Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca resigned from his post after failing to win his own seat or secure official party status in Thursday’s provincial election.
The Progressive Conservative Party won a second consecutive majority government and the NDP was set to serve as the Official Opposition, with the Liberals remaining the third party in the legislature.
Mr. Del Duca lost in the riding of Vaughan-Woodbridge for the second election in a row to Progressive Conservative Michael Tibollo, an associate cabinet minister. As of 11 p.m. local time, the Liberals were leading in eight ridings, but needed 12 to regain official status.
The Liberals went into the election campaign hoping to make big gains after a devastating outcome in 2018 in which they were punted from government to third-party status.
The party held six of the eight seats they had going into the election, but lost Thunder Bay-Superior North and were trailing in Glengarry-Prescott-Russell. The party picked up Beaches-East York and was leading in Kingston and the Islands.
“To be clear, this isn’t the outcome we had hoped for and worked hard for,” Mr. Del Duca said in his concession speech. “I am again so very proud of the work that we did.”
He said he has asked the party president to set a leadership contest for “as soon as reasonable.”
The atmosphere was sombre at party headquarters in Vaughan as about 40 people watched the results. Around 200 people had been expected to attend at the Paramount Events Centre. Throughout the night, the Liberal Party headquarters appeared barren and quiet, unlike the jubilant events for competing parties.
Facing his first election as party leader after being selected in March, 2020, Mr. Del Duca had in recent days said he had no plans to step down as leader no matter the result in his riding or in the broader race.
“Regardless of the result, I am not going anywhere,” he told reporters during a campaign stop in Toronto on Wednesday afternoon. “We are just getting started.”
But political experts said he would face pressure to resign if the Liberals did not perform well.
After governing the province for 15 years, the Ontario Liberals were reduced to seven seats in the 2018 election and lost official party status with less than 20 per cent of the popular vote.
Polls leading up to election day forecast a healthy lead for the Progressive Conservatives and a battle for second between the Liberals and NDP. During the late stages of the campaign, Mr. Del Duca touted the Liberals as the best choice to defeat the PCs. He spent Wednesday, the final day on the campaign trail, in two NDP-held ridings in Toronto.
Nelson Wiseman, political science professor at the University of Toronto, said he had expected the Liberals to perform better among voters who are not in favour of the PCs getting re-elected.
“I’m surprised at how poorly they’ve done. I thought because of the strength of the Liberal brand that they would be a lot more competitive,” Mr. Wiseman said. “This time, I thought the opposition support would marshal behind the Liberals.”
Prof. Wiseman said he believes part of the problem is that people have struggled to resonate with Mr. Del Duca and the party’s focus on policy, which didn’t generate much discussion throughout the campaign.
“I think the real reason is this hasn’t been a policy election,” he said.
During the campaign, Mr. Del Duca presented the Liberals as a rebranded team with new candidates and ideas, separating himself from former Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne. (He was transportation minister in Ms. Wynne’s cabinet.)
The party’s platform, which was built through sessions with members, promises $1 transit fares across the province until January, 2024; a cap of 20 students per class; an end to for-profit long-term care; and to scrap the proposed Highway 413 and spend its estimated $10-billion cost to build and repair schools.
Mr. Del Duca was tasked with reviving the party and successfully ramped up fundraising efforts to dig it out from under a $10-million debt after the 2018 election.
The Liberals faced hiccups early in the campaign and were three candidates short of a full slate. The party removed three candidates in three days just before the nomination deadline for inappropriate comments they wrote in the past. The Liberals were unable to find a replacement in Parry Sound-Muskoka and also didn’t run a candidate in Timmins. (The party has never won those seats.)
During the campaign, the party’s Chatham-Kent-Leamington candidate, Audrey Festeryga, withdrew from the race after the NDP said her nomination forms were filed fraudulently, with signatures supporting the previous candidate, whom the Liberals had dropped. The allegations haven’t been proven and were denied by the party.
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