The Ontario Liberal Party suffered a devastating collapse on Thursday in a defeat that ends 15 years of majority rule and was one of the worst electoral results in the province’s modern history.
Led by Kathleen Wynne, who was premier for five years, the Liberals were trying to cling to official party status. Despite the dramatic decline, the party did better than some observers had projected.
The party’s collapse demonstrates voters’ intense fatigue and appetite for change.
“This has been the greatest privilege of my life, and the best part has been connecting with all of you,” Ms. Wynne said, as she resigned as party leader.
Several Liberal cabinet ministers were defeated, including Finance Minister Charles Sousa, Attorney-General Yasir Naqvi and Education Minister Indira Naidoo-Harris.
Despite a volatile campaign, the Liberal defeat was not unexpected with recent public-opinion polls showing the party lagging in distant third place. In an unusual move, Ms. Wynne conceded the election five days early but called on Ontarians to vote Liberal to prevent either of her rivals from forming a majority government.
Ms. Wynne, who took over from Dalton McGuinty in 2013, entered the campaign as an intensely disliked leader who had been the country’s most unpopular premier for almost two years.
Some Liberal candidates ran without using Ms. Wynne’s image or name on their signs. Others didn’t even put the word Liberal in their campaign materials.
At Mr. Sousa’s election headquarters in Mississauga, supporters gathered in silent disbelief as news of the PC majority win began to trickle in.
“This was not the result I was expecting at all,” said Zelma Pixley, a long-time Liberal supporter who expected Mr. Sousa to maintain his seat. “I am really disappointed.”
Alex Gregory, another supporter of Mr. Sousa, said Ms. Wynne’s decision to concede the election early was the wrong move for the party. “I don’t think it worked the way she wanted to.”
St. Catharines MPP Jim Bradley, who was trying to become the longest-serving member of Ontario legislature in history, lost his seat to the NDP’s Jennie Stevens. “The provincial vote for change was very overwhelming, so we’re really not surprised,” Mr. Bradley told The Globe and Mail.
Grim-faced party faithful gathered at the Liberals’ election night headquarters in Toronto to watch the results come in.
“No matter what happens, you have to be here to show your support,” said Ted Krawchuck, a 79-year-old retired high school teacher. “That’s important ... whether it’s good or bad news.”
The Liberals faced widespread public anger, including for soaring electricity prices and the privatization of Hydro One. In addition, a host of scandals damaged the party’s brand, including the cancellation of two gas-fired electricity plants that eventually led to the conviction earlier this year of Mr. McGuinty’s chief of staff, David Livingston, for unauthorized use of a computer and attempted mischief.
“There was a headwind,” said Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto. “There’s 15 years of baggage there.”
Despite the challenges Mr. McGuinty left behind, Ms. Wynne’s Liberals won a nine-seat majority in the 2014 election after major gaffes from then-PC leader Tim Hudak.
Several of Ms. Wynne’s most prominent cabinet ministers opted not to run for re-election this time, including Eric Hoskins, Deb Matthews, Liz Sandals and Brad Duguid.
Under Ontario rules, political parties need eight seats to maintain official party status in the legislature. With less than that, parties lose research funding and the right to ask questions in Question Period.
However, an even more critical disadvantage is that with so few seats, the Liberals risk losing their standing as a relevant force in the province, Prof. Wiseman said.
“The Liberals will be fighting for their lives politically,” he said.
The last major decimation of an Ontario governing party was in 1923, when the United Farmers of Ontario went from 44 seats to just 17.
- With reports from Molly Hayes, Victoria Gibson, Simona Chiose and Nadine Yousif