"What happened here tonight?"
Ontario voted. They did not vote for change.
After a tepid campaign mainly defined by roller coaster poll results the Ontario Liberal Party has been able to secure a third mandate.
Premier Dalton McGuinty made the supposed derogatory label of "Premier Dad" work for him. With world markets crashing, Ontarians bought the message (as they did in the spring federally) that a steady hand is needed in turbulent economic times. Premier McGuinty's team was effective in pivoting their message that Mr. Hudak was not up for the job, and Ontarians bought it.
In 2003, Mr. McGuinty swept to power with 72 seats. In 2007, 71 seats. Today, he won 53 seats. Critics will argue that any seat count less than his impressive majorities in the last two elections is a defeat. I beg to differ.
Mr. McGuinty and his team have made history and are positioning themselves in the same manner as the "big blue machine." Three terms for a Liberal government in Ontario is formidable. Mr. McGuinty has learned from former Premier Bill Davis. It was Davis who was able to rally the red Tory vote in Ontario, and it is Mr. McGuinty who was able to appeal to them. He appealed by running a steady, simple, non-offensive campaign - one that focused on his record of accomplishments and highlighted his ability to manage effectively. As I stated in my first post, it wasn't Daltonmania. But today it worked because that's his brand, Premier Dad.
Mr. Hudak's team was not able to overcome his inability to introduce himself effectively to the general public. From the day he was elected the PC leader in Ontario, he remained unknown to the electorate, as he tried to rebuild a party in shambles following the poor election result of 2007. For two years he has remained unknown, only garnering media attention when he repeated the words scandal and boondoggle. His polling numbers for the past year were artificial, based on the displeasure of the Liberal government's record, not on Hudakmania. And Hudakmania never caught on. Neither did his change message.
Further, Hudak's team was faced with outside forces they could not control. First, as I have argued previously, the popularity of Mayor Ford (and the disastrous budget process which played out throughout this campaign) and the intervention of the Federal Conservative government, hurt him. Ontarians traditionally vote for the balance of power, not trifecta's of power. The insurmountable ad buy against team Hudak surely also played a role, it can easily be said they were outspent 7-1 by special interest groups. It makes a difference, just ask Micheal Ignatieff.
For Ms. Horwath, the orange crush went flat. She and her team may be pleased with their result and campaign; although I am sure behind the scenes, she is disappointed with the results. Despite running a traditional socialist agenda of raising corporate taxes and demonizing CEO salaries, she was able to connect with voters and build status as a contender. It is notable that in the last Provincial election, with then leader Howard Hampton, the NDP was marginalized and not taken seriously by the media. Ms. Horwath has been able to bring her party into, at least, this century. But she could not rouse a Horwathmania vote either - except among reporters.
Premier McGuinty has made history. He has been one of the most underestimated politicians in Canada. He has again proven his political acumen - and it should not be questioned again.
With his third election, it is what Mr. McGuinty and his team does now that will determine if his track record will be positive or negative. They have a lot of challenges to address. They were not elected based on a strong change mandate, rather on one of steady status quo. There is nothing super exciting in their platform, and they are about to face a double dip recession.
It is how they will deal with these issues, in a polarizing Queen's Park environment, which will tell if Mr. McGuinty will be remembered as the most successful Premier in history (the title of most successful Liberal Premier he has already won). What he is now is a historic third term winner.
- Erika Mozes, former senior adviser to George Smitherman and Gerard Kennedy
Response from Guy Guy Giorno, former chief of staff to Mike Harris and Stephen Harper:
At the time of writing it's not clear whether Mr. McGuinty will emerge with minority or a slim majority.
Even now, however, four things are clear.
First, Tim Hudak did well. Extremely well. Almost as many Ontarians embraced his message of positive change as opted for the status quo.
In addressing his party and the province, Mr. Hudak was humble and modest, but he deserves to be proud. This is an incredible result for an Ontario party leader in his first election, a result on par (in popular vote and seat count) with the first elections of David Peterson and Dalton McGuinty -- both of whom went on to win solid majorities their next times out. Both momentum and history are on his side: Mr. Hudak will be the next Premier of Ontario.
Second, the pollsters and pundits who predicted that the Liberals would sail to a majority were wrong. However one characterizes the result, it wasn't clear sailing. In fact, the race was closer than many pollsters and most confident Liberals predicted. I heard one pollster explain that the result was consistent with his findings, within the margin of error: That's true only to the extent that the PC result was higher than forecasted "by a margin of error" and the Liberal vote was lower than forecasted "by a margin of error."
Third, the imbalance in election spending laws creates real unfairness. The theory behind election spending limits is that wealth should not be allowed to dictate election outcomes. In Ontario, however, only politicians and parties are subject to spending limits. Wealthy businesses and trade unions can spend without limit. In this case, the union-backed Working Families Coalition was free to spend as much as it wished, and used that imbalance to launch a damaging but misleading advertising attack on Mr. Hudak. The playing field must be levelled before the next election: politicians who face unrestricted spending by third parties must not be handcuffed in their ability to respond and to defend themselves.
Fourth, the Liberals must take to heart the lessons of the vote: not just the overwhelming majority who voted for change (whether blue or orange complexion), but the cleavage between the Liberals' urban/GTA base and Ontarians living in towns, rural communities and the North. Mr. McGuinty must serve as the Premier for all Ontarians, not just as Premier for the the minority (slightly more than one-third) who voted for him, and not just as Premier for the Greater Toronto Area.
Response from Jeffrey Ferrier, former communications director for the Ontario NDP:
Ontario voters delivered a clear strong message tonight:
Dalton McGuinty – you’re on probation now, and we want to see some change.
In denying the Liberals the third majority they coveted and the Liberal campaign team was predicting, voters are sending a chastened McGuinty back to the premier’s office. Gone are the days of majority government and the veritable free ride such an arrangement gives the party in power.
Now, McGuinty is going to have to learn the practice of consensus politics, and be willing to co-operate with others to move Ontario forward.
For New Democrats, Thursday’s election results are a fabulous first step in the party’s revitalization here in Ontario. Under the strong and capable leadership of Andrea Horwath, the party has emerged from the shadow of the Bob Rae government of the early ‘90s, and re-established itself as a mainstream alternative to the two old-line parties.
In this election the NDP:
Added seven MPPs to the caucus
Added nine new MPPs
Solidified its position as a strong voice for Northern Ontario, electing five Northern MPPs
Established a strong presence in southwestern Ontario with wins in Essex and London Fanshawe
Established a beachhead in the 905 thanks to Jagmeet Singh’s historic win in Bramalea-Gore-Malton
Expanded its presence in Toronto with a win in Davenport
Increased its share of the popular vote to 23%.
Earned the balance of power in a minority Legislature.
In her post-election speech, Horwath reached out to the other parties, indicating a willingness to work with others to address the issues voters raised during the campaign. That includes jobs, the rising cost of living, and improving health care.
Expect Horwath to request a quick calling back of the Legislature. MPPs need to review the province’s deteriorating economic and financial position, and get down to work addressing the serious challenges this situation will bring.
This is no time for a post-election as usual, where things go all quiet after the election, as the parties take a break as the new government readies itself to take over and so folks can get some well-deserved rest. McGuinty would be well advised to take the NDP leader up on her offer. Hudak would be too. We're facing some big issues, issues are bigger than political egos, bigger than the parties and bigger than politics. They deserve our elected officials’ attention and they deserve it now.