Lots to unpack from Ontario election so below are my thoughts. On balance I am happy to see Ford get re-elected. While not perfect, I feel he was the best choice of the options and hope that he and his strong team continue to lead Canada’s largest province through these difficult times. Below I will discuss what this means for each party and what it means federally. On seat projections, I was fairly close but as usual were some individual riding surprises.
Many said the election was a Seinfeld one and I would generally agree. Neither of the opposition leaders were able to make a solid case why they would do better which is why they both lost and why both looking for new leaders. Ford won not because people love him, but feel he has done an okay job in tough circumstances. With this election being a low turnout, one needs to be careful not to over analyze too much, but I do think it is noteworthy to point out just how broad the PC coalition is. Doug Ford was able to breakthrough and win in many blue collar ridings including some that as recent as a decade ago were political graveyards for Tories such as in Windsor and Thunder Bay. Much like Boris Johnson won several red wall seats and Trump won some post industrial ones; this shows conservatives can find common ground with labour and win in such. Also shows danger of progressive parties becoming too much that of an upper middle class urban party and losing touch with their traditional blue collar support. This is especially true for the NDP. At the same time unlike Trump, Ford was able to hold onto their suburban gains showing it is possible to both gain blue collar ridings while still winning suburban ones and its not an either or choice. In particular, Ford is probably one of the most successful conservative politicians anywhere in the English speaking world in ethnically diverse ridings. If you look at ridings where visible minorities make up over 50% of the population, almost all went PC showing if party reaches out and listens to various communities, it can win in ethnically diverse ridings. For the Liberals, I believe they have become too much of downtown core party and while many in downtown cores may think everything is like them, reality is much different. This should be a strong warning to Trudeau that while you maybe able to write off rural areas and still win; but if smaller urban areas and suburbs turn against you, you lose and lose badly. More importantly this fundamentally showed Ontario is a pragmatic centrist province. Its not an overly right wing province thus why further right parties went nowhere and didn’t split the vote, but not an overly left wing either. Despite Ford’s rough first year, he pivoted and that paid off. Those thinking this means Poilievre’s hardnose conservatism is a vote winner are totally wrong. Ontarioans want good policies that help people and don’t care if you lean a little left or a little right.
Below talks about what this means for each party going forward.
PCs: Definitely a very successful election and Ford has shown how conservatives can win both in Ontario and nationally. But just as Harper’s win in 2011 made him look unbeatable, that was not the case. So PCs will have lots of challenges and how they handle it will determine whether they get a third term or get defeated in 2026.
NDP: They didn’t do as poorly in seats as I thought they would, but still loss of some blue collar ridings while holding onto urban core does bring into question, what does NDP want to be? Unlike Liberals who can win in suburbs, any NDP win is going to come by uniting urban progressives with blue collar populists in smaller communities and doing so is not going to be easy. With NDP, to my surprise, holding Oshawa and Niagara Centre, I think Jennifer French or Jeff Burch are both ones they should consider as they are two who can still win in blue collar ridings that are drifting away from the NDP, even if wins were razor thin. More importantly with Liberals finishing third twice in a row, it may be time for NDP to become more like their provincial counterparts in Western Canada (who do often win) and less like federal. So keep same principles but be a bit more pragmatic and come across as a party ready to govern like those in Western Canada. As it was clear their platform was still a pie in the sky one and until they show more pragmatism, they will not win.
Liberals: For all intensive purposes this was an unmitigated disaster. Leader loses his seat, party unable to regain party status and stuck in third place. It was clear from starters DelDuca was a terrible choice for leader. Too tied to past administration and a total dud with zero charisma (sorry that matters in politics). But longer term party needs to figure out who they are. Trying to out left the NDP may have worked for Trudeau but its a risky strategy and especially is bound to fail if PC leader is not too right wing. While returning to centre is no guarantee of success, its only option they have and real question is if PCs stay moderate and NDP moderates, is there room for Liberals or will Ontario become like Western provinces with a choice between a centre-right coalition and NDP? Either way party needs to use next four years wisely.
Many are talking about low voter turnout and there is not question voter turnout of only 44% is super disappointing. But that does not make results illegitimate. Reality is by not voting, people essentially said they didn’t care who won. To deal with that parties need to do a better job of giving people reason to vote for them. But also I think unfortunately when election is seen as a foregone conclusion, people are more likely to think their vote is irrelevant which is unfortunate. We saw this in 1996 US election and 2001 British election where governing party had big lead and it was clear who would win. Perhaps way to improve this is MPPs make greater effort to be more visible and also emphasize things they’ve done for community. Even if who will win is a foregone conclusion; who you elect as your MPP still matters.
As for federal politics, this should be a warning to both federal Liberals and federal Tories. This shows Liberal support is mile wide and inch deep. Many Liberals are banking on winning based on Poilievre being too right wing and while probably true, what happens if party wises up and chooses someone else or Poilievre pivots effectively? Fact 1 in 5 Trudeau voters last Fall voted for Doug Ford shows unlike social media, not everyone is a rabid partisan and you have lots of middle of the road voters who are willing to vote for different parties depending on leader, platform, campaign, and issues of day. But for federal Tories thinking this is proof that Poilievre will be next prime-minister, think again. Ford won in big part by being moderate something Poilievre is not. And the New Blue Party and Ontario Party who were further right got similar totals to PPC last federal election, but Ford won unlike O’Toole as he was able to pick up several Liberal supporters. Cambridge and Kitchener-Conestoga are two good examples of this. Both of those were ridings where Conservatives + PPC got more votes than Liberals. Ontario Party + New Blue Party got roughly same totals as PPC yet Ford unlike O’Toole won those ridings as he picked up enough soft Liberal support. Fact Kenney is finished in normally conservative Alberta while Ford wins a bigger majority in the much tougher Ontario just emphasizes my point. This supposed huge right wing vote out there that won’t vote Conservative unless an ideologue is a complete mirage and doesn’t exist in big numbers. By contrast your Blue Liberals and Red Tories may be almost non-existent on social media, but they still exist in real life and dismissing them be it Liberals or Conservatives do so at their own peril.