toronto) to the PCs. But because the PCs failed to gain at least one of London West, Ottawa South or Scarborough-Guildwood (three ridings in which they stood a strong chance), the Liberals could find a silver lining while questions about Hudak’s leadership abilities popped up again. In February 2014, the Liberals lost another seat in a by-election to the NDP – Niagara Falls, but because the Liberals had given up on the seat long ago and that the PCs were the most likely candidates to gain the seat, it was also interpreted as a mediocre result for Hudak. That same day, the PCs narrowly held Thornhill, an affluent and plurality-Jewish GTA riding held by the PCs since 2007.
In September 2013, Premier Wynne dared the PCs and NDP to cause a snap election but privately confided that she had little desire to go to the polls in the fall. PC leader Tim Hudak, who had been clamoring for a rematch since day one, continued hounding on the government but also directed some of his fire to the NDP, who had collaborated with the Liberal government and propped it up on several occasions. Hudak accused NDP leader Andrea Horwath of propping up a corrupt and discredited government, unwilling to bring about change. However, Hudak faced trouble in PC ranks. Following the 2013 by-elections, there were local and isolated but well publicized grumbling in party ranks over Hudak’s leadership and isolated demands for a leadership review. Later, Hudak was forced to dump his finance critic, Thornhill MPP Peter Shurman amid a scandal and he removed vocal hard-right ‘maverick’ MPP Randy Hillier from the frontbench.
By early 2014 there was a widespread feeling that the Liberals are running on borrowed time. Most assumed that the government would fall on its May 2014 budget – the PCs would vote against no matter its contents, while the NDP might prove unwilling to extend the Liberals’ lease on government for the third budget in a row. One issue which strained relations between the Liberals and the NDP was the question of new tolls or fees to fund public transit: the Liberal government, promoting upgrades to public transit in Toronto and Hamilton, supported new tolls/taxes to raise revenue; the NDP has warned that they would stand against that. Facing attacks from Hudak in propping up the Liberals since 2012, Horwath came out more determined, saying that she is “seeking the job of Premier”.
On May 1, the Liberals presented their budget, which, knowing that it would likely be defeated, also doubled up as an early election manifesto. Fiscally, the government announced a larger deficit in 2014-5 than in 2013-4 ($12.5 billion, up from $11.3 billion – but the government has undershot its deficit targets for 5 years in a row) and a record-high debt level (40.3% of GDP). The Liberals promised a return to a balanced budget in 2017-8. Despite the challenging environment, the Liberals announced several major initiatives. Chief among them was the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan (ORPP), a defined-benefit plan which would top-up the federal Canada Pension Plan (CPP) for employers/employees who do not
have existing registered pension plans with contributions of 1.9% for employers and employees on earnings of up to $90,000. The Liberals proposed the ORPP after Stephen Harper’s federal Conservative government refused to enhance the CPP. As expected, the Liberals confirmed a $29 billion transportation fund for transit development in the GTA/Hamilton and the rest of Ontario, which would be funded through existing taxes, borrowing, an increase in the aviation fuel tax. Other government announcements included an increased in child benefits (and their indexation to inflation), a 1% increase in social assistance rates, wage hikes for early childhood education and personal support workers, a 10-year $2.5 billion Jobs and Prosperity Fund to attract investments, remove the Debt Retirement Charge from hydro bills (the charge was introduced by Harris in 1998 to pay off the debts of Ontario Hydro) to ‘lower the rate of increase’ in hydro bills, raising the minimum wage to $11 and indexing it to inflation in 2015 and $80-million/year for five years toward a federal-provincial affordable housing program. The budget measures would be funded by ‘asset optimization’ (asset sales), income tax hikes for high-incomes (a 1% increase for incomes from $150k to $220k, and lowering the threshold for the top rate from $514k to $220k) while the government announced it would strive to meet more restraint recommendations from the Drummond report. Unsurprisingly for a pre-electoral budget, the 2014 budget was less austere and less focused on restraining spending growth than the 2012 and 2013 budgets.
NDP leader Andrea Horwath’s announcement that she would not support the government’s budget provided the trigger for a snap election which had been in the offing for a long time.
Parties and Issues
Ontario’s 2014 election opened as one of the most open-ended and unpredictable election battles in years (granted, 2011 was similar) – the Liberals, PCs and NDP all were in serious contention; even the third-party NDP was optimistic after gaining 4 seats in by-elections since 2011, and polls indicated the NDP now had a fighting chance at official opposition or even government. All three parties had advantages and disadvantages going into the election. Pollsters disagreed throughout the campaign on what was going on, creating a wild ride of emotions for supporters on all sides.
The Ontario Liberal Party (OLP) has formed government since 2003 in the province. The Liberals’ recent power in provincial politics, however, is fairly recent. The provincial Liberals were left decimated after Liberal Premier Mitch Hepburn (1934-1942) – something of a hubristic blowhard (but a complex and fascinating politician) – picked a fight with Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King after 1935 and during World War II, which led to the division of the party and its landslide defeat in 1943, when the Liberals fell to third behind the PCs and the left-wing Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF, the modern-day NDP’s ancestor). Between 1943 and 1985, the Ontario Liberals were out of power (and even fell into third twice – in 1948 and 1975), becoming largely a disorganized and directionless party left with a reduced base in rural southwestern Ontario (and with French-Catholic voters). It is often said that the Liberals in this era were even to the right of the hegemonic PCs, although this is not a universal rule. In 1985, the Liberals finally regained the initiative with the modernizing and progressive leadership of David Peterson, while the Tories had finally run out of steam. The PCs won the most seats in 1985, but Peterson’s Liberals were able to form a government thanks to a confidence and supply pact with the NDP for a 2-year period. Peterson’s first term in office saw passage of several progressive reforms (pay equity, eliminated extra billing by doctors, penalties for polluters, campaign finance reform, French-language services etc), which allowed the Liberals to win reelection in a landslide (with a majority mandate) in 1987. The second term saw a marked slowdown in reformist zeal, and the Liberals were hurt by problems in auto insurance and rent control, a Liberal financing scandal, a worsening economy and the Canadian constitutional crises of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Neverthless, Peterson made the ill-advised decision to call a snap election in September 1990, largely motivated by the desire to win reelection before the recession kicked in. Instead, however, the mood quickly turned against him for opportunistically calling a snap election, and the Liberals suffered a defeat of historic proportions at hands of the NDP. Widely expected to win in 1995 after Bob Rae’s unpopular government, the mood again turned against them, because of a weak and indecisive leader often found to be flip-flopping. The Liberals lost to the PCs in 1995, and again in 1999 – under McGuinty – despite strategic voting on the left for the Liberals against the PCs.
Like most successful Liberal parties in Canada, the OLP is a big-tent party, both in terms of voter support and internal factions within the party. It evens out, ideologically, to a vaguely centre-left or centrist stance, often derided by critics as being bland and insipid. Kathleen Wynne, who is the first woman premier of the province and the first openly lesbian head of government in Canada, hails from Toronto – so, unsurprisingly, she’s rather on the (progressive, urban) left of the party. In an encouraging sign, her sexual orientation was thankfully never an issue in this election.
Wynne took the party a bit to the left, although still presenting itself in the centre – the Liberals sold themselves as the ‘balanced and realistic approach’ against those (the NDP and PCs) who would endanger the recovery ‘radical schemes and reckless choices’. However, the budget was widely described by commentators as a left-wing budget (some said ‘NDP-friendly’) while left-wing Liberals praised Wynne for a manifesto which courageously defended the role of government and taxation in a global environment of austerity. The Liberals, like in 2011, did believe that they had a ‘good story to tell’, but the campaign was far less retrospective than that of 2011 – largely because it was imperative for Wynne to distance herself from McGuinty’s tainted legacy and break free from the ‘McGuinty-Wynne’ label which Hudak assigned to her government.
The Liberal manifesto, unsurprisingly, largely consisted of new policy announcements made with the 2014 budget or reiterating existing government policies. From the budget, the Liberals especially focused on the $2.5 billion Jobs and Prosperity Fund to attract new investments across all sectors; the ORPP to ensure a secure and predictable retirement income beginning in 2017; a 10-year $130 billion plan for infrastructure investments (which includes the $29 billion for transit, for major public transit projects in the GTA, Ottawa, Kitchener-Waterloo etc) notably for roads, highways and bridges across Ontario and for upgrades to schools, hospitals and universities/colleges; eliminating the Debt Retirement Charge from hydro bills; the increase in and indexation of child benefits and the increase in and indexation of the minimum wage.
Other promises and reiterated policies included full implementation of full-day KG; continuing the 30% off tuition grant; increasing apprenticeships and training opportunities; lowering auto insurance rates; lowering electricity prices for low-income families; implementing a new anti-poverty strategy; expanding child care; promoting new methods of learning (experimental learning, technology in schools, global-oriented learning, fostering new skills); reducing wait times in healthcare; supporting seniors (home care, increased pay for personal support workers, a new palliative and end-of-life care strategy, seniors activity and community grants program); encouraging eco-friendly ‘smarter growth’; tackling climate change (Ontario finally shut down its last coal-powered power plant); greater government accountability and protecting consumers.
Economically, the Liberal Party planned a return to a balanced budget in 2017-8. It reiterated the budget’s tax changes including income tax hikes for high-incomes, increasing the aviation fuel tax but maintain Ontario’s low competitive corporate tax rate. The Liberals reiterated the government’s policies to make public sector pensions ‘more sustainable’ and to limit spending growth.
The Liberals also took on the mantle of ‘defending Ontario’s interests’ against the federal government – criticizing the federal government for not giving Ontario “its fair share” and advocating for a national drug insurance policy and child care program. Relations between the Ontario Liberals and the federal Conservatives have become increasingly testy, with federal cabinet ministers (some of whom are former Ontario provincial cabinet ministers or MPPs from the Harris era) criticizing the provincial Liberal government.
The Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario (PC) was Ontario’s natural governing party for most of the post-war era, governing Ontario without interruption between 1943 and 1985 (prior to that, the Conservatives also governed from 1905 to 1919 and 1923 to 1934). Prior to the election of Mike Harris to the PC leadership in 1990, the Tories were a largely moderate party – reflecting the soft interventionist tendencies of the party’s Protestant elite supporters. Premier James Whitney (1905-1914) led a progressive conservative administration whose achievements include Ontario Hydro, the Workmen’s Compensation Board and public works but also infamous Regulation 17, which restricted the use of French to the first two years of schooling. In 1943, George Drew led the PCs to a narrow victory on an unusually radical ’22 points program’ (including progressive labour legislation, full social security programs) and his victories in 1943 and 1945 (when the PCs led an anti-communist, red-baiting campaign to destroy the CCF and socialism) laid the roots of the Ontario PC dynasty which ruled until 1985. The remarkable longevity of the PCs can be explained by economic prosperity, low-key and inoffensive governments which laid low and followed the public mood, regular turnover in leadership to prevent voter fatigue, a weak and divided opposition, a big-tent party generously backed by big business, a strong electoral machine and policies moulded to the electorate’s taste for centrist managerialism. The PC premiers from this era (Drew, Leslie Frost, John Robarts and Bill Davis) all came from WASP elite backgrounds, were ‘business-like’ managerial leaders and were flexible when required (changing their mind on hospital insurance, medicare, Francophone rights or full funding for Catholic separate schools). While they were unquestionably conservatives (for instance, the PCs were dragged into medicare and federal pensions by the federal Liberals), these premiers all are remembered for some progressive pieces of legislation or interventionist policies – Drew’s labour legislation, Frost’s public works investments, Robart’s recognition of Franco-Ontarian rights and Metro Toronto scheme, Davis’ big education investments, rent controls and piecemeal environmental legislation. The Tories ran out of steam after Davis’ retirement in early 1985, and his replacement by the more rural right-winger Frank Miller. The PCs were also hurt, in the 1985 election, by Davis’ about-face on separate schools with his decision to extend full funding for Catholic separate schools to all grades (hitherto limited to Grade 10, to be expanded to Grades 11 to 13). This decision, which broke with Tory tradition, alienated traditional Protestant Conservative voters in rural Anglo Ontario. The PCs still won the most seats (but not the most votes), but were defeated in the legislature right after it first convened by a Liberal-NDP coalition. In 1987, the PCs were decimated and dropped into third, and made no significant inroads under new leader Mike Harris in 1990. The PCs regained power with Mike Harris in 1995, and were reelected in 1999 but defeated by the Liberals in 2003.
The election of Mike Harris was a sea-change for the PCs. Nevertheless, Ernie Eves and John Tory both represented a shift back to the centre-right Red Toryism of the Big Blue Machine – but Eves was defeated in 2003 and Tory was a gloriously incompetent leader who self-sabotaged the 2007 campaign. Tory failed to win his chosen seat in Toronto in 2007 (defeated by Wynne, as it turns out), but tried to hold on to the PC leadership, until he was defeated by a Liberal candidate in hilarious fashion in a 2009 by-election in a safe Tory seat. Tim Hudak clearly shifted the PCs back to the right – his leadership style has been called a retread of Mike Harris’ Common Sense Revolution or a ‘Tea Party north’ strategy. Despite performing poorly as a leader in the 2011 election, the PCs still made sufficient gains on the Liberals in that election to allow the PCs to be indulgent on Hudak and allow him to stay on. In the legislature, Hudak was a fiery and virulent opponent of the government – relentlessly attacking it for its fiscal and budgetary woes, ethics problems, countless scandals and alleged mismanagement. He refused to support any Liberal budget since 2011, always clamoring for a snap election and picking on the NDP for propping up the Liberals in 2012 and 2013.
An upbeat and confident Hudak kicked off his 2014 campaign with a heavy focus on job creation – Hudak said he had a “laser-like focus” on job creation. His manifesto, the Million Jobs Plan was very critical of the Liberal record – manufacturing job loses since 2003, emigration to Western Canada, equalization payments (for the first time in Canadian history, Ontario became a ‘have-not’ province because of the bad recession), the record debt, high taxes and ‘wasteful subsidies’ to green energy. The plan was very right-wing, neoliberal and populist, reminiscent of the Common Sense Revolution (some might say even to the right of that!). The manifesto was filled with proposals to reduce the size and role of government and ’empower entrepreneurs and job-creators’.
To encourage private sector job creation (because the PCs strongly reject the idea of government creating jobs), the PCs promised to replace ‘corporate welfare and handouts’ with a 30% corporate tax cut (to make Ontario’s corporate tax rate the lowest in North America); increase opportunities in skilled trades jobs (by abolishing the College of Trades and scrapping apprenticeship rules); cut hydro rates (by eliminating green energy subsidies); cut red tape; reduce government’s role and regulatory powers; allow pension plans to invest in Crown corporations; expand transit and roads in the GTA; reform labour laws to weaken union ‘bureaucracy’ and empower individuals; expand the roles of colleges; refocus universities on STEM subjects (to build a ‘culture of entrepreneurship’) and expand free trade. The PCs ultimately decided against backing controversial ‘right-to-work’ legislation.
The PC plan to reduce the size and role of government was controversial, and especially hard-hitting. The PCs planned to kill the deficit by 2016-7, a year ahead of the Liberals, and made it one of their top priorities. Hudak also delayed personal income tax cuts till after the budget is balanced. In their Million Jobs Plan, the PCs promised to limit government from growing (after the budget is balanced) beyond a fixed percentage of the economy. In the immediate, the PCs pledged to review all government programs, reduce spending (by 6% over 4 years), shrink the cabinet from 27 to 16, implement a two-year pay freeze for all public servants (saving $2 billion), limit public sector benefits (in line with the private sector), cut the public sector by 10% by cutting 100,000 jobs (Hudak promised that vital frontline services wouldn’t be affected), open government services to competition and refocus government on “jobs that only government can and should do”. Hudak mentioned privatizing gambling (the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, OLG) but still regulating gambling.
Healthcare and education, Hudak said, would remain two key government priorities but explained that both needed major reforms to make them sustainable for the future. As in 2011, Hudak targeted the ‘bureaucracy’ in healthcare and education management and promised to empower frontline professionals and local schools, hospitals, teachers and doctors. On healthcare, the PCs promised a new focus on chronic care, expand home care and allow choice and competition (allowing, for example, home care services to be received from the government or another provider). On education, the PCs specific focus was on raising standards and expectations for students, improving math skills and helping kids with special needs. The manifesto also included a verbose and very vague part about ‘protection core education’ which decried spending increases over the past decade and ‘making choices’. Not included in the manifesto, but announced by the party, the PCs planned to increase class sizes, eliminate 9,700 non-teaching positions, reduce the number of early childhood educators in KG. One union estimated, on the base of the PCs’ pledge to implement Drummond’s recommendations for cuts in education, that 19,000 positions in the education sector would be cut.
Obviously, Hudak’s ‘radical’ plan was strongly criticized by both Liberals and New Democrats. The Liberals doubled-down on Hudak’s daring ‘pink-slip pledge’ to lay off 100,000 public servants (and many others wondered how the Tories would create jobs by gutting 100,000 of them to begin with) and attacked the PC platform for its ‘bad math’.
The Ontario New Democratic Party (NDP or ONDP) has been a successful third party in Ontarian politics, forming the official opposition on four occasion and forming a majority government once (some may also count Ernest Drury’s 1919-1923 United Farmer-Labour government, as a predecessor of the CCF/NDP). Ontario has been one of the few Canadian provinces which has had a genuine, lasting three-party system (since the 1970s in Ontario’s case), and it has been the NDP’s strongest province outside the West due to the strength of organized labour (the Ontario Federation of Labour, OFL) in the province. The CCF came very close to winning the most seats in 1943 (34 seats to the PCs’ 38), but Drew’s anti-communist, anti-union red baiting campaign in 1945 (or, given the popular vote results, the whims of FPTP) decimated the CCF in 1945 although they regained second in 1948. The CCF/NDP went through a prolonged trough with the early Cold War between 1951 and 1967; in the 1967 election, the NDP finally broke through in 1967 – going from 7 to 20 seats and 16% to 26% – thanks to greater urbanization and concern for social issues. The NDP was very successful under Stephen Lewis’ leadership, becoming the official opposition to a Tory minority government in 1975, after Lewis’ successful campaign targeted sensitive rent issues – which pushed the PC government to adopt rent controls. Despite a strong performance in opposition, the NDP slid back into third in 1977 (in 1975, the NDP won two more seats than the Liberals while in 1977 the NDP lost five seats and was one seat behind the OLP). The NDP did poorly under the more left-wing leadership of Michael Cassidy, but the election of federal MP and urban moderate Bob Rae led the NDP to success in 1985 (25 seats). Rae’s NDP allied with the Liberals for a two-year period, which saw the Liberal government adopt a number of policies advocated by the NDP (pay equity, no extra billing, pollution control, job security, social justice) and the NDP still managed to hold its own in 1987 despite the Liberal sweep (it lost 6 MPPs but its vote actually edged up to 26% as the PCs lost 12% and 36 MPPs).
Bob Rae famously led the NDP to an unexpectedly massive victory in 1990, winning 38% and a 74-seat majority government. Unfortunately for the NDP, Rae took office in the midst of a major recession which saw significant manufacturing job loses and a ballooning provincial debt and deficit ($12.7 billion deficit in 1993-4) and the NDP was quickly forced to swallow its principles and respond with austerity measures (tax increases and spending cuts) which alienated the NDP’s working-class supporters and organized labour. The Rae government’s 1993 Social Contract forced 900,000 public employees to take up to 12 days of unpaid leave (‘Rae days’), which the NDP claimed was a better alternative than mass layoffs as the federal government did and the PCs later did. The NDP’s allies in organized labour, particularly the main public sector union (CUPE) broke with the NDP over the Social Contract, which reopened collective bargaining agreements. The NDP was forced to renege on its landmark promise to nationalize the auto insurance industry. While Rae’s government is largely remembered, fairly or unfairly, for its austerity policies, broken promises and cabinet inexperience; the NDP did also introduce some more left-leaning pieces of legislation: a new labour law made it easier to form a union, gave public servants the right to strike, banned the use of replacement workers in a strike or lockout and increased the minimum wage; it brought in affirmative action; unsuccessfully tried to introduce same-sex civil unions (but it was defeated by 12 NDP rebels and the Liberal’s reversal on the issue after a shock by-election loss to the PCs who had made it an issue) and the government intervened to keep several plants from closing. Nevertheless, none of this was enough to change the negative perception of the government in 1995, and the NDP collapsed to 21% and 17 seats. Rae was succeded by Howard Hampton, a well-meaning but ineffectual leader who steered the NDP back to the left. But the Hampton NDP suffered from the negative perception of the NDP post-Rae, strategic voting for the Liberals against the Tories (in 1999 and 2003, the NDP fell to only 9 and 7 MPPs respectively) and the NDP only began recovering in 2007, which was Hampton’s last election as leader.
Horwath did quite well in 2011, and she became the most popular party leader of the three after the election. Teacher’s unions anger over the Liberals’ Bill 115 mobilized union support for the NDP, which picked up four seats – 3 from the Liberals and one from the PCs – in by-elections in 2012 and 2013. Three of these seats, furthermore, were ridings in which the NDP had not usually been strong in (1990 excluded), so they were considered major successes for the NDP.
The Ontario NDP has stuck to a moderate, pragmatic social democratic agenda for decades. In the 1970s, Stephen Lewis successfully disbanded the radical left minority (The Waffle) in the NDP. Horwath has been widely perceived as being more ‘populist’ – as opposed to urban, progressive and environmentalist (à la Jack Layton or modern federal NDP). She pulled the plug on Wynne’s government, but the Liberals attacked the NDP for opposing a ‘left-wing budget’ and some of the NDP’s allies in organized labour and some Dippers criticized Horwath for not supporting the budget. Liberal commentators claimed that Horwath was ‘moving the party to the right’.
The Horwath NDP’s 2014 platform was certainly nothing radical and retained the gritty, populist tone of the 2011 manifesto. The NDP even talked of ‘rewarding job creators’ – which is often a kind of phrasing associated with the right – although by that Horwath meant offering tax credits to employers who create jobs (equal to 10% of an employee’s salary up to $5,000), cutting the small business tax from 4.5% to 3% by 2016, giving tax credits to companies investing in machinery/buildings/equipment and investing in re-training programs for seniors. The NDP also promised substantial investments in public transit ($29 billion) and infrastructure (highways, and the new mining region in northern Ontario’s Ring of Fire). In the bread-and-butter issues which the Horwath NDP has focused on, it promised to take the HST off home hydro bills, reduce auto insurance by 15% (claiming the Liberal concession to the NDP in 2013 on the issue had no effect), provide homeowners with loans to make energy efficient home retrofits (or install solar panels), free undergrad tuition fees (at 2014 levels), make provincial student loans interest-free, invest in childcare spaces and prevent ‘unfair’ increases in natural gas prices. On healthcare questions, the NDP promised to invest money on frontline services and pointed out the Liberals’ waste on Ornge and eHealth. The party pledged to open 50 new 24-hr family health clinics to provide more Ontarians with access to primary care, hire more nurse practitioners to treat and discharge patients in ERs, increase the number of long-term care beds, support families caring for the ill or elderly with a tax credit, attract doctors to under-serviced communities by forgiving student debts and eliminate wait times for seniors. The NDP promised to keep schools open with an ‘open schools fund’, launch a student achievement program, expand dental benefits for low-income children, protect tenants by enforcing building standards and maintenance rules and promote healthy eating and physical activity in schools.
The NDP also made a big issue out of government accountability and ethics – in the debate, Horwath repeated that voters had an alternative to ‘bad math’ (the PCs) and ‘bad ethics’ (the Liberals). The Dippers promised to cap the salaries of public sector CEOs, stop corporate tax ‘giveaways’ by increasing it by 1% (from 11.5% to 12.5%), toughen oversight on government advertising, appoint a Financial Accountability Office, cut hydro bills by merge four hydro agencies and promised $600 million savings thanks to a Minister of Savings and Accountability (no comment!). Like the Liberals, the NDP envisioned a return to a balanced budget in 2017-8.
The Green Party of Ontario (GPO) has seen its support oscillate in recent years, pulling a small but not insignificant percentage of the vote. Although the Ontario Greens are one of the more successful provincial Green parties in Canada (along with BC; but that’s largely because many other provincial Green parties are disorganized jokes), having won 8% in 2007, they have never won a seat (they came ‘close’ in 2007, winning 33% and second in Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound against 47% for the PCs). Support for the Greens collapsed to 2.9% in 2011. The current leader is Mike Schreiner, who replaced longtime leader Frank de Jong (1993-2009). Ideologically, de Jong was an eco-capitalist and the GPO have been seen as a more centrist/centre-right green liberal party. They have traditionally backed lowering taxes on small businesses and individuals, shifting the burden to polluters and big corporations with new green taxes.
The Greens sold themselves as a fresh alternative with new ideas, depicting the three parties as old, stuck in gimmicks and politicking and in bed with big corporations. The Greens’ manifesto promised to lower payroll taxes on small businesses (by increasing corporate taxes by 1%), greatly expand transit infrastructure, grants to homeowners to invest in energy conservation, save $1.2 to $1.6 billion each year by merging the school boards into a single public system, push for a guaranteed annual income for all citizens (in the meantime, they’d tackle child poverty), protect farmland and clean water, fight to increase royalties for natural resources, close legislative loopholes which threaten communities and create something called a ‘Social Innovation Foundation’ for young adults.
The Greens also ran a full slate of candidates.
Turnout was 52.1%, up from an historic sub-50 low of 49.2% in 2011. Turnout had been steadily declining from 1990 (64%), so this marks the first increase in turnout in over 20 years. However, 52% – barely below 2007 – is now the second-lowest turnout in Ontario history, after 2011. Ontarians have generally not voted in droves in provincial elections, being more interested by federal politics (and thus voting more in federal elections).
Liberal 38.65% (+1%) winning 58 seats (+5)
PC 31.25% (-4.2%) winning 28 seats (-9)
NDP 23.75% (+1.01%) winning 21 seats (+4)
Green 4.84% (+1.92%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 1.53% (+0.33%) winning 0 seats (nc)
The Liberals were reelected to a fourth term in office and regained their majority in the provincial parliament, which they had lost in 2011. The result was not a total surprise, but the ease with which the Liberals ultimately won a majority was unexpected. The PCs did not do as well as expected, winning only 28 seats and 31.3% of the vote, actually losing over 4 points off of their 2011 result. The NDP did well, winning 23.8% and 21 seats, which is the NDP’s result since 1990. That the gap between first and second in terms of seats (20) was much wider than the gap between second and third (7) was, however, rather unexpected.
The campaign, as noted above, was a wild ride – mostly because pollsters disagreed on where the race stood, and pollsters’ attempts to alter their methodologies in bid to more accurately predict the outcome of the vote on June 12 only added to the confusion. The graph to the right, which looks at all polls from all pollsters during the duration of the campaign, shows how confusing it all was. Who led during the different parts of the campaign depended heavily on the pollster you asked. Ipsos-Reid showed the PCs leading the Liberals in their first four polls, until the Liberals and PCs tied at 36% on June 6. In their final poll, on June 11, the Liberals led the PCs by 2 and the PCs led by the NDP by 1. EKOS, which had daily trackers in June, showed the Liberals leading the PCs until June 5, when the PCs suddenly jumped 4% from the previous day’s rolling sample (30.9% to 34.9%) but then lost another 4 points from June 9 to June 10 (falling from 34.5% to 30.2%), giving the Liberals a solid 6-point lead over the PCs in their last poll. EKOS consistently showed the NDP weak, with no more than 21.5% support in June while they always showed the Greens above 5%. Forum Research, an increasingly reliable pollster in Canada, showed a close race, but the Liberals broke a tie on May 27 and regained a solid lead, leading 41 to 35 in the final poll from the organization on June 11. Like EKOS, Forum showed the NDP weak, and dropping from 22% on May 3 (when the PCs led 38 to 33) to 17% on June 5 before edging back up to 20% on June 11. Abacus showed the Liberals ahead in all but one of their 5 polls during the campaign, with a 35-32 lead on June 10 (and the NDP strong at 26%).
To make matters worse, EKOS, Ipsos-Reid and Abacus actively promoted their new ‘likely voter’ model polls during the campaign. LV polls are common in the US during election season, and they are typically seen as more accurate than registered voters (RV) samples in the last 2 months of the campaign. But they’re new in Canada. The pollsters wanted to use LV models to more accurately capture voters’ enthusiasm for parties and to account for the likelihood of low, 50%-ish turnout. However, EKOS and Ipsos-Reid’s LV models ended up giving two vastly different pictures. EKOS’ LV model awarded ‘points’ to segments based on their likelihood to vote – more points for those who voted federally and provincially in 2011, more points for those who said they were angry or hopeful about Wynne’s government, more points for those who rate their likelihood to vote as 7 (out of 7), more points for those who said they knew the location of their polling station and more points for older voters. Ipsos’ LV details are no longer (if they ever were) available online for free. EKOS’ LV model showed the Liberals leading throughout, almost always by large margins. On June 11, EKOS’ LV model showed the Liberals at 42.2% (37.3% in the main sample), the PCs at 35.9% (31.3%) and the NDP at 16.9% (19.2%), while the Greens and ‘others’ were much lower than in the main sample (EKOS tends to overstate Green support). Ipsos-Reid’s LV model, however, showed consistent PC leads throughout – although the size of the PC lead dropped from 14% on May 9 to 6% in their last poll on June 11. Ipsos-Reid’s June 11 LV model showed the PCs at 36% (31% in the main sample) and the Liberals and NDP tied at 30% (33% and 30% in the main sample). Abacus’ last two LV polls showed the Liberals and PCs tied.
While most pollsters agreed that the Liberals were leading, they disagreed about the size of its lead. The pollsters differed wildly on the NDP’s numbers – four final polls on June 11 showed the NDP at 19.2% (EKOS), 20% (Forum), 26% (Abacus) and 30% (Ipsos-Reid)! The PC numbers ranged from 31% to 35% while the Grits’ numbers ranged from 33% to 41% (another wide gap). Most predicted that the Liberals would win a fourth term, and most believed it would be majority. There was clearly some sense that the Liberals could, if lucky, win a majority. At the same time, most people did not want to rule out a Tory surprise entirely. The NDP’s numbers in polls made it unclear whether the NDP would do very well or poorly.
The Liberals ‘led’ – or we have the sense that they did – for most of the campaign, although it remained a very close race with the Tories and many predicted strong results for the Dippers too. The leader’s debate on June 3 did not, in the end, matter much. Wynne struggled in the debate, especially in the beginning as Hudak and Horwath pounded on her for the Liberals’ ethics scandals. Later on, however, Wynne proved much more feisty, in heated exchanges with Hudak. Hudak held his ground well, being able to sell his plan quite well and landing several good blows on Wynne. Horwath also did well. Wynne attacked Hudak’s Million Jobs Plan, particularly the big cuts and public sector layoffs he was calling for. Hudak criticized the Liberals’ plan as unrealistic, insisting that Wynne tell him what she would cut in order to balance the budget. Wynne’s poor performance may explain the short-lived PC surge in EKOS and other polls, but it was inconsistent and died off quickly.
Overall, LV models were junk. EKOS overestimated Liberal and PC support, while they badly underestimated the NDP. Ipsos-Reid overestimated the PCs and NDP, and the Liberals did much better than they predicted. The traditional polls did much better – in fact, all pollsters which also had a LV model saw their main sample perform better than the LV model. Angus-Reid was the most accurate – their main model had the Liberals leading the PCs 36 to 32, with the NDP at 26%. Abacus’ eligible and LV models placed second and third, despite the LV model indicating a 36-36 ties between the OLP and PCs. Ipsos-Reid’s eligible and LV models were two of the worst performers, and EKOS’ LV was also worthless.
So, the Liberals won a fourth term. It’s an unprecedented success for the modern Ontario Liberal Party – the last time the Liberals were so successful was between 1871 and 1902, when the Liberals won 9 elections in a row (Oliver Mowat was the early OLP’s most famous Premier, from 1872 to 1896). It is, more significantly, another major comeback for the Liberals. Since 2003, the Liberals have never been wildly popular, and their electoral victories in 2007, 2011 and now 2014 have owed a lot to the weakness of the Conservative opposition. In 2007, John Tory’s incompetence allowed the Liberals to win a huge majority again. In 2011, Hudak’s poor campaign and style allowed the Liberals to stage a comeback, although it was only good enough for a much reduced minority mandate. Nevertheless, the Ontario Liberals have also proven themselves to be good campaigners and tough fighters – regardless of what people think of them or their governing abilities, they’re a strong electoral machine and they know how to win elections (which is something which the PCs seem to have forgotten about).
The 2014 victory – and the majority – is made all the more impressive given the amount of anger for the Liberal government which existed out there. It is, granted, quite possible that much of this anger came from voters who hadn’t voted Liberal in the past elections to begin with. On the basis of the 2013 and 2014 by-elections, the Liberals seemed to be in big trouble. What came out of those results was that the Liberals were practically dead in the water outside of central Toronto, Ottawa and the inner GTA – in southwestern Ontario, the real contest would be between the NDP and PCs, even in Liberal-held seats (see: London West and Niagara Falls by-elections). While the results certainly did show that the Liberal performance was much stronger in the GTA than in, say, southwestern Ontario, the Liberal results province-wide were nowhere near as catastrophic as those of the by-elections. I had already warned, at the time, against taking the by-election results too seriously – history shows that by-elections are fairly poor predictors of general election results. Turnout was lower, and voters drawn to vote in the by-elections between 2011 and 2014 were likely anti-government, anti-Liberal voters. The NDP had the chance to focus and target its resources and manpower on specific ridings in these by-elections, which they did extremely well, but a general election requires a broader strategy and less micro-focus from a major party. The Liberals certainly did not pull all they had in the by-elections, but they went all-out in the general election and their machine worked.
An interesting result, though: all but one of the nine ridings which saw by-elections between 2011 and 2014 ended up sticking with the MPP they had elected in those by-elections.
Kathleen Wynne, in the end, proved many naysayers wrong and ended up as a rather good leader and candidate. Despite Hudak’s attempts to tie Wynne to McGuinty’s tainted legacy, a strategy which seemed to be working in the by-elections, that ‘Wynne-McGuinty Liberals’ failed to stick to the Liberals during the campaign and Wynne was generally good (except in the debate) at avoiding the issue of McGuinty or letting the Liberals’ McGuinty-era scandals hurt her or even the party. Wynne made a good impression on a lot of voters, who saw her as somewhat fresh, reasonable and a decent enough leader. Hudak, critically, failed to make a good impression or, more accurately, improve on his existing unpopularity.
Hudak was the clear loser. The PCs, again, more or less blew their chances at what could have been an easy victory. The ‘Million Jobs Plan’ scared voters away – it was badly crafted policy, which had several holes in it, left many questions unanswered and had all the ingredients in it to mobilize voters against the PCs or to turn swing voters away from them. Granted, Mike Harris won in 1995 on a similarly right-wing platform – but since then, the traumatic Harris era continues to evoke strong feelings with a lot of voters. Additionally, Hudak’s Million Jobs Plan lacked a lot of the elements which made the Common Sense Revolution successful: he did not promise any tax cuts for individuals (but promised major tax cuts for corporations) and he did not really allay fears that healthcare and education would not be cut (although Harris ended up cutting both, the Common Sense Revolution manifesto had pledged not to touch them). Additionally, Hudak was a mediocre communicator who had difficulty selling himself and his plan to voters.
While Tories can say whatever about them being the only ones who told ‘the truth’ about Ontario’s current state, the reality is that campaigning on a platform which focuses heavily on unpopular austerity policies – such as reducing the public sector by 10%, cutting spending and government programs – is a bad idea (even if it is ‘honest’). The austerity must be counterbalanced by appealing promises – like tax cuts for individuals – even if those can later be broken. Hudak’s plan promised job creation (although he never really indicated a target for job creation or a timeline for it), but that proved far too vague to capture voters’ imagination. Hudak, again, let his opponents define him. What stuck were the controversial pledges to cut public sector jobs or the attacks on his platform’s ‘bad math’. There are now indications that PC MPPs and candidates were frustrated with Hudak’s pledge to cut 100,000 public sector jobs, and talk that they found the effect of that controversial promise to be ‘brutal’ and devastating locally. Other Tories, however, said that voters were misled on the issue by the Liberals and the unions.
The result was that, as will be explained in full detail later, the PCs failed to make any gains – in fact, they suffered significant loses – in the province’s key electoral battleground: Toronto and its suburbs. The 905 area code (outside Toronto) is where Ontarian elections are won – the federal Conservatives’ sweep of the 905 region in 2011, aided by the division of the anti-Harper vote between Dippers and Grits led them to a big win in Ontario and by extension a majority government; the provincial Liberals’ success in the 905 since 2003 provided the main base of their governments while Mike Harris’ own success in the 905 in 1995 and 1999 were key to the Tory victories in those two elections. While the 905 is a huge, sprawling and increasingly diverse and heterogeneous area, voters there can be said to broadly favour stability – they endorse parties and politicians who embody (either real or perceived) stability, good economic management and some degree of moderation. Harper, for those voters, more or less ticked off those three issues. The provincial Liberals ticked off those three issues for a lot of suburban 905 voters. As the results of the CBC’s Vote Compass questions show, suburban voters in the 905 are not necessarily opposed to right-wing economics or some of the Hudak PCs’ core tenets, but they still support strong public services and they distrusted Hudak. At the end of the day, they preferred to stick with the devil they know. Hudak failed to convey a feeling of relative security, stability, moderation and he was not perceived as somebody who would be a competent economic manager.
Of course, Hudak’s image problems date from the 2011 election. Since then, he failed to improve his image and he give little indication that he even had interest in improving his image. He carried well to the Conservatives’ solid core electorate, who are very angry with the Liberals, but alienated swing voters. In the 2014 campaign, Hudak’s image failed to improve.
The Ontario NDP did quite well – 23.8% and 21 seats mark the NDP’s best result in a post-1990 era. However, the results were still a mix of good and bad news for the NDP and highlighted the issues faced by the provincial NDP as a result of the ‘populist’ path on which Horwath has taken them. The NDP did very well in southwestern Ontario and the province’s old manufacturing, blue-collar cities – places such as Windsor, Hamilton but also Oshawa and London are now thoroughly dominated by the NDP. However, the NDP lost three seats to the Liberals in downtown Toronto and the NDP suffered significant loses, mostly to the benefit of the Liberals, in all of central and ‘core’ Toronto and in demographically similar ridings in central Ottawa, Guelph and even Hamilton. Horwath’s noted ‘populist shift’ and her focus on bread-and-butter issues alienated a lot of the NDP’s urban, well-educated professional bobo clientele. They were concerned about the NDP’s platform talking of stuff like tax cuts for employers and by the little attention paid to issues dear to them such as poverty, urban housing or the environment. The Liberals’ shift to the left – a more progressive and left-wing budget and platform, the Grits’ attacks on the NDP from the left and perhaps even the personality of Wynne (a Toronto progressive – and her sexuality might have helped Liberals with LGBT voters) – helped them pick up dissatisfied NDP voters. In 2011, the Liberals had also made significant inroads in the Dippers’ central Toronto seats – a result of heavy anti-Hudak strategic voting for the Liberals in the 416 – but the Dippers had still held their own.
It is certainly not impossible to bridge the NDP’s unionized working-class support with its bobo urban support. Jack Layton, despite very much fitting the profile of the ‘urban environmentalist bobo left’ and with a very moderate, Third Way-ish platform, had no trouble appealing to the NDP’s working-class supporters in poorer regions of Ontario and Canada all the while performing tremendously well in inner cities. Horwath largely failed to do that because she gave the impression of focusing entirely on a certain specific type of voter while doing little to market herself to the NDP’s urban supporters.
Some of the initial comments on the NDP’s result were pretty gloomy and negative. Objectively, the NDP did well but not tremendously well; it appealed to some voters at the expense of losing other types of voters. Some of the negative reactions likely stemmed from expectations people had of Horwath and the NDP. After the NDP’s by-election successes across the board in 2012-2014, and Horwath’s strong personal ratings in the polls, many felt that Horwath would finally take the NDP to the ‘big leagues’ and given the Liberals’ performance in the by-elections in 2012-2014, there certainly was reason to believe that the NDP might be on the cusp of displacing the Liberals. That did not materialize – the NDP gained votes and seats, but not ‘enough’ and their mixed results were a cold shower.
The Greens were up a bit – to 4.8% – but that’s still a fairly mediocre result for them, and far from their 2007 highs. Unsurprisingly, the Greens failed to win any seat. While the Ontario Greens do not seem to have completely followed the federal and BC Greens on running ‘micro-targeting’ electoral campaigns which focus heavily on a single riding to elect a Green legislator there, Green leader Mike Schreiner did run in a more Green-friendly riding than last time: the socially liberal progressive university town of Guelph. Schreiner won third place in Guelph with 19.2%, against 21.1% for the PCs and 41.3% for the Liberals – that’s up from 6.9% in 2011 and similar to the GPO’s 19.6% result there back in 2007. It was the party’s second best result – their top result came, unexpectedly, from Parry Sound-Muskoka, where they won 19.3% – up 10 points from 2011 but also up on 2007.
The Liberals will remain in power until 2018, with a majority government. The reelected government quickly passed its 2014 budget in the new legislature. The province’s economic situation remains rather difficult, with a record-high debt and a large deficit which will still take a few years to eliminate (assuming the Liberals do meet their 2017-8 target), but the government is very optimistic that the recovery is only going to get stronger and that Ontario’s most severe economic woes are behind it – it projects that the debt should start dropping after 2015, as the province edges closer to budgetary balance. The four-year term gives the government time to breathe and implement more unpopular decisions if need be, and hope to benefit from a stronger economy in 2018. But can the Liberals really win a fifth term at this point? By 2018, the Liberals will have been in power for 15 years – 11 years is already a pretty surprisingly remarkable longevity for the Liberals.
Tim Hudak announced his intention to step down after a successor is chosen, but he was later forced to anticipate his decision and quit immediately as the PC caucus told him that it was time to go. The PCs have an interim leader until they can choose a permanent leader in 2015. The only declared candidate thus far is Christine Elliott, the PC MPP for Whitby-Oshawa and the widow of former federal finance minister Jim Flaherty, who died earlier this year shortly after retiring from politics. Flaherty had previously been a senior cabinet minister provincially under Harris and Eves, and was the main Harrisite right-wing candidate in the 2002 and 2004 PC leadership elections, in which he placed second both times. Elliott ran for the PC leadership herself in 2009, placing third on the second ballot. Elliott, in 2009, had ran on a platform proposing a 8% flat tax, a minimum wage freeze for 4 years and tough-on-crime policies but she was more liberal on social/moral issues. Since 2009, she has served as Deputy Leader of the Opposition and, after the PCs were murdered in the GTA this election, she’s one of the few (only?) remaining senior Tories from that seat-rich swing region.
There’s been a bit of speculation that some federal Tory cabinet ministers from Ontario might return to provincial politics – John Baird (the foreign minister) and Tony Clement (the President of the Treasury Board), who were both PC MPPs and cabinet ministers under Harris-Eves, have been cited. Other names include Lisa MacLeod, a senior PC MPP for Nepean-Carleton; and Lisa Raitt, a federal Tory MP and transport minister.
The PCs will need to find a new direction or a new, more appealing way of selling themselves. The shift to the centre and the old Red Tory history failed with John Tory, a return to the 1995 Common Sense Revolution basics on the right failed with Tim Hudak – although neither leaders were predestined to fail because of their ideologies, and rather failed because of their own weaknesses as leaders. However, the 2011 and 2014 campaigns and results should make it clear that few voters fancy a return to Mike Harris-style politics and policies, and that the Tories can’t win through right-wing populism and ‘tough talk’/’brutal honesty’ about austerity. The Tories can remain on the right and win, however – it just requires much better framing and marketing than the disastrous PR it got with Hudak. However, if the Tories don’t change, it’s worth noting that the NDP have only seven seats less than the Tories…
Andrea Horwath will remain NDP leader. That seems fair and reasonable based on the NDP’s results – I found the overly negative tone of the post-election analysis of the NDP and the questions about Horwath’s future to be a bit silly. However, she will need to do a much better job at marketing the NDP to its entire traditional base – it isn’t impossible, but two successive election campaigns have shown that Horwath has failed to appeal to a large and important segment of the NDP’s traditional electorate.
I said it above – the Liberals won the election and their majority in Toronto and its suburbs, a region known as the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), Golden Horseshoe (which covers the whole extended urban megalopolis from Niagara to Oshawa) or the 905 (the area code for GTA/Golden Horseshoe regions outside the city of Toronto, which is known as the 416).
In Toronto, it was a near total Liberal sweep. The Liberals won about 49% of the vote and 21 out of 23 seats, against about 22% for the NDP and 2 seats. The PCs, interestingly, placed second and improved on their (admittedly terrible) 2011 result, winning about 23%, but they were shut out. The city of Toronto has been the Ontario Liberal stronghold since 1993 (federally) and 2003 (provincially), and the PCs have not won a seat in a general election in the city since 1999 – the PC gain in Etobicoke-Lakeshore in last year’s by-election marked the first PC victory in the 416 in over 10 years. The Liberals were expected to do very well in Toronto, and the NDP expected to do poorly; likewise, Toronto was not a must-win for Hudak: he could have formed government without any seats in Toronto, just like Harper’s Tories carried a plurality of seats in Ontario in the 2008 federal election despite not returning a single MP from the 416. The Liberals remain a near-perfect fit for most of the city of Toronto, especially now with a Torontonian at the helm: demographically, the city’s highly diverse mix of low-income visible minorities, old white ethnic European communities (Italians) and well-educated affluent professionals (the ‘too smart to vote Tory, too rich to vote NDP’ demographic) are all solidly Liberal groups. However, as the 2011 federal election showed, the Liberals are certainly not invincible. That year, the Liberals fell from 21 MPs to only 6, with the Tories breaking through (9 seats) and the NDP making gains (8 seats).
Andrea Horwath’s campaign style was a very poor fit for Toronto, which is where the NDP suffered its most significant loses (losing 3 seats and about 4% of the vote). As explained above, the traditional NDP base in the city tends to be young, well-educated professionals (generally not particularly high income) with cosmopolitan, green and progressive worldviews, living in gentrified downtown areas (such as the present-day riding of Trinity-Spadina, which once upon a time in the 1940s elected Communist MPPs!); these voters were turned off by Horwath’s campaign, which targeted working-class Rust Belt voters with a populist campaign focused on what critics would call ‘gimmicks’ (tax cuts, HST off hydro etc). On the other hand, the Wynne Liberals have moved to the left since the McGuinty days, and their cosmopolitan, progressive urban centre-left image was very appealing to a lot of voters who had backed the NDP in previous elections. As a result of Liberal gains, directly from the NDP and because of higher turnout, the Liberals gained the ridings of Beaches-East York, Trinity-Spadina and Davenport. The riding of Trinity-Spadina attracted most attention, because a federal by-election was held in that same seat a few weeks later, on June 30. In the federal contest, Liberal star candidate Adam Vaughan, a left-wing Toronto city councillor, easily gained the seat from the NDP, which had held the riding since 2006 with Olivia Chow (the widow of former NDP leader Jack Layton, who resigned to run for mayor of Toronto in October 2014).
The NDP vote fell from 46.8% to 39% in Beaches-East York, 42.4% to 30.5% in Trinity-Spadina, 45.9% to 39.8% in Davenport; in all these seats, the Liberals made significant gains, allowing them to win a 15.8% majority (!) in Trinity-Spadina. The NDP only retained Toronto-Danforth (44.5% vs 37% for the Liberals) and saved Parkdale-High Park by a hair (40.7% to 39.6%). The NDP also suffered loses to the Liberals in ridings where they were not the incumbents: for instance, in the fourth straight rematch between Liberal MPP Laura Albanese and former NDP MPP Paul Ferreira in York South-Weston, a seat which the NDP won in a February 2007 by-election (but then lost to the Liberals in October), the Liberal majority grew from 2.4% to 10.9%. In Toronto Centre, the NDP fell back into third place, losing about 10% from the 2011 election.
In 2011, the Liberals came dangerously close to the NDP in Trinity-Spadina. The general wisdom for that riding holds that the huge condo boom on the waterfront (bred from the redevelopment of old industrial lands on the harbourfront) will benefit the Liberals, as the NDP does poorly with affluent, high-end condo dwellers (although that didn’t stop Olivia Chow from doing very well in May 2011). The Liberals made major inroads all across the diverse riding: in they did well in low-income Chinatown, because of their Chinese-born candidate Han Dong; they swept most neighborhoods (including student and academic neighborhoods around UofT and the gentrified bobo Kensington Market), except for parts of the northwestern end and Palmertson-Little Italy which remained with the NDP (as did, of course, the uber-leftist Toronto Island with its small population of highly activist and engaged left-wing voters) and the Liberals thoroughly dominated their original bases: the waterfront condo boomtown (Entertainment District, Fashion District, Harbourfront) and the affluent Annex – although, interestingly, the PCs seem to have improved marginally at the Liberals’ expense in the most affluent polls. In Beaches-East York, the Grits won by about 1%, with the map showing a north-south divide between Grit dominance in The Beaches – an increasingly affluent area, while the NDP MPP Michael Prue carried East York, which is poorer and historically working-class (but has definitely seen gentrification, which helps the NDP); the NDP was killed by its loses in the more socioeconomically mixed areas of the Beaches, which they had won in 2011.
Davenport, which includes the bulk of Toronto’s Portuguese areas but also increasingly gentrified bobo areas catering to young, well-educated but not very affluent professionals, the NDP lost by 5.7% after gaining the seat from the Liberals in 2011 with a 4.5% majority. The NDP carried Dufferin Grove and Dovercourt Park – i.e. the gentrified bobo spillover from Trinity-Spadina’s last standing Dipper base, while the Liberals generally carried the Portuguese areas. Long-term gentrification in Davenport and Parkdale-High Park’s old working-class areas should theoretically help the NDP, but the Dippers were unable to withstand the anti-Horwath swings. However, the NDP did narrowly save Parkdale-High Park, thanks to decent enough resistance in Parkdale and The Junction, traditionally working-class neighborhoods which have seen gentrification or at least an influx of bobos (but the area is still low-income); the Liberals largely swept the more affluent (and suburban) High Park area and the Polish/Eastern European neighborhoods.
As mentioned, the NDP fell back in low-income and multiethnic York South-Weston, where former MPP Paul Ferreira was in his fourth successive battle against Liberal MPP Laura Albanese. He only carried a few clusters of polls in the western half of the riding, generally areas with a Portuguese population or a low-income black or Hispanic population; the Liberals dominated, as usual, in the Italian half of the riding.
The Liberals won some of their strongest results in the central part of the old city of Toronto and parts of the old city of North York. The Liberals’ best province-wide result came from St. Paul’s – an upper middle-class central riding with the highest levels of education in the province – where the Liberals won 59.7% against 24% for the PCs (the PCs gained from the Liberals in the very affluent and secular Jewish Forest Hills, a Tory bastion); they also did very well in Toronto Centre (58.2%, refer to my posts on last year’s federal by-election there for an explanation of this very diverse and socioeconomically polarized downtown riding, where the Liberals once again bridged the two extremes – although, again, I pick out Liberal loses to the PCs in very affluent Rosedale) and Wynne’s own riding of Don Valley West (57%, another socioeconomically polarized riding including some of the wealthiest and poorest parts of the city, where the Liberal vote is actually down from 2011 due to loses in the very affluent Bridle Path, Lawrence Parks and York Mills areas – but the PCs failed to match their federal cousins’ results in the [non-1%er] upper middle-class areas).
The Liberals held on with a big margin in Eglinton-Lawrence (21%), held by the federal Tories by a handsome margin since 2011 thanks to the very pronounced right-wards swing of Jewish voters in the Bathurst corridor (a swing which has thrown suburban Thornhill to the Tories since 2007 and placed York Centre in contention). The PCs did dominate the Jewish corridor, as in 2011, but again they failed to make inroads in the upper middle-class (non-Jewish) eastern half while the predominantly Italian western half remained rock-ribbed Liberal country.
The Liberals swept Etobicoke (‘Ford Nation’) – the most interesting contest was middle-class Etobicoke-Lakeshore, which featured a rematch of last year’s by-election between PC MPP Doug Holyday and right-wing Liberal candidate Peter Milczyn (both allies of everybody’s favourite mayor Rob Ford) – this time, the contest went firmly in the Grits’ favour, with the Liberals defeating the Tories 47.1% to 34.3%. In Etobs, the Tories largely shrunk back to their core bases – the affluent neighborhoods, such as the Kingsway in Etobicoke-Lakeshore and Humber Valley Village in Etobicoke Centre.
Interestingly, the Liberal majorities in low-income, multicultural Etobicoke North and York West (which are both about 70% non-white and low-income) shrunk somewhat: the Grits came down from 48.5% to 44.8% in Etobicoke North and from 50.5% to 46.6% in York West, while the NDP from 21.8% to 26.3% in the former riding and 34.8% to 39.3% in the latter. In York Centre, the NDP remained in third, but improved from 14.1% to 16.5%, with gains in Downsview – a lower middle-class and ethnically diverse (Hispanic, Caribbean, Italian etc) neighborhood, usually solidly Liberal; the Liberals retained the seat with an expanded majority over the Tories, who remained confined to the Jewish enclaves.
The Liberals held all seats in immigrant-heavy Scarborough; however, with both the NDP and PCs making real inroads with some previously quasi-unanimously Liberal visible minority voters in two ridings, the Liberals’ dominance is nowhere near as secure or impressive (although it would still require a May 2011-like perfect storm to actually topple the Liberals). In Scarborough-Rouge River – at 90% non-white, it has the largest population of visible minorities in Canada – the Liberal vote fell to 38.9% (from 41.9% in 2011 and 65.1% in 2007), but still withstood strong challenges from the NDP (31%) – which has made impressive gains with suburban Tamil voters, federally and provincially, since 2011 thanks to strong locally-based Tamil candidates (provincial NDP candidate Neethan Shan, the president of the ONDP and federal NDP MP Rathika Sitsabaiesan); and the PCs (27.7%), who had a star candidate in Raymond Cho, a well-known local city councillor (who ran federally in 1998 and 2004), and made gains in Chinese neighborhoods. In next-door Scarborough-Agincourt, which is 47% Chinese, the PCs also did well – 34.8% (32.1% in 2011), against 49.7% for the Liberals (who also increased their vote, from 47% in 2011). The federal Liberals held Scarborough-Agincourt in the June 30 federal by-elections with a huge majority (30.1%) despite Conservative efforts, although the comically low turnout (29.6%) makes it silly to extrapolate much. The Grits, however, won over 50% of the vote in the four other Scarborough ridings, where both the Tories and NDP suffered loses.
The region of Durham in the eastern GTA produced two of the election’s most surprising results: an unexpected Liberal gain in Durham, said to be a Tory citadel (it had been held by the PCs since its creation in 1999 and last elected a Liberal in 1937 – with Mitch Hepburn’s last majority); and a comfortable NDP gain from the PCs in the industrial auto city of Oshawa, which hadn’t voted for the federal or provincial NDP in decades. Tory backbencher John O’Toole, who held Durham since 1995, did not seek reelection this year, leaving an open seat – but considering the riding’s history and past results at the provincial and federal level (a 19.7% majority in 2011 and a 24.4% majority for the federal Tories in a 2012 by-election, won by O’Toole’s son), few expected that the Tories would be at risk here. The Liberals, however, took everyone by surprise by taking the seat with a 2.3% (1,236 votes) majority, 36.4% to 34.1%. The NDP, with 24%, also did very well (up from 17.6% in 2011). Geographically, the Grits and Dippers made huge inroads in traditionally Tory-voting exurban towns (Courtice, Bowmanville, Port Perry, Uxbridge), with the PCs only holding their own in the rural polls.
The other surprise came from Oshawa, a predominantly industrial (automobile industry) working-class riding which was usually strong territory for the NDP but where the provincial or federal NDP haven’t won a local contest since 1990 (the PCs gained the riding from the ONDP in 1995, leading many to talk of ‘Harris Dippers’ – old working-class NDP voters who switched to the PCs in 1995), although they’ve consistently posted strong second place showings in the last three provincial and last four federal elections. However, a lot of the riding’s right-wards shift also owes to middle-class suburban growth in the north of the riding, which has usually leaned towards the Tories, and concurrent economic transformations (the new dynamics of industrial employment in the Western world, the diminished role of GM in Oshawa’s economy). The NDP has retained a substantial base of support, however, concentrated in Oshawa’s working-class neighborhoods in the older southern and central parts of the city. In 2011, the PCs won 42.3% against 36.2% for the NDP (the Liberals, a non-factor both federally and provincially, won only 17.5%). This year, the NDP won Oshawa with a very unexpectedly large majority of 16.2% (46.7% to 30.5%) on the Tories; they swept nearly all parts of the riding, including middle-class suburban polls where the NDP was weak in the past. The NDP’s surprise victory has been assigned, by some, to strong union mobilization against Hudak’s agenda in this old bastion of organized labour; turnout increased from 44.3% to 51%, in line with most of the 905.
The Liberals had no trouble holding Ajax-Pickering, a well-off middle-class suburban seat with a large visible minority population (45.5%), growing their majority from 11.8% to 21.7% (thanks to a dip in the PC vote from 35.5% to 29.2%). The PCs were only left with the affluent riding of Whitby-Oshawa, where potential future PC leader Christine Elliott was reelected with a reduced 9.4% majority.
In York region (northern 905 suburbs), the Liberals gained one seat from the PCs to hold 5 seats against only one for the Tories. The Liberals had no trouble whatsoever in Vaughan (a heavily Italian suburban riding and a Grit citadel) and Markham-Unionville (44% Chinese and 81% visible minority, another Liberal fortress), and they held tight in Richmond Hill and Oak Ridges-Markham – very affluent, white-collar ridings with large visible minority populations (Markham is only 27.5% white and Richmond Hill is 47% white) in the GTA’s booming northern suburbs. They won by 28 points in Vaughan (taking 56% of the vote), 17 points in Markham-Unionville, 13 points in Richmond Hill and by 8 in Oak Ridges-Markham. However, the PCs did quite well in some affluent Chinese subdivisions in Markham and Richmond Hill, cutting down the Liberal majority in Markham-Unionville by 4% (by building their vote from 31.5% to 34%. Some have speculated that this may portend a slow shift of Chinese-Canadian voters in Ontario towards the Tories, like in BC; probable causes may include affluence or an ‘entrepreneurial spirit’.
There was a major swing against the Tories in Newmarket-Aurora, because of the retirement of senior PC MPP Frank Klees, the runner-up in the final ballot in the 2009 PC leadership election who had a rocky relationship with Hudak. The PC vote fell by 10% to 37%, while the Grit vote increased from 35.6% to 43.8% in this affluent, predominantly white outer suburban riding of Toronto.
The PCs saved the affluent and plurality Jewish riding of Thornhill by a whisker in a rematch of the by-election in February 2014 (in which the PCs had narrowly retained the seat, which they gained in 2007 due to the swing of Jewish-Canadian voters towards Tories at both levels of government). The Liberals won the election day vote, but lost to the PCs in advance voting (the PCs did better and the NDP worse in the advance voting); on election night, the riding was erroneously placed in the Liberal column, but the results were switched a day later (apparently due to a tabulation error) to show an 85-vote victory for the PCs (0.17%, down from a 6.3% majority in February and 5.8% in 2011). The election was, again, the usual battle between the strongly Tory Jewish areas and Liberal-voting Italians and visible minorities.
The Liberals remained dominant in the Peel region (Mississauga and Brampton), although the NDP had some strong results in Brampton. The rapidly-growing region has a very large immigrant population – 46% and 33% of Mississauga and Brampton’s respective populations are white – and has been a Liberal stronghold for the past decade (provincially) or so, but the Tories made major gains federally in Peel in 2011 (due, in good part, to inroads with upwardly-mobile ‘aspirational’ visible minority voters, who had previously been loyal Liberals) while the NDP has also shown capacity for growth in a region where it was usually very weak, thanks to visible minority candidates. This year, however, the PCs fell back in Peel region, allowing the Liberals to remain hegemonic – although the NDP had some good showings.
In Mississauga, the Liberals held their five seats without any issues, improving on their 2011 results at the Tories and NDP’s expenses. The Grits won over 50% of the vote in Mississauga South, Mississauga East-Cooksville and Mississauga-Streetsville.
In 2011, the NDP gained the hitherto reliably Liberal seat of Bramalea-Gore-Malton, which has the largest South Asian (45.3%) and Sikh populations (22.2%) in the province (overall, visible minorities now make up 72.7% of the population). The NDP scored major gains with Sikh voters thanks to their local candidate, Jagmeet Singh, who had come within 539 votes of winning the federal riding in May 2011 and then defeated Liberal MPP Kuldip Kular by a 5.2% margin in October 2011 (in 2007, the Liberals had won 47% against 29.4% for the PCs and only 12.3% for the NDP’s white candidate). This year, in a rematch against Kular, Singh increased his vote share from 38.2% to 44.2%.
In Brampton-Springdale, where South Asians make up about 38% of the population, the NDP made significant gains in the most heavily Punjabi neighborhoods – winning over 40% of the vote in most polls -which indicates that the Dippers may now be expanding their new base with Punjabi voters in Brampton, at the expense of the Liberals. In 2011, the Liberals had won Brampton-Springdale with a narrow 8.3% majority over the PCs (who had made gains in Punjabi areas thanks to a Punjabi candidate, Pam Hundal – although her second candidacy this year didn’t do them any favours) – with the NDP winning just 15.3%; this year, they held the seat with a 8% majority over the NDP – with the Dippers surging to 31.9% and the Liberals falling from 44.4% to 39.9% (the PCs lost 12%, winning 24%). The NDP won the most heavily Punjabi subdivisions, which had been solidly Liberal in 2007 and fought between Liberals and Tories in 2011. The NDP also made small, but less spectacular, gains in Brampton West, which the Grits held with an expanded majority over the Tories.
Outside the urbanized core of the GTA/Golden Horseshoe, the PCs held the riding of Dufferin-Caledon (Caledon is part of Peel region in the GTA, although Dufferin County is not in the GTA) with a significantly reduced majority of 9.2% (compared to 20% in 2011), with the PC vote falling from 47% to 39.9% (and the Liberal vote increasing from 26.8% to 30.7%). The Liberals made strong gains in most of the riding, but especially in suburban Bolton, which has a large Italian population. As in 2011, the riding was also one of the Greens’ best – they won 16.7%, up from 14.6% in 2011 and 16.3% in 2007. The Greens’ support, heavily concentrated in Dufferin County, owes to local environmental issues – local farmers and urban transplants/weekenders united to strongly oppose a proposed limestone quarry in rural Melancthon Township; the large mobilization against the mega-quarry forced its private promoters to toss the idea in late 2012, but it has helped the Greens. This year, the Greens won over 40% in the rural polls where the quarry would have been (in Melancthon Township), and also did very well in Mono, a rural area popular with Toronto weekenders and bobo-types.
The Liberals scored major gains on the Tories in the Halton region in the GTA gaining the ridings of Burlington and Halton (which has the highest median HH income in the province) and holding Oakville by over 10 points. The riding of Halton, which is one of the most overpopulated ridings in the province, has seen very rapid growth around the affluent suburban town of Milton, attractive to young families and visible minorities (the town is 30% non-white); the Liberals performed best in Milton’s new subdivisions as well as new subdivisions north of Oakville and Burlington. The Liberals defeated PC MPP Ted Chudleigh, who has held Halton since 1995, with a decisive 7.6% majority (over 5,700 votes). The Grits scored an historic victory over the Tories in middle-class suburban Burlington, winning a riding which had been held by the PCs since 1943 – although Tory majorities over the Liberals had been quite thin in every election since 2003 (4.3% and a bit over 2,100 votes in 2011). Liberal candidate Eleanor McMahon defeated one-term PC MPP Jane McKenna with a solid 6.3% majority. The Liberals retained Oakville, another affluent suburban riding, with a 11.6% majority (with numbers close to 2011). In all ridings, the PCs found themselves relegated to the wealthiest neighborhoods, while the Liberals topped the poll throughout most middle-class subdivisions (which conforms to the general GTA 2014 pattern of the PCs doing quite well in the wealthiest places while suffering substantial loses to the Liberals in other types of areas). The PCs did retain the more exurban-rural riding of Wellington-Halton Hills, albeit with a significantly reduced majority of 17.6% (compared to a nearly 29-point landslide margin in 2011) thanks to a major tumble in PC support (from 55.6% to 46.7%) and Liberal gains in growing exurban Georgetown.
The NDP held its three seats in the industrial (steel, manufacturing) city of Hamilton, while the Liberals held the mixed suburban-rural seat of Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale. The provincial NDP has held all three ‘core’ urban ridings in Hamilton since 2011, when they toppled Liberal MPP Sophia Aggelonitis in Hamilton Mountain, an inner suburban riding (within the pre-amalgamation municipal borders of Hamilton) with older working-class suburban neighborhoods and newer middle-class suburbs. Andrea Horwath was reelected with 52.1% and a 28.6% majority in Hamilton Centre, a predominantly low-income working-class/working-poor riding in central Hamilton, although she suffered a substantial swing against her compared to 2011, when she had been reelected with a phenomenal 61.3% of the vote. The Liberals and Greens both increased their vote shares by a nice amount in the riding (17.5% to 23.5% a nd 3.7% to 8.6% respectively), perhaps due to well-educated left-wing bobo voters (Hamilton Centre is the poorest riding in the city, but also has a higher proportion of university grads than the other two NDP-held ridings) swinging against the NDP. Of course, one might say that it’s also a matter of winning with 52% rather than 61% (by all standards, the NDP polled ridiculously and unusually well there in 2011). The NDP’s majority in Hamilton East-Stoney Creek (a mix of urban poverty with post-war middle-class suburban Stoney Creek, which has a large Eastern European and Italian population) was also reduced, from 25.4% to 17.7%. However, in Hamilton Mountain, where the NDP were now the incumbents, their majority increased from 12.8% in 2011 (against the Liberal incumbent) to 17.3% (against a new Liberal candidate). The Liberals handily retained Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale, a mix of Hamilton’s affluent suburbs, academia (McMaster University) and incorporated rural areas, with a 10.7% majority over the PCs (up from 9% in 2011). This is another suburban riding held federally by the Tories (since 2006, with a large majority in 2011) and was a must-win for a PC majority government, but the PCs were once again crushed by the Liberals in the middle-class suburbs.
There was no change from the pre-election situation in the Niagara region, with all three parties reelecting their incumbents. In Niagara Falls, won by the Liberals in 2011 but gained by the NDP with a 2.6% majority over the PCs in a February 2014 by-election, the new NDP MPP Wayne Gates was reelected with a much wider majority than in February, taking 47.4% against 32.8% for the PCs by coalescing the anti-Hudak vote around him (as a result, the Liberals won only 14.4% in the riding, their second-worst result in the province. The NDP nearly swept the riding’s three main urban centres, even doing well in trendy Niagara-on-the-Lake, where the Liberals had retained some support in the by-election. The NDP also solidified their hold on Welland, which includes a number of old working-class industrial communities along the Welland Canal (Welland, Thorold, Port Colborne), going from a 12.6% majority in 2011 (the NDP’s majority had been reduced to the retirement of long-time popular MPP Peter Kormos) to a 18.3% victory. The provincial NDP has held Welland since 1977.
On the other hand, Liberal MPP Jim Bradley – the longest-serving member of the legislature, having served since 1977, was reelected to an eleventh term in office in his riding of St. Catharines, in a much easier contest than in 2011, when Bradley had won by only 4% (and 1,700 votes) against the PCs in his closest contest since 1995. While the Liberal vote held steady, at 40.9%, the PC vote collapsed from 36.2% to 29.7% and the NDP increased its backing from 20.2% to 24.5%. St. Catharines is an old auto manufacturing city which remains rather poor, but it lacks Oshawa’s tradition of organized labour activism and strong NDP support. Nevertheless, the NDP won old working-class neighborhoods in the south of the city and placed ahead of the Tories in most of downtown and southern St. Catharines, including most low-income areas.
PC leader Tim Hudak was reelected in the conservative riding of Niagara West-Glanbrook, a largely rural and outer suburban riding straddling the city of Hamilton and Niagara region. However, his vote fell by about 9 points from 51% to 42%, with both the Liberals and NDP making gains, especially thanks to inroads in suburban neighborhoods adjacent to Hamilton and new subdivisions.
The Tories also suffered loses in the Waterloo region. The Liberals gained Cambridge from the PCs, which had never voted for the Liberals since its creation in 1975; freshman PC MPP Rob Leone was defeated by a 6.3% margin (he won by a bit less than 5 points in 2011). The riding includes the old industrial towns of Preston, Galt and Hesperer, now amalgamated in the city of Cambridge, which has become more affluent and suburban although manufacturing retains a large presence due to a Toyota plant. The Liberals held Kitchener Centre by a much more comfortable margin than in 2011, winning by 16.1% compared to just 0.8% in 2011. The PC vote collapsed from 38.4% to 27%; the Grits and Dippers both increased their support, to 43.1% and 22.8% respectively. The urban riding is centered around Kitchener (formerly Berlin, a sign of the very strong German heritage in the Waterloo region), an old manufacturing-oriented industrial centre which has diversified and revitalized itself – although the riding itself includes the city’s more low-income neighborhoods, with some middle-class residential suburbs.
In Kitchener-Waterloo, NDP MPP Catherine Fife, who gained the seat from the PCs in a memorable and high-stakes by-election in 2012, was reelected with a 7.2% majority over the Liberals (37.4% to 30.2%), while the PCs – who had held the riding between 1990 and 2012 (with Elizabeth Witmer, a popular moderate Tory MPP) – fell into third with 26.3%. The riding, which includes two universities (University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University), financial companies and a high-tech sector (RIM), is the most highly educated and white-collar constituency in the Waterloo region (it is also more affluent than its neighbour to the south, although it still includes poorer areas). The NDP’s victory in 2012 was a major win for Horwath’s party at the time, and a major defeat for the Liberals, who had traditionally been the PCs’ main competitors for the riding provincially and federally (a victory in the by-election, at the time, would also have secured McGuinty’s government its elusive majority) and the PCs (although the riding is by no means a Tory stronghold, it has been held by the federal Tories since 2008). This year, Fife was reelected with a slightly narrower margin than in 2012, suffering some loses to the Liberals while gaining suburban votes from the PCs.
The PCs saved Kitchener-Conestoga by a tight margin, 36.5% to 33.3% for the Liberals (and a solid 21.1% for the NDP), whereas in 2011 the Tories had gained the seat from the Liberals with a solid 8.7% majority (but the Liberals won a higher share of the vote in 2011, suggesting the PCs mostly lost to the NDP). The quasi-doughnut rurban riding takes in rural areas (where the Liberals have really fallen off since 2007) and suburban neighborhoods, both working-class and affluent, of Kitchener proper; this year, the PCs won solid margins in the rural and village polls, while the Liberals and NDP won most suburban polls in Kitchener.
Outside the Waterloo region, the Liberals easily held the very left-liberal ‘college town’ riding of Guelph with a slightly expanded 20-point majority on the Tories (41.3% to 21.1%), but the most noteworthy result in the riding was that of Green Party leader Mike Schreiner, who placed a strong third with 19.2% (although he still fell far short of winning the seat, as his party had hoped). Guelph has tended to be one of the Greens’ strongest riding, thanks to its well-educated bobo-ish population of students and academics; the party won 21.2% in the 2008 federal election and 19.6% in the 2007 provincial election, although Green support dropped to 6-7% in the 2011 federal and provincial elections. This year, Schreiner won a number of polls in downtown Guelph’s Old Town, a young, student and cosmopolitan area; the Greens also placed second, ahead of the PCs and NDP, in other neighborhoods close to the university or downtown.
Southwestern Ontario was a very interesting contrast to the results in the GTA – put together, the results from these two electoral battleground regions make this election highly interesting and give the new Liberal majority government a rather unusual form when compared to past Liberal majorities, including Dalton McGuinty’s back-to-back majorities in 2003 and 2007. Southwestern Ontario, while highly diverse in its own right, is a largely ‘Rust Belt’-type blue-collar region with a number of industrial centres (Windsor, Brantford, London, Sarnia, Ingersoll, Woodstock – in addition to Kitchener and Cambridge, which are also formally in SW Ontario), some of which – notably the famous auto manufacturing city of Windsor – have struggled in recent years, with high unemployment and general economic decline. Politically, southwestern Ontario has been the Liberal Party’s main rural base, dating back to the nineteenth century when the region’s Methodist English settlers or German Catholic immigrants supported the Liberals in the tradition of George Brown’s radical Clear Grits of the pre-Confederation days; that tradition remained strong and visible until quite recently – in 2003 and 2007, when the Ontario Liberals won majority mandates, they won most rural and small town ridings in SW Ontario. Federally, as recently as 2004, the Liberals won a few rural seats in SW Ontario, including Huron-Bruce, which was only lost to the Tories in 2008. Provincially and federally, however, the Liberals have really suffered in recent years – all rural ridings in the region are now held at both levels by Tories, leaving the Liberals only with a urban base (it is even worse, after 2011, federally). Liberal loses in traditionally Liberal rural areas across Canada have come, in part, as a result of ideological shifts which have seen the Liberals defined more as a urban (in Ontario, Torontonian) party catering to a urban base which is demographically quite different from the old Liberal base in rural regions. Provincially, the poor economy may have hurt the provincial Liberals too. In the by-elections following the 2011 provincial election, the Liberals lost two seats to the NDP, and polls regularly showed the NDP polling very well and the Liberals very poorly in SW Ontario. In the election, the Liberals did indeed do poorly in SW Ontario – they lost Windsor West to the NDP, one of two seats in the province which the Liberals lost; the Liberal vote also receded even further in rural ridings which they lost in 2011 and in a number of ridings – such as Sarnia-Lambton, Chatham-Kent-Essex, Oxford or Elgin-Middlesex-London – the Liberals fell into third, behind the PCs and NDP. The NDP was the only party which truly did well in SW Ontario, scoring significant gains in a number of ridings. The PCs lost no seats, but their vote fell back in nearly every single seat, even where they were the incumbents.
The Liberal Speaker, Dave Levac, was reelected in Brant with a more comfortable 6.3% majority over former PC MPP Phil Gillies (he had held on by only 2.7% in 2011), although it was mostly due to the PC vote falling from 34.7% to 30.8%. The NDP came in a very strong third with 26.9%, up from an already strong result of 24.2% three years ago. The NDP expanded its support in Brantford, an old blue collar industrial town which remains relatively poor, dominating the city’s old working-class and lower-income neighborhoods; the NDP had already made very significant gains in Brantford in 2011. The NDP represented the region federally between 1971 and 1993. The Grits owed their victory to support in Brantford’s newer middle-income suburban neighborhoods, the small industrial centre of Paris and (to a much lesser extent) to the Six Nations Reserve (where turnout is always very low, although votes heavily favour the Liberals and/or NDP).
The Conservatives confirmed their domination of rural SW Ontario – although the PC vote actually fell back a bit in these ridings, most of which were gained from the Liberals in 2011. Nevertheless, the Liberals lost even more, ensuring some more comfortable PC majorities. In Perth-Wellington, which the PCs had gained from the Liberals with a tiny 0.6% or 210 vote lead, the PC majority grew to 6.1% as the Grit vote fell from about 39% to 32.9%. The Liberals have lost rural areas to the PCs, but they retain strong support in Stratford, an old industrial centre which now has a somewhat famous arts/cultural scene. In Huron-Bruce, another traditionally Liberal riding lost to the PCs (by a decisive 10-point margin), the Liberal vote declined further from 32.8% to 30.9%, benefiting the NDP and the Greens because the Tory vote also fell.
The NDP won some quite impressive numbers in small town ridings in SW Ontario, numbers oftentimes even better than those won by the federal NDP in May 2011. In Sarnia-Lambton, in PC hands since 2007, the NDP won 35.7% of the vote, coming within 5.4% of the PCs in the riding and trouncing the Tories in most of Sarnia itself, a predominantly industrial (petrochemicals) town on the shores of Lake Huron. In Oxford, a solidly Tory seat with a large blue-collar manufacturing presence, the NDP boosted its support by over 10 points to win 25.8% (although that was still far behind the PCs’ 46.2%), making impressive gains in the auto manufacturing town of Ingersoll and also in Woodstock. In Chatham-Kent-Essex, a Liberal seat until 2011, the Liberals fell to third place (24.1%) while the NDP won an impressive 31.1%, against 37.8% for the PCs. The NDP had strong support in the small industrial town of Tilbury, the regional centre of Chatham and the agro-industrial town of Leamington. The NDP also placed second, ahead of the Liberals, in Lambton-Kent-Middlesex and Elgin-Middlesex-London, two seats which were in Liberal hands until 2011.
In London, the NDP won two of the city’s three seats while the Liberals retained one. The NDP had little problem retaining London West, a seat which they gained from the Liberals in last summer’s by-election. At the time, the riding, which is the city’s most affluent riding – it is a predominantly middle-class suburban riding, although it include more urban neighborhoods such as trendy and hip South London and some low-income areas – should have been low-hanging fruit for the PCs, whose federal counterparts have held the seat since 2008 and the NDP’s victory by 9.2% over the PCs (while the Liberals collapsed by nearly 30% to 16%) was a big surprise. Freshman NDP MPP Peggy Sattler was reelected with a 10.8% majority over the PCs, although the NDP’s vote share is down slightly from the by-election because the Liberals improved slightly to 23.7% (although that’s still a very mediocre third compared to 45.7% in 2011). The NDP was also reelected easily in London Fanshawe, with a 27.5% majority over the PCs (the Liberal vote fell from 28.3% to 19.9%); the riding – the most blue-collar in the city – includes working-class low-income and low-education neighborhoods on the city’s east ends and some newer lower middle-class suburbs. The NDP had gained the seat from the Liberals in 2011, with a 12.5% majority over the Liberal incumbent. The Liberals were victorious in London North Centre, the city’s ‘college town’ riding (it includes Western U), although the NDP also made major gains – from 22.7% and third to 30.4% and second, coming within 5.7% of the Liberal incumbent, whose vote fell from 43.9% in 2011 to 36.1%. The riding map showed a split between the southeastern half of the riding, an old working-class and low-income area which the NDP thoroughly dominated; and the downtown and northwestern half of the riding, a mix of urban and more leafy suburban highly-educated and more middle-class areas (including Western and surrounding academia-influenced neighborhoods), where the Liberals won most polls with a handful of PC polls in the more affluent parts. The Tories were the other major losers in the city (remember that, federally, they hold two of the city’s three seats, except London Fanshawe which is Dipper), given that their share of the vote declined compared to the last election/by-election in all three ridings.
The NDP swept the Windsor region. In 2011, they had failed to defeat the Liberals in the two Windsor urban seats, losing by about ten in both of them. They had, however, managed to score a gain in the more rural riding of Essex, which had been expected to be a PC gain from the Liberals rather than a NDP gain at the time. The NDP’s Taras Natyshak won the seat with a 3 point edge on the Tories. This year, Natyshak was reelected with an incredible 60.3% of the vote (compared to 38% in 2011) and a massive 38% majority over the PCs, while the Liberals won their worst provincial result (14.2%) in a riding which used to be strongly Liberal in the past.
In last summer’s by-election, the NDP also gained Windsor-Tecumseh with a massive margin – 61.1% against 20% for the PCs, their closest rivals. It had little trouble holding that seat this year either – NDP MPP Percy Hatfield was reelected with a 46.8% majority over the Liberals, or 62.1% of the vote. The only close contest, therefore, was Windsor West, the only seat still in Liberal hands with Teresa Piruzza, the Minister of Children and Youth Services, who had defeated the NDP by about 10% in 2011. She was the only sitting Liberal MPP to be defeated in the election, losing 38.5% to 41.3% to the NDP. Windsor, the leading auto manufacturing capital of Canada, has suffered a lot from the recession – resulting in a loss of manufacturing jobs and a significant decline in household incomes since 2006.
In central Ontario, the Liberals regained the seat of Northumberland-Quinte West, lost in 2011, from the PCs, with former Liberal MPP Lou Rinaldi winning his rematch against the PC candidate who had defeated him in 2011. The Liberals won with a comfortable 43% and 7% majority in the riding, which borders Lake Ontario and includes the towns of Cobourg, Port Hope and Trenton. The Liberals also regained the urban riding of Barrie, lost in 2011, taking a narrow 4.6% against the PCs. Finally, the Liberals retained Peterborough with a solid 16.4% majority, up from a much thinner 8.4% majority.
The PCs held their other seats. The Liberals came within 5.9% in York-Simcoe, a largely exurban which includes the northern end of the GTA in York region, and increased their vote by 10 points from 24% to 34%. The Liberals also made major gains in Simcoe North, gaining 10 points (from 22% to 32%) as the PCs fell over 10 points from 55% to 43%, allowing the Liberals to regain the upper hand in the Franco-Ontarian Penetanguishene area. Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock, a large rural and solidly Tory riding had gained attention for the hilarious 2009 by-election which saw the Liberals unexpectedly defeat then-PC leader John Tory, who was seeking to enter the legislature from a PC stronghold after losing his riding in the 2007 election. Obviously, the Liberal incumbent was defeated by a large margin (nearly 12 points) in 2011, but in a rematch of the 2011 contest, he came within 5.8% of regaining his old seat – certainly much too close for comfort for the Tories.
The PCs were also reelected in Parry Sound-Muskoka, although their vote share fell from 54% to 40.7% because of a strong showing from the Liberals (18% to 26%) and especially the Greens, who, with 19.3%, won their best provincial result in the riding – which, in ‘cottage country’, has a large tourism industry which may boost Green support.
There was no change in eastern Ontario, with the Liberals and PCs holding their seats without too much trouble. Rural eastern Ontario is one of the most solidly and ancestrally Tory regions in the province, because of its early settlement by United Empire Loyalists. In the past decade, the very right-wing and anti-government Ontario Landowners Association (OLA), which defends landowners’ property rights, has gained much influence in the region’s rural regions and over the PCs. Former OLA leaders Randy Hillier and Jack MacLaren have been PC MPPs from eastern Ontario since 2007 and 2011 respectively, and Randy Hillier won
The Liberals failed to regain Prince Edward-Hastings, lost to the PCs in 2011, going down by 9 points against the Tories this year in a riding which includes the town of Belleville and the touristy region of Prince Edward County. The PCs held their rural WASP strongholds. Randy Hillier, a controversial MPP on the PCs’ right-wing, was reelected to a third term in Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington with a 13.9% majority. The PCs won some of their best provincial results in Leeds-Grenville, which is an old Tory bastion, but also in Stormont-Dundas and South Glengarry, which was in Liberal hands as recently as 2007 (the area is much less WASPy with a very significant French component). The PCs’ best result in the province came from Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke, where they won no less than 61.1% and savaged the Liberals by a 42 point margin. Ironically, the riding – now one of the safest Tory seats in Ontario at either level of government – was actually a Liberal stronghold (it has a less WASPy-population, with more significant Catholic, notably Polish and Irish, population) in a not-so-distant past: the provincial Liberals held it through the Harris PC elections (1995 and 1999) and only lost it in 2003.
The NDP, usually quite weak in rural eastern ON, had a number of good results – as in 2011. It won 21.6% in Stormont-Dundas and South Glengarry, with a few poll victories in the town of Cornwall; and 20.3% in Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington.
The Liberals held Kingston and the Islands, centered on the lovely and quaint university town of Kingston. However, a retiring Liberal member and a strong NDP candidate meant that the Liberals’ support fell from 48.8% to 41.6% while the NDP, in second place, increased its vote from 23.8% to 29.6%, winning its strongest numbers in Kingston’s poorest neighborhoods north of the historic core.
The Liberals also held the ancestrally Liberal and heavily Franco-Ontarian riding of Glengarry-Prescott-Russell, which they had narrowly retained in 2011 in the face of the strongest PC challenge in years by only 3.4%. This year, the freshman Liberal incumbent was reelected with an 18% majority and cracked 50%. Held by the Conservatives federally since 2006 (a gain which was historic, given how it had more or less been held by the Liberals since the 19th century), the PCs have been unable to make similar gains in rural Franco-Ontarian communities,
There was no change in Ottawa, but the Liberals performed very strongly. The PCs had two must-win seats in the city, which are held by their federal counterparts since 2006: the suburban ridings of Ottawa West-Nepean and Ottawa-Orléans. In 2011, the Liberals had saved both, but with a very small 2.2% majority in Ottawa West-Nepean and a slightly healthier 6% majority in Ottawa-Orléans (your dear blogger’s riding). In Ottawa West-Nepean, Liberal incumbent Bob Chiarelli – a former Ottawa mayor and a cabinet minister – was reelected in a rematch with his 2011 PC rival with a strong 12.4% majority, as the PC vote fell to about 33% from 39% in 2011. The riding, in Ottawa’s west end, is a socioeconomically mixed suburban area including some lower-income neighborhoods and middle-class suburbs. Despite a strong candidate in Alex Cullen, a former MPP and city councillor, the NDP only won 14.3%. The east end suburban riding of Ottawa-Orléans, where the three-term Liberal incumbent retired (which may have been a positive for them, actually), the Liberals retained the seat by an unexpectedly large margin – 20.5% – with 53.6% of the vote for the Liberals, against only 33.1% for the PCs (46.4% and 40.4% in 2011). The very affluent suburban riding has the largest Francophone population of the Ottawa ridings (30%) and has a large population of public servants. The PCs’ failures (and worse, their loses) in both ridings, which have been held by the federal party since 2006, show their failure to make the required breakthroughs in suburban neighborhoods. In a government city like Ottawa in particular, Hudak’s pledge to cut public sector jobs likely hurt the Tories badly – although the cuts wouldn’t have affected federal public servants, the federal public sector has seen its share of cuts since 2011 by the Harper government.
The Liberals reelected their three other incumbents in Ottawa Centre, Ottawa-Vanier and Ottawa South. In Ottawa Centre, which includes the city’s downtown core (and has the demographics associated with such areas – high levels of education – 50% of residents have a university diploma or degree, likely one of the highest in Ontario; young single renters, white-collar professionals and the large presence of sectors such as education, public administration and culture/arts; with the social mix of low-income areas, upper middle-class urban progressive areas such as The Glebe, gentrified areas, social housing etc.), popular Liberal MPP Yasir Naqvi won with a 31% majority over the NDP (which holds the federal riding since 2006). As in downtown Toronto, the NDP did quite poorly in Ottawa Centre, its support falling from 29% in 2011 (which had already been a very mediocre result, as the NDP in 2011 had also struggled in downtown ridings) to only 20.4%. Certainly the local Liberal MPP’s popularity, like in 2011, helped the Liberals and hurt the NDP but the Horwath NDP’s poor appeal to urban progressive voters played a big part too (the NDP did particularly poorly in The Glebe and Old Ottawa South, NDP-friendly upper middle-class progressive left-leaning neighborhoods). The NDP also did poorly in Ottawa-Vanier (a very diverse and socioeconomically polarized area, which includes some of the wealthiest and poorest areas in Ottawa), an old Liberal stronghold which does have some NDP-‘compatible’ areas (the central areas of Sandy Hill and Lower Town, and, increasingly, the poor Francophone Vanier area). Liberal MPP Madeleine Meilleur was handily reelected with 55.7% of the vote and a 33% majority over the PCs, with the NDP winning just 13.2% compared to 19.6% in 2011 and a high-water mark of 29.4% in the 2011 federal election.
Finally, the Liberals easily held Ottawa South by 18 points, McGuinty’s old riding which it had successfully defended against a tough PC challenge in last summer’s by-election (winning by 3.6%, after polls had predicted a PC gain). The riding, which has the highest visible minority populations (Arab, Somali mostly) outside the GTA, is predominantly middle-class suburban with pockets of deprivation.
The Conservatives only managed to win their two ridings in the outer suburban/exurban/rural parts of the city – Carleton-Mississippi Mills and Nepean-Carleton, with reduced majorities of 15.6% and 13.3% respectively – although the Liberals posted some decent results in the high-growth outer suburban neighborhoods of Kanata and Barrhaven.
There was only one close contest in northern Ontario; otherwise, all incumbents retained their seats and in all but one case, they grew their majorities nicely. Geographically humongous but sparsely populated Northern Ontario has a distinctive regional political culture, which clearly sets it apart from southern Ontario. The region’s economy has traditionally been centered on primary industries – namely mining and lumber – and, outside the major cities, most settlements grew as single-resource towns; this economic base, combined with the region’s isolation has bred a distinctive political culture with strong feelings of alienation and frustration towards dominant southern Ontario and provincial governments accused of ignoring northern Ontario’s special economic concerns and socioeconomic problems. Nowadays, in addition to primary industries, the wider public sector/government has become a key employer while larger cities (Sudbury, Thunder Bay, North Bay, Sault Ste. Marie) have diversified their economies with a large tertiary sector. Demographically, the region has a highly diverse population – a large First Nations population (about 13% of the regional population), a significant Franco-Ontarian minority (17% of the region has French as its mother tongue) and other immigrants group from Europe including, among others, Finns (Thunder Bay has the largest population of Finnish-Canadians per capita). Politically, the region has typically been a stronghold of the Liberals and New Democrats, with limited support for Conservatives – although Mike Harris represented Nipissing, at the southern end of the region, for decades. Since 2011, the NDP holds a majority of seats in the region – 5 against 4 Liberals and one Tory, compared to 7 Liberals in 2003 and 2007. Federally, the NDP has also replaced the Liberals as the region’s dominant party; in fact, the Liberals lost their last northern riding (Nipissing-Timiskaming) in 2011.
The close contest in the region was the urban riding of Sudbury, an open seat with a retiring Liberal incumbent which the Liberals had won by only 1.7% and 531 votes in the last election. The NDP gained the seat from the Liberals 42.2% to 39.3%, a narrow 2.9% majority – representing a slight dip in the Liberal vote and small uptick in the NDP vote, respectively; with Windsor West, it is the only Liberal-held seat (pre-election) which the Liberals lost. Historically dominated by nickel mining, the largest city in northern Ontario has diversified its economy and isn’t too badly off. The NDP dominated in the city’s working-class areas and old mining towns, while the Liberals dominated the affluent areas and generally narrowly beat the NDP in more suburban neighborhoods.
The PCs retained their only seat, Nipissing. Former North Bay mayor Vic Fedeli gained the open seat – Mike Harris’ old turf – from the Liberals by a very large (21.5%) margin in 2011; this year, he was reelected with a reduced majority (15%). The benefactor of the PC loses in the riding was the NDP, which increased its support to a very strong 25.7% – the NDP made sizable gains with traditionally Liberal Franco-Ontarian voters. At the border between north and south (with some arable agricultural land), the rural Anglophone areas in Nipissing District still vote heavily Tory, like other rural regions in the south.
The NDP held its five other ridings and all with increased majorities – oftentimes landslide margins. In Timiskaming-Cochrane, the NDP increased its majority from 24.2% to 31.9%, winning 55% of the vote. In Algoma-Manitoulin, it increased its majority from 16.1% to 28.9%, winning 53.4%. Both of these ridings had been gained from the Liberals in the last election. In remote and gigantic Timmins-James Bay, longtime NDP MPP Gilles Bisson was returned with a 27% majority over the Liberals (51.2% to 24.2%), whereas in 2011 he had won by only 12.8% against the PCs, who had put up a strong challenge with Al Spacek, the mayor of the heavily Francophone lumber town of Kapuskasing (he won 36.7%, in a riding where the PCs have struggled to break 15%). Without him, the PCs fell to a very decent 22.6%, while the Liberals moved up from a catastrophic 12.4% to a slightly-less horrendous 24.2%. In Kenora-Rainy River, one-term NDP MPP Sarah Thompson won a second term with a much larger 30% majority over the PCs, compared to a much closer 12-point win in 2011 – the riding is the seat of former NDP leader Howard Hampton, who did not seek reelection in 2011; creating a much more competitive race, given the strength of the Conservatives in the white Anglo towns of Kenora, Dryden and rural tourist towns. In Nickel Belt, the NDP won by no less than 40.8%, taking 62.7% of the vote. All of these predominantly ‘rural’ and small town ridings are a mix of single-industry mining or lumber communities, Franco-Ontarian towns and First Nations reserves.
The Liberals did very poorly in the NDP-held seats, suffering loses vis-a-vis the 2011 election and falling far below past levels of support (all of these areas elected Liberal MPs or MPPs at one time or another). However, the Liberals did very well in the three ridings where they had incumbents – namely Thunder Bay-Atikokan, Thunder Bay-Superior North and Sault Ste. Marie. In all three seats, there was a significant swing to the Liberal incumbents and against the NDP. For example, in Thunder Bay-Atikokan, which the Liberals had held against the NDP by only very tight margins in the last two elections (a 1.7% majority in 2011), the Liberal majority surged to 24.7% (it increased its share of the vote from 39% to 53%, while the NDP fell from 37% to 28%). The Liberals held Thunder Bay-Superior North with a 26.6% majority on the NDP and Sault Ste. Marie with a 33% majority on the NDP; in both cases, the Liberals won over 55% of the vote and significantly increased its support at the NDP’s expense.
The Liberals were returned with a majority government, and a fourth straight term in office. The geographic structure of the Liberal majority made this election highly interesting.
The Liberals won the election in the GTA/905 – which was, as always, the main swing region which all parties were required to do well. The Liberals did very well throughout the GTA – both in the 416 (Toronto) and the 905 – unlike the NDP and the PCs, who had mixed results in the region. Compared to the 2011 election, the Liberals made significant gains with left-wing urban progressive voters in downtown Toronto, at the NDP’s expense; it held the visible minority vote, despite some limited and concentrated NDP or PC inroads with some communities; and it retained and even made further gains with the middle-class suburban vote in the GTA. In Ottawa, Ontario’s second largest metro area, the trends were very similar: NDP underperformance in the urban core, PC failure in the swing inner suburbs.
In ‘Rust Belt’-ish SW Ontario, however, the Liberals did uniformly poorly, falling below 2011 levels and even further below 2007 levels. In a number of seats, which were won by the Liberals as recently as 2007, the NDP replaced the Liberals as the main challenger to the PCs. The contrast between the GTA and SW Ontario is very striking in this election.
There was a strong urban-rural divide in this election, which is increasingly common in Canadian politics but was less common historically, when the Liberals had strong support in some rural regions. In this election, the Liberals and NDP dominated in urban centres and most suburban areas – not only the big cities of Toronto, Ottawa, Mississauga, Brampton, Hamilton, London, Kitchener and Windsor but also smaller regional centres such as Oshawa, St. Catharines, Barrie, Cambridge, Kingston, Guelph, Niagara Falls, Brantford, Sarnia, Welland and Belleville; in May 2011, the federal Tories had won most of these smaller towns (except for the college towns of Kingston and Guelph, and Welland). It appears as if the largest towns to have gone PC in June 2014 were suburban Whitby and the weird single-tier municipality of Chatham-Kent (see the borders of this ‘municipality’ here) Even in ridings won by the PCs – such as Perth-Wellington, Huron-Bruce and Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington – the Liberals and/or NDP still won most polls in those ridings’ main towns – Stratford, Goderich, Kincardine and Napanee in this case. It is also noteworthy that, for all the talk of the Liberals being an increasingly Torontonian party (led by a Toronto leader on the party’s left), they still did well in more historically industrial towns such as Cambridge, Kitchener, St. Catharines or regional centres such as Barrie. That being said, the NDP won some very strong results in SW Ontario’s old industrial centres: Windsor and London obviously, but also Sarnia, Brantford and Ingersoll for example. The PCs, in contrast, did poorly throughout the board in urban and suburban areas.
What doomed the PCs was their inability – yet again – to breakthrough in the inner suburbs. As noted previously, suburban voters are a very swingy bunch: in May 2011, they swung to the Conservatives and allowed the Tories to win remarkable results in the 905 and even the 416 (although non-Tory vote splitting also helped a bunch), but in October 2011 they largely stuck with the provincial Liberals despite everything. As such, nothing in this election should be interpreted in the long-term: the PCs may very well sweep the board in the suburbs in 2018, or they might be destroyed again – nobody can really pretend to accurately predict that. The PCs were limited to their rural base – although even in rural areas, they fell far short of the federal Conservative results in those ridings and the provincial Liberals were still miles and miles ahead of the federal Liberals (May 2011, granted) there; in addition to an outer suburban/exurban base, although the Liberals did perform quite well in new housing subdivisions in the GTA. Interestingly, there seems to have been a small swing towards the PCs and against the Liberals in the province’s wealthiest urban neighborhoods, likely a reaction to the Liberals’ left-wards shift. Looking forward to 2018, the PCs need to fix their leadership problems above all – get a leader who, while not necessarily a moderate, can reassure voters and appeal to target PC demographics with a reasonable platform which showcases them as ‘good economic managers’; this would allow the PCs to regain suburban voters, like the Harper Tories did in 2011. The next step could be to copy Harper’s successful appeal to visible minority voters in the GTA; one silver lining from this election might be the PCs’ decent (but still not good enough) results with Chinese voters in Scarborough and Markham.
The NDP had largely positive, but also very mixed results; the strong results in SW Ontario contrasted with the poor numbers in downtown Toronto/Ottawa, showing Horwath’s inability to bridge the two components of the NDP electorate, something which Jack Layton had done very well in 2008-2011 for the federal NDP. Although much commentary on the ONDP’s showing has focused on the contrast between SW Ontario and the urban progressive downtowns, little attention was given to the NDP’s strong results with (historically Liberal) visible minorities in Brampton, northern Toronto (Etobicoke and York) and parts of Scarborough. If the Ontario NDP can continue to do very well in SW Ontario, reconquer downtown voters and make inroads with visible minorities in Toronto’s suburbs, they have the potential to build a winning coalition.
My apologies for the huge delay in publishing this report. Hope it was worth it!