Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives have swept Ontario, riding a wave of discontent to a majority victory on Thursday night while the New Democrats took advantage of a Liberal implosion to form the official opposition for the first time in a generation.
The decisive result was a remarkable feat for Mr. Ford, a brash and unconventional leader who became the head of his party only in March after the resignation of former leader Patrick Brown. Portraying himself as an anti-politician, Mr. Ford promised to slash taxes, reduce waste and look out for “the little guy,” echoing the message he and his late brother Rob brought to their tumultuous time in Toronto municipal politics.
The Tories unseated Liberals across the province, winning several Toronto ridings in which the party had not been competitive for decades, and will send 76 MPPs to Queen’s Park. The NDP is expected to send 40 and the Liberals seven, one short of official party status. Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner won his party’s first seat in Guelph.
Voter turnout – unofficially at 57.2 per cent - was the highest in a decade as Ontarians faced a stark choice about the future for the province.
“My friends, help is here,” Mr. Ford said in his victory speech at Tory headquarters in Etobicoke. “Tonight, we have sent a clear message to the world: Ontario is open for business.”
He vowed to respect the province’s taxpayers.
“A new day has dawned in Ontario: a day of opportunity, a day of prosperity and a day of growth. We’re going to turn this province around. We will make sure Ontario is the greatest place on earth to live, to do business and to raise a family. And we will make Ontario once again the engine of Canada,” he said.
The Tories took a sizable lead in the popular vote over their rivals with 40.5 per cent, the New Democrats came second with 33.6 per cent, and the Liberals received 19.5 per cent.
The mood was sombre at Liberal headquarters when Ms. Wynne, who held onto her seat but resigned as leader of the party, emerged to speak to supporters.
“I love every single one of you,” she said, congratulating Mr. Ford on his victory. “This is not a concession speech - I conceded days ago. This is my chance to say thank you for allowing me to be Premier, allowing me to connect with so many of you the last five years.”
The NDP, a longtime also-ran, had been eyeing victory for the first time since Bob Rae’s NDP was defeated in 1995. Leader Andrea Horwath said she was in the election to win. Ms. Horwath, who has been at the helm of the NDP for nine years, was re-elected in Hamilton Centre. Her party, which enjoyed strong union support, won most urban ridings in Ontario’s southwestern rust belt.
“New Democrats rejected the politics of fear and cynicism,” Ms. Horwath said in Hamilton on Thursday night. “We rejected that. And we put a vision for a better future at the heart of our campaign. And Ontarians have responded like never before.”
Mr. Ford will enter the premier’s office with little experience in government, having served only one term as a Toronto city councilor, from 2010 to 2014. He entered the PC leadership race after Mr. Brown’s middle-of-the-night resignation amid allegations of sexual misconduct, and won the leadership in March. He then tossed his party’s electoral plan and adopted a shoot-from-the-hip style that has put him in charge of Canada’s most populous province and the country’s economic engine.
His pared-down platform included almost $10-billion in new spending, but no firm details on how the party would pay for it. He vowed fiscal restraint, but told voters he would slash income taxes, reduce the provincial gas tax by 10 cents a litre and scrap the province’s cap-and-trade policy for reducing carbon emissions. Appealing to his populist base, he also said he would fire the head of Hydro One—the $6-million man, he called him—and reduce the minimum price of a bottle of beer to $1, both of which were heavily featured at rallies he held around the province.
Ontarians started the 29-day election campaign on May 9 looking to toss the most unpopular premier in the province’s modern history. What began as a two-way race between Mr. Ford and Ms. Wynne almost immediately became a contest between the PCs and a surging NDP, offering Ontarians a stark choice for the direction of the province. As the PCs stumbled, with police investigating continuing nomination scandals, and a reversal of Mr. Ford’s promise to release a fully-costed platform, voters rallied behind Ms. Horwath and her vow to create comprehensive drug, childcare and dental plans. The PCs’ 15 point lead began to evaporate.
Mr. Ford was outgunned in the campaign’s two main debates, falling back on sloganeering as Ms. Horwath and Ms. Wynne pushed their detailed visions for the future.
Finally, just days before the vote, the widow and children of Rob Ford filed a lawsuit alleging that Doug Ford was a negligent business manager at the family’s firm, Deco Labels and Tags Inc., costing them millions from Rob Ford’s estate. He said the allegations are “false and without merit.” None of it seemed to matter.
“Obviously there was a drive for change and the GTA was convinced by Ford’s populist language,” said Andrea Lawlor, a political science professor at the University of Western Ontario. “While people flirted with the NDP, they just didn’t trust them enough at the end of the day to take over the province.”
The Tory victory will have widespread implications for Canada’s federal government. In addition to the promise to tear up Ontario’s cap-and-trade system, Mr. Ford has called carbon taxes “a scam.” He has indicated he will join Saskatchewan, and perhaps Alberta if that province’s conservative party wins power next year, in a legal battle to stop the federal Liberal government’s requirement that all provinces implement a form of carbon pricing. He’s also resisted the federal push to consider a national pharmacare program.