A few thoughts on Ontario’s wild election night

By Steve Paikin - Published on June 8, 2018
Doug Ford giving a thumbs-up
The Progressive Conservatives’ victory last night was only the party’s third out of the last 10 elections. (Chris Young/CP)

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There will be occasion in the days ahead to write the big think piece about some of the broader themes that emerged from last night’s election results. For now, though, let me offer a few brief thoughts on Ontario’s 42nd grand consultation with the people.

  • This is the worst drubbing the Liberals have ever taken. A caucus of seven seats leaves them one short of recognized-party status — meaning no extra budget for staff, research, or “ice time” during question period. The party’s previous worst showing was in 1951, when it was left with eight seats. However, by a different measure, the party’s 1990 defeat was worse — on that night, they lost 59 seats.  Last night, just 48. This is actually the fifth time the Liberals have come third.
  • While Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne has to own last night’s debacle, she can also take solace in having secured her place in history: Ontario’s first female premier, first openly gay premier, and the 10th-longest-serving premier.
  • Having said that, the curse of Canadian female premiers continues. Of five — Christie Clark, Alison Redford, Pauline Marois, Catherine Callbeck, and now Wynne — not one has ever been re-elected.
  • The Progressive Conservatives’ victory last night was the party’s third out of the last 10 elections. Having said that, the party is the most successful political institution in Ontario history: it has now won 23 elections — compared to 17 for the Liberals, one for the New Democrats, and one for the long-defunct United Farmers of Ontario.
  • The NDP might have dreamed of victory, but it can be satisfied with having achieved official Opposition status. Last night’s seat count was the party’s second-highest ever — the New Democrats haven’t seen such numbers since Bob Rae’s 1990 majority.
  • They call them bellwether ridings for a reason: last night, electors in Scarborough Centre and Peterborough-Kawartha voted for the winning party, just as they have in every election since 1971 and 1977, respectively.

Politics, at the end of the day, is about people. Here are some of the people who deserve a mention today:

  • John Yakabuski won his Renfrew–Nipissing–Pembroke seat by an astonishing 25,000 votes. Yakabuski was the Tory who’d spent the most time as an MPP without ever having gotten a sniff of the government benches. Fifteen years later, he will finally move across the floor to the government side.
  • The first time Jim Bradley ran for a seat in 1967, he lost. Then he lost again in 1971. But when he finally won his St. Catharines riding in 1977, he held it for 11 straight elections, resisting numerous anti-Liberal waves. Last night, he was finally defeated after 40 years, 11 months, and 29 days as an MPP — the second-longest tenure of any member of the legislature ever. Had he won and served another 13 months, he’d have been number one. Still, he can take satisfaction in a legacy that includes being Ontario’s most respected environment minister ever (Bradley was the father of the blue-box recycling program and of Countdown Acid Rain, which forced corporate polluters to install anti-pollution technology on their smokestacks).
  • Persistence pays off. On his third try, Mike Schreiner won the Green party’s first ever seat at Queen’s Park, by a whopping 15,000 votes in Guelph. It’s no doubt one of the best birthday gifts the Greens’ leader has ever received (he turns 49 tomorrow).
  • It’s (mostly) good to be a second-generation politician. Caroline Mulroney, Norm Miller, Laurie Scott, Mike Harris Jr., John Yakabuski, Jill Dunlop, and, of course, Doug Ford are all the children of former politicians — and they all won. Deanna Sgro, daughter of current Liberal MP Judy Sgro, was the exception.
  • Having a connection to former prime minister Stephen Harper wasn’t so bad after all: several former Conservative MPs from the Harper years resurrected their political careers at the provincial level last night, including Greg Rickford, Paul Calandra, Daryl Kramp, and Parm Gill.
  • Finally, although you probably didn’t hear his name last night, former PC leader Patrick Brown deserves a mention. He spent three years dragging his party from the hard right to the moderate middle. He encouraged Tories to embrace LGBTQ issues, and to support increased spending on mental-health care and child care. He raised a ton of money for the party, had the PCs in first place in the polls for three straight years, attracted numerous strong candidates (such as Caroline Mulroney, Peter Bethlenfalvy, and Rod Phillips) to run, and made inroads into diverse communities that had eluded the Tories for decades. He will get no credit for last night’s victory — but regardless of the nature of his departure from politics, he is entitled to some. Ford scored a tremendous touchdown for the Tories last night. But Brown quarterbacked the team down the field to the 20-yard line. That is worth remembering.    
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