An unusually high number of Ontario MPPs will not be seeking re-election in the June 2 vote – some by choice, others for more complicated reasons – setting the stage for a big crop of new faces at Queen’s Park.
With the deadline now passed for Ontario’s political parties to finalize their lists of candidates, a quarter of incumbent MPPs will not be running again, including high-profile cabinet ministers.
The Progressive Conservatives had to replace 20 of their 76 members elected to the government benches in 2018, including 17 calling it quits – many after multiple terms in office. They include Deputy Premier and Health Minister Christine Elliott, who led the province’s COVID-19 response, and Rod Phillips, who served in several cabinet posts during his one term in office.
Some MPPs booted from the PC caucus are also hanging up their political hats, including long-time MPP Randy Hillier, who is facing nine criminal charges for his involvement in the Ottawa convoy protests.
Three others are running again with a different party after a tumultuous relationship with the PCs. Rick Nicholls and Belinda Karahalios were ousted from the PC caucus for their objections to the government’s COVID-19 policies. Mr. Nicholls has since joined the Ontario Party, which has never won a seat, and Ms. Karahalios has launched the New Blue Party of Ontario with her husband.
Amanda Simard left the government side in 2018 over cuts to French-language services. She joined the Liberal Party in 2020 and is hoping to keep the seat of Glengarry-Prescott-Russell.
Asked in March about the loss of incumbent candidates, PC Leader Doug Ford said he was not concerned and believed the party had a “better slate” than in the 2018 race.
The party is running a full team of candidates across the 124 ridings, as are the NDP, Greens and the upstart New Blue Party.
The rebuilding Liberals fell two candidates short of a full slate during a last-day push to fill 10 vacancies, unable to challenge the ridings of Parry Sound-Muskoka and Timmins. (The Ontario Liberals have never won those seats.) The party was tasked with finding multiple new candidates for this election, with only two of seven MPPs elected in 2018 running again. As well, two MPPs elected in 2020 by-elections in Ottawa will again be putting their names on the ballot.
The party has also faced issues with its vetting process, dropping three candidates in the span of three days this week for inappropriate comments they wrote in the past. The Liberals were able to find replacement candidates in the ridings of Sault Ste. Marie and Chatham-Kent-Leamington, but were unable to do so in Parry Sound-Muskoka.
The NDP go into the election down seven incumbents, including a long-time member who will be running as an Independent. Paul Miller was removed from the caucus in March and prohibited from running again under the party banner in the riding of Hamilton East-Stoney Creek, which he has held since 2007.
The party said he was ousted because of his membership in an anti-Islam Facebook group, which was discovered during the candidate vetting process. Mr. Miller has denied any affiliation with the group, arguing his account was compromised. He also launched a $1.3-million lawsuit against the NDP, Leader Andrea Horwath and two party officials.
Despite the large number of incumbents not running for re-election, University of Toronto political scientist Nelson Wiseman doesn’t think it will have much impact when voters cast their ballots.
Prof. Wiseman says most voters choose the party they’d like to support rather than the individual candidate. He predicts the majority of the seats without an incumbent will be held by the parties that won them previously.
“A lot of people have no idea who they are voting for as an MPP,” Prof. Wiseman said in an interview with The Globe and Mail. “In a lot of these ridings, maybe in most of them, I predict the incumbent party is going to get re-elected.”
He noted that a quarter of sitting MPPs deciding not to run again for their elected party is “substantial,” but couldn’t point to a specific reason for the mass exit.
For outgoing one-term NDP MPP Rima Berns-McGown, a number of things took a toll during her time in office, prompting her not to run again. As an introverted person, Ms. Berns-McGown said, the high-energy political arena was difficult to manage every day.
She also cited increased “nastiness” within the political system, which she found counterproductive in addressing key issues.
“There is a degree of toxicity in the system that makes it very difficult, and I think that’s become exacerbated and it’s becoming worse and worse,” she said. “If your goal as a democracy is to create legislation that makes society move forward, we are increasingly incapable of doing that.”
In open races without an incumbent, the parties are eager to stand out with high-profile candidates in an effort to swing seats in their direction. In former premier Kathleen Wynne’s old Toronto riding, Don Valley West, the PCs are running former Toronto police chief Mark Saunders.
The PCs haven’t held the riding since Ms. Wynne won it for the Liberals in 2003. Mr. Saunders will be up against bank executive Stephanie Bowman for the Liberals and the province’s former child and youth advocate, Irwin Elman, for the NDP.
Another Toronto riding up for grabs is Toronto Centre, with NDP incumbent Suze Morrison ruling out another run due to health issues. In her place, three-term city councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam will be on the ballot in an attempt to keep the seat for the NDP.
David Morris will be running to regain the seat for the Liberals, and Jessica Goddard is the PC candidate in the race.
Other high-profile candidates taking on incumbents include Toronto city councillor Michael Ford, the nephew of the PC Leader, hoping to turn the NDP-held riding of York South-Weston to PC blue, as well as long-time Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman running in Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte for the Liberals in an effort to take the seat from the PCs.
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