How exactly a minority Liberal government will work in Ontario remains to be seen, following Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty's narrow victory, leaving him one seat shy of a majority.
“We'll have to work it out,” Mr. McGuinty told reporters Thursday evening after his victory speech. He did not elaborate or take questions from the media.
But he managed to defy the odds by winning a third term, given that he went into the race trailing his chief rival, Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak.
“Even a few weeks ago we were being told that we had no chance of success,” Mr. McGuinty said in his speech to hundreds of supporters at Ottawa's Fairmont Laurier, where the mood was decidedly subdued. “We were being counted out and written off. But we didn’t listen to the naysayers.”
Mr. Hudak said in his concession speech earlier in the evening the premier-elect will be on a much shorter leash. Mr. McGuinty suggested in his speech that he is counting on vote tallies in the coming days to possibly push him into majority territory.
The Liberals won 53 seats, after both the Tories and the New Democrats nabbed hotly-contested seats from them. The Conservatives won in 37 ridings and the New Democratic Party in 17, gaining a stronghold in northern Ontario. The Liberals' seat count was well below their decisive victory in 2007, when they captured 71 seats. This time the Liberals lost 18 seats, while the Conservatives picked up 11 and the NDP gained seven.
After ruling the province for eight years with a majority government, co-operating with others will not come easily for Mr. McGuinty.
The cerebral, aloof leader is used to running things with a tight-knit group of trusted advisers - his kitchen cabinet. Even his own caucus members are often not in the loop on major initiatives.
When the polls first suggested a week ago that the Liberals could end up with a minority, Mr. McGuinty emphatically ruled out working with NDP Leader Andrea Horwath in a coalition. Mr. Hudak, meanwhile, did his utmost to suggest that talks between his two rivals were already under way.
What is clear is that Mr. McGuinty will not be able to ignore a newly-strengthened NDP for long. But it will be a bumpy transition for him. There is little evidence to suggest that Mr. McGuinty would be compatible with either of his rivals.
It is not just the fact that, at 56, he is a few years older than Mr. Hudak, 43, and Ms. Horwath, 48. Queen’s Park sources say Mr. McGuinty, a renowned policy wonk, does not consider them his intellectual equals. With Mr. Hudak, Mr. McGuinty often adopts his best Premier Dad tone to rebuke the Tory Leader, whether it’s for calling new Canadians “foreigners” or threatening to kill jobs by ending the Liberals’ flagship clean energy programs.
In her speech to supporters in Hamilton Thursday Ms. Horwath promised the NDP "will work with all MPPs to make our Ontario government work."
"I do want to spend the next four years tackling the challenges we face," Ms. Horwath said. She listed making life more affordable, health care that puts people first and jobs as priorities.
What is almost certain is that the first minority government in a generation will lead to plenty of delays in executing the Liberals’ agenda.
During his first two terms, Mr. McGuinty was able to use his majority to pass legislation without encountering any roadblocks. The Liberals often passed time-allocation motions to limit debate in the legislature on bills.
Now, he will no longer be able to ignore Ms. Horwath. She won seats held by the Liberals by steering her party toward the middle ground, the turf traditionally occupied by the Grits.
At the same time, Mr. Hudak squeezed Mr. McGuinty on the right by adopting as his own the Liberals’ policies on health care and education.
The one major issue that distinguished Mr. Hudak from Mr. McGuinty was his opposition to the Liberals’ centre piece job-creation program: using incentives to attract wind, solar and other renewable energy companies to Ontario.
Mr. Hudak campaigned on a pledge to rip up a “sweetheart, backroom” clean energy deal the Liberal government signed with South Korean industrial giant Samsung Group as well as scrap generous incentives for other renewable energy companies.
“We will be constructive, positive and present an alternative vision of Ontario’s future where government lives within its means, spends wisely, puts interest of Ontario families and private sector job creation at the top of the list,” Mr. Hudak said in his speech Thursday night. “We will work with parties and members of the legislature who support that vision and will oppose those who will not.”
Ms. Horwath and Mr. Hudak both campaigned on pocketbook issues. They drew a direct connection between consumers’ higher hydro bills and two economic policies introduced by the McGuinty government. The harmonized sales tax led to higher prices on many consumer goods and services, including electricity prices. And the clean energy policies will cause hydro bills to climb once they are fully implemented.