WILD, BLUE YONDER – Premier Doug Ford. Nobody had that in their 2018 predictions! Ford will indeed be Ontario’s 26th Premier, with yesterday’s election culminating what had to be the craziest five months in the province’s history. When the new year rang in, Ford was preparing a second bid to be Toronto’s mayor, Patrick Brown was leading an apparently stable PC party touting his People’s Guarantee platform, Andrea Horwath’s New Democrats were mired in their usual third place in most public opinion polls, and Premier Kathleen Wynne, while personally unpopular, was seen as a formidable force for Liberal re-election. This morning, Ford presides over a healthy majority PC government – winning 76 seats – while Horwath’s NDP are the Official Opposition with an impressive 40 MPPs. And Wynne’s Liberals – well, they’re staring at oblivion, decimated to just seven MPPs and losing official party status. Wynne is in that septet, barely winning her Don Valley West riding by 181 votes (all things considered, she would have probably preferred to lose her seat), but she has resigned as party leader.
GONE WITH THE WYNNE – Perhaps history will be kind to Wynne, but her final few days in power were truly wretched. She took the unprecedented step of conceding defeat with almost a week to go in the election, leaving many a Liberal campaigner – still hoping for some last-minute momentum – scratching their heads about how to convince voters to support them. “This is a hard thing to do,” Wynne, barely keeping her composure, told shocked reporters last weekend. “On June 7, voters will choose a new government. I don’t know who voters will choose but I am pretty sure that it won’t be me. After Thursday, I will no longer be Ontario’s Premier.” Blinking back tears, she added, “I’m okay with that, because, as I’ve said many times before, it’s not about me. It’s about the people of this province. It’s about their well-being. And their futures. It’s about their jobs. Not my job.” Strategically, Wynne was trying to save some seats, encouraging voters to elect Liberals to stop the other parties from gaining a majority. Obviously, it didn’t work.
THE EX FILES – Some 45 Liberal incumbents are now former MPPs. Only Wynne, Michael Gravelle, Mitzie Hunter, Michael Coteau (who becomes the early favourite to succeed Wynne as leader) and an Ottawa-area trio of Nathalie Des Rosiers, Marie-France Lalonde and John Fraser managed to hang on to their seats, while the rest of the caucus – including 20 cabinet ministers – went down. The party also lost long-time stalwarts and former cabinet ministers Ted McMeekin and Jim Bradley, the latter of whom will fall short in his bid to become Ontario’s longest-serving MPP. Not one new Liberal was elected. No incumbent Tories or New Democrats were defeated, although exiled PC MPP Jack MacLaren – who sat as an independent and ran under the Trillium Party banner – failed in his bid to keep Kanata-Carleton. MacLaren finished a dismal fourth, nearly 22,000 votes behind PC winner Marrilee Fullerton.
SCHREINER’S PARADE – While the Liberals were devastated to win only seven ridings, a single seat was cause for great celebration for the Green Party of Ontario. Leader Mike Schreiner became Ontario’s first-ever Green MPP, taking Guelph in impressive fashion securing more than 45% of the vote. That seat in the Legislature, although it doesn’t come with official party status or much money, is a beachhead for the Greens, giving them much higher profile and earmarking a place for Schreiner in the televised leaders’ debates in the 2022 election campaign.
BAD BLOOD – Having fought back criticism around the PC nomination process and not releasing a full platform, Ford had to withstand one last charge this week – from his own family. His sister-in-law Renata Ford, widow of late Toronto Mayor – and Doug’s unabashed inspiration – Rob Ford, filed a $16-million lawsuit claiming that Doug and his brother Randy had mismanaged both Rob’s estate and the family label printing business. Doug dismissed the allegations outright, vowing to fight them in court and all-but calling the whole thing an extortion bid. “Renata’s lawyers have been clear to us throughout this campaign that either we hand over money, or they would go public with these false claims,” he fumed.
REBUILDING A MYSTERY – Even before the votes had been tallied the jockeying had begun to replace Wynne at the Liberal helm. Oddly, first out of the gate was David Henderson, the Liberal candidate in Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes. On Monday, Henderson announced that if he was elected as MPP – which he most certainly was not, getting crushed by incumbent PC Steve Clark – he would run for the leadership. Meanwhile, a “Liberals Rebuilding the Ontario Liberal Party” Facebook group appeared this week, describing itself as an online forum and gathering about 150 members so far. It is no doubt the first of many such campaigns, as the Liberals basically start from scratch and both new and old faces look to shape that process. It sure won’t be easy. Without official party status the Liberals lose their research budget, and changes they themselves made to fundraising rules will make it much harder to replenish their war chest.
FOR THE RECORD
“I know my brother Rob is looking down from heaven. I’m just getting chills talking about him right now. I know Rob is celebrating with us tonight. We owe so much to Rob’s legacy.”
Premier-designate Doug Ford, paying homage to his late brother and former Toronto mayor in his victory speech Thursday night.
“A year ago I talked with my caucus and we really believed that the plan we had was in the best interest of Ontario and we had a path to form a government. Yes, I am competitive, but I am also practical. If there had been indicators that we could not find a path to governing, I would have considered stepping down.”
Defeated Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne, even before yesterday’s drubbing, admitting in a London Free Press interview that she should have listened to those calling for her to let someone else lead the party into the election.
“I am sure this is a relief to many. Many of us would hear it at the door. I certainly have heard it. It is not uncommon to hear from a voter who would say ‘I would love to vote for you, but I cannot vote for Kathleen Wynne.’ Already this morning [five days before the election], a person at the door said they could vote for me now that Premier Wynne is not going to be premier.”
Long-time Liberal MPP Jim Bradley, approving of Wynne’s strategy to concede defeat with nearly a week to go in the campaign. Bradley ended up losing his seat anyway.
“I like Doug. The NDP and Liberals are trying to buy our votes with a long list of promises – promises they can’t keep – and they come with hefty price tags. Kathleen Wynne and Andrea Horwath don’t seem to give a damn.”
Former Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman, endorsing Ford – the second high-profile former mayor to do so, along with Mississauga’s Hazel McCallion. Hard to say if these endorsements helped Ford win, but they clearly didn’t hurt.
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