Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne was dealt a setback in her first electoral test as leader, with the opposition parties chipping away at her government’s hold on the province.
View results from the Ontario by-elections here.
Thursday's by-election results, however, left Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak in a tough spot. His PCs won in Etobicoke-Lakeshore, giving the party its first seat in Toronto in a decade. But the Tories failed to win any of the other four races, renewing questions about Mr. Hudak’s leadership. The Liberals held on to two ridings, including Ottawa South, former premier Dalton McGuinty’s constituency.
The Liberal losses are certain to reaffirm the notion that Mr. McGuinty’s baggage – including the costly cancellation of gas plants – is hurting the Liberals. Equally worrying for Ms. Wynne is the continued strength of the NDP, which could siphon off left-wing Liberals and make the party’s path to re-election harder.
Andrea Horwath’s New Democrats, meanwhile, came out in the strongest position, winning two ridings and continuing the steady growth of their third-party caucus.
Despite the losses, Ms. Wynne was mobbed by supporters and drowned out by cheers as she arrived at a victory party in Scarborough-Guildwood shortly before 11 p.m.
In a speech, the Premier cheered her party's victories but struck a note of contrition, acknowledging the gas plant scandal had cost them three seats.
"People are angry about the gas plant issue, they are angry that a lot of money was spent, especially when budgets are tight...I totally get that," she said. "As a member of the government that made those decisions, I could not be more sorry."
She promised voters "the message had been heard -- people expect better," and that her party would work harder to put their troubles behind them before the next general election.
"Is Ontario still the place of opportunity it was? Unequivocally, yes," she said.
The results in the five ridings, left vacant by the resignations of Mr. McGuinty and four former Liberal cabinet ministers in recent months, will not be enough to change the balance of power in the legislature – Ms. Wynne remains Premier with a minority government – but hold major symbolic importance for all three parties.
Mr. Hudak’s only win came in the riding he targeted the hardest, Etobicoke-Lakeshore, a semi-suburban Toronto seat. Tory Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday beat Liberal Councillor Peter Milczyn in a hard-fought battle that turned nasty at times. Both candidates are members of Mayor Rob Ford’s executive committee, but Mr. Ford firmly endorsed Mr. Holyday and campaigned with him frequently.
"Doug Holyday has been a strong voice in Etobicoke for over 30 years," Mr. Hudak said as he joined Mr. Holyday on stage at his victory party.
"He helped to clean up the mess at city hall, now he's going to clean up the mess at Queen's Park and help put the province back on track."
He also touted their losses in other ridings as "strong" second-place finishes that show the Tories are on their way back up in the province.
Mr. Holyday also tried to downplay his party's poor results elsewhere in the province.
"We did well to win one seat. These were five Liberal cabinet minister seats. They weren't just regular seats that fell out of the sky somewhere," said Mr. Holyday during his victory speech, amid cheers and chants from the crowd.
"For us to take one seat means we can take more and we will."
Despite the oft-vicious campaign, Mr. Ford said he would be able to move on and work with the Premier in future.
“When it’s over, you shake hands and say ‘good day’ and get on to business,” he said at Mr. Holyday’s election night party.
He also said he would be happy to welcome Mr. Milczyn back to his executive committee on his return to council.
“He’s a great guy. There’s nothing wrong with Peter. He’s just running for the wrong party.”
The Tories had not held a seat in Toronto since they were swept from power in 2003, and Mr. Holyday’s win opens up a crack in the Liberals’ fortress. Gaining Mr. Holyday gives the PC caucus another strong and seasoned voice who will no doubt become a top party spokesman.
That riding, however, was the only good news for Mr. Hudak.
In Ottawa South, Mr. McGuinty’s constituency assistant, John Fraser beat Tory Matt Young and NDP school trustee Bronwyn Funiciello.
NDPer Percy Hatfield, a city councillor and former broadcaster, cruised to victory in Windsor Tecumseh, taking a commanding 64 per cent of the vote and crushing Tory Robert de Verteuil and Liberal Jeewan Gill.
The NDP also pulled off an improbable win in London West, a seat they have never held, where former school board chair Peggy Sattler beat out Tory lawyer Ali Chahbar and Liberal Ken Coran, the former president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation. While Mr. Coran had been thought of as a star candidate for the Grits, he spent much of the campaign defending himself from accusations he exaggerated his involvement with the University of Western Ontario Mustangs, and explaining why he had backed the NDP in previous elections.
Speaking in London, Ms. Horwath thanked people in all ridings who voted.
“They made their voices heard and as we saw they voted to send a message. They’ve had enough of an arrogant government that takes them for granted. They’ve had enough of a government that’s more concerned with managing the fallout from the latest scandal than with creating jobs and improving the health-care system. They want leadership that delivers results for them. And today, thousands of them, thousands and thousands of them, got behind New Democrats. … And I want to say to them thank you, because by voting for New Democrats you made a choice, a positive choice and we won’t take that trust for granted,” she said.
One of Ms. Wynne’s consolation prizes was Scarborough-Guildwood, where CivicAction CEO Mitzie Hunter edged out Tory real estate agent Ken Kirupa and former TTC chair Adam Giambrone of the NDP. Her 36-per-cent victory total, however, was lower than the Grits managed in the 2011 general election.
That didn’t stop her supporters from celebrating loudly in a cavernous banquet hall, where they burst into a five-minute long cheer and applause and chanted “Mitzie! Mitzie! Mitzie!” as she was declared victorious around 10.45 pm.
“I’ve always worked to build strong communities, and now I will continue that work as your MPP for Scarborough-Guildwood,” Ms. Hunter said. “I’m humbled by your support.”
The loudest cheers, however, came when she reiterated her campaign promise to extend the subway system in Scarborough.
She also vowed the party would respond to the losses and do better in future.
“We have heard that message ... people expect more from us, the people deserve better,” she said.
With reports from Kaleigh Rogers and Daniel Bitonti