Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is blaming the costly cancellations of two gas-fired power plants for her party's poor showing in Thursday's five by-elections, suggesting her predecessor's administration failed to "manage" the issue properly.
Former premier Dalton McGuinty killed the unpopular plants in what was seen as a ploy to win seats in the 2011 provincial election. At last count, his decision cost nearly $600-million. His government later mishandled the disclosure of gas plant-related documents, with some staffers deleting all their e-mails and his office pushing for the Speaker to change a major ruling against the Liberals.
On Friday, Ms. Wynne pointed to these problems as she sought to explain why her party dropped three seats the day before and retained two by uncomfortably small margins.
"People are angry about … the gas plant issue," she said in her first news conference since the vote. "They're angry that money was wasted, especially because there is money that's needed for so many other things. And they might even be angrier because of the process around the flow of information.
"Some of the political management of that issue was not what I would have wanted it to be, and in fact was the opposite of what my approach would be."
And Ms. Wynne tried to assuage her party's fears, arguing that now that voters have punished the party for the gas plants, the Liberals can frame the next election in different terms.
"I believe that the by-elections were about recent past events, and I think that the next general election will be about the future," she said, pledging to focus on job creation and economic development. "I think it will be a very different ballot question."
Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak, meanwhile, had some explaining of his own to do. His party picked up just one riding, Etobicoke Lakeshore, and that by a mere four-percentage-point margin. In London West, a middle-class suburban seat some Tories had been confident of winning, they were handily defeated by the left-wing New Democrats.
Mr. Hudak, who has faced doubts about his electability since he lost the 2011 election after blowing a substantial poll lead, admitted his party had to work out a better strategy.
"We need to take a good, hard look at London West," he said. "There's no doubt when the NDP marshalls its forces in a protest vote backed by organized labour, they're a formidable force. We need to make sure we actually have a way of overcoming those forces to win that seat."
Doug Holyday, the only successful Tory candidate, said the other parties had simply got more of their supporters to the polls on a Thursday before the long weekend. He also asked Mr. Hudak's critics to give the Leader more time to prove his abilities.
"He's going to make a great premier – he just needs the chance. I think all opposition leaders have difficulty with certain people until they actually win the election," Mr. Holyday said. "Tim will get there and I will be 100 per cent behind him."
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, emboldened by two victories, signalled Ms. Wynne's minority administration would likely not finish its mandate.
Asked if the Premier could hold off an election until the current legislature expires in 2015, Ms. Horwath replied: "I would be surprised, let me put it that way. I would be surprised."