Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives have captured a majority government in Ontario, The Canadian Press projects, easily fending off their New Democrat challengers with a campaign heavy on populist promises and slogans, but light on fiscal details.
The Liberals, meanwhile, appear on the verge of a stunning collapse, after leading the province for the past 15 years and capturing a majority government just four years ago. Several cabinet ministers lost their seats.
The NDP appear set to form the Official Opposition, marking a turnaround for a party consistently stuck in third place since Bob Rae’s New Democratic government was defeated in 1995.
Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner captured the party’s first-ever seat in Ontario.
I wish you all the best for tomorrow @MikeSchreiner @GuelphGreens . #onpoli would be so very lucky to have your voice as the MPP for Guelph. And I sincerely hope that you are joined with several other Ontario Greens. Best wishes from the @bcgreens #cdnpoli
— Andrew Weaver (@AJWVictoriaBC) June 7, 2018
A Liberal defeat was predicted by Premier Kathleen Wynne herself just days before the vote, as she admitted her party had such low support it would not form government again. She inherited a government already rife with billion-dollar scandals, but under her leadership more fuel was added to the fire, such as rising hydro bills and questionable government spending.
The Liberals had also veered sharply left in recent years, ushering in policies often championed by the NDP, such as a promised $15 minimum wage, pharmacare for youth and generous tuition grants making university free for low-income students.
Ford’s election promises, which invited comparisons to U.S. President Donald Trump, were in stark contrast, including income tax cuts, scrapping the Liberals’ updated sex-ed curriculum and strongly opposing a carbon tax.
Ford rolled out several pledges designed with populist appeal in mind, from cutting gas prices by 10 cents a litre to introducing buck-a-beer and allowing beer and wine in corner stores to cutting hydro bills.
Under Ford, the Progressive Conservatives recaptured the province they have not led since 2003, overcoming the failings of the past three elections that saw them unable to defeat the Liberals. In some cases those campaigns were sunk before they barely got off the ground with promises to fund religious schools or cut 100,000 public sector jobs.
But Ford’s campaign certainly wasn’t immune to controversy. He dismissed allegations that he was involved in selling bogus Progressive Conservative party memberships, a candidate was dropped following accusations he was involved in an alleged theft of customer data at a toll highway operator, and Ford was frequently accused of failing to be transparent by dodging calls to release a fully costed platform.
With about one week left in the campaign, the party published a list of promises and their price tags, but didn’t indicate how they would pay for them, what size of deficits they would run or for exactly how long.
Then in the waning days of the election, Ford family drama — that had laid mostly dormant in the public sphere since the death of his brother, former Toronto mayor Rob Ford — burst onto the scene with a lawsuit from Rob Ford’s widow alleging Doug Ford mishandled his brother’s estate and destroyed the value of the family business.
WATCH: Ontario leaders made a big push for votes Wednesday ahead of election day
By contrast, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath consistently polled as the most popular of the three party leaders, so Ford repeatedly slammed her roster of candidates as radical and inexperienced.
The Liberals warned that the NDP’s plan was not practical, gleefully pointing out mathematical errors in their platform, including one that increased their proposed deficit by $1.4 billion annually. Wynne also frequently slammed Horwath’s opposition to back-to-work legislation, saying it would lead to indefinite strikes.
Several Liberal cabinet ministers were defeated, including Yasir Naqvi, Charles Sousa, Glenn Thibeault, Steven Del Duca, Kevin Flynn, Eleanor McMahon and Chris Ballard.
The Liberals came to power in 2003 under Dalton McGuinty, and when he stepped down in 2013, Wynne took the reins. She led the party to a majority in 2014, despite the party already being bogged down by scandals at eHealth Ontario, air ambulance service Ornge and a price tag of up to $1.1 billion to cancel two gas plants.
But her popularity began to soon dip, and reached well below 20 per cent in 2016 and 2017, in large part due to anger over rising hydro prices.
The Liberals eventually cut bills by eight per cent, then another 17 per cent months later, but by her own admission, Wynne failed to recognize early enough the impacts that investments in the energy system were having on people’s wallets.
She also faced criticism over her partial privatization of Hydro One and her decision to plunge the province’s books back into the red after finally getting them to balance in 2017-18.
Wynne insisted that the billions it pumped into health care, child care and a drug and dental-care program was necessary spending.
Wynne spent the last few days of the campaign pleading with voters to at least elect some Liberals — party insiders say they are worried they could win fewer than eight seats, which would mean a loss of official party status in the legislature.
Allison Jones, The Canadian Press