Expert: Results not a surprise; future may be

Laura Stephenson isn’t surprised. The rest of the province, she thinks, shouldn’t be surprised, either.

Led by Doug Ford, Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives secured a majority government Thursday night, ending nearly 15 years of Liberal power in the province.

The NDP will form the Official Opposition, while the Liberals were rejected by voters, losing a majority of their seats with their lowest-ever share of the popular vote. Shortly after results were announced, Kathleen Wynne revealed she will resign as Liberal leader, as the Grits failed to pick up the eight seats necessary to maintain official party status.

Polls and seat projections, even with minor deviations in the days leading up to the election, predicted the outcome, said Stephenson, a Political Science professor and Chair of the department’s undergraduate program. Voters were really tired of the Liberals, she stressed, and the result was left to hinge on voters who had to choose the risk they were willing to take.

Doug Ford ran a clean campaign, if not an untraditional one. He didn’t do much media – it was a safe way to play. It’s reminiscent of how the (federal) Conservative party managed to work their way into a majority (in 2011), Stephenson explained.

Ford, a municipal politician whose late brother Rob Ford was entrenched in controversy in his final years as mayor of Toronto, is still something of an unknown entity for voters, she noted. In his reserved campaign approach, he didn’t elaborate on platform and budget details. While the outcome is no surprise, what happens next is anyone’s guess, she noted.

“The spectre of Bob Rae is huge; it’s amazing it still matters. People were torn in this election and they didn’t want to take a chance on the NDP, while some didn’t want to take a chance on Ford. It was the NDP as a party that gave voters pause, and it was Ford, not the Conservative party, which has been in power in Ontario, that gave voters pause,” Stephenson continued.

“It’s weird; we don’t know what is next for the province. It’s hard to know what’s going to happen because I’m not sure that the (Ford) plans were solidified. I’m just being honest; I’m not trying to be flippant.

“I can’t comment on what will happen because I don’t know, but I do know it will be interesting.”

The first-past-the-post system undoubtedly helped Ford, she added, given the concentration of votes in Toronto, where he is a known name and the Ford brothers fared well in municipal elections.

“His message resonated in a different way there; he was a known commodity to a lot of those individuals. But in the rest of the province, there are a lot of seats (the Conservatives) now occupy and there is a lot going on with his personal style that we are not clear about,” Stephenson said.

The Conservative party, across the province, is now made up of many who are not “insensible people” and in that sense, depending on the cabinet Ford puts together, how he listens and how he manages, or who manages, things might not be as dire as some pundits are predicting. Voters don’t know if Ford will approach governing the province the way he approached his campaign so “things might not be as crazy different,” she added.

“Let’s see what he does when he builds his cabinet. He’s not an old hand in politics. He has a lot of experience, but no party experience. We don’t know how he will govern as premier, or as an MPP. What I do think this says about Ontario voters is they were fed up and there was a lot of negative talk about the options available to them.”

As for the outgoing Liberals, who dropped from 55 seats to 7, seeing Kathleen Wynne keep her seat but resign as party leader, they will recover the same way they recovered at the federal level. It was time for a change, anyway, Stephenson stressed.

Several Western alumni formed part of the blue wave that swept the Progressive Conservatives to power in last week’s provincial election:

  • Jill Dunlop, BSc’97 (Food & Nutrition), carries on a family tradition by winning in Simcoe North. Dunlop is the daughter of former PC MPP Garfield Dunlop, who represented the riding from 1999 to 2015, and is the first woman elected to the provincial legislature in the riding;
  • Stephen Crawford, BA’90 (Political Science), a financial services executive, was elected in the riding of Oakville;
  • Christine Elliott, LLB’78, the lawyer, politician and widow of former Canadian Minister of Finance Jim Flaherty, won the riding of Newmarket-Aurora;
  • Parm Gill, EMBA’18, an experienced legislator first elected to the House of Commons in 2011, is the first to represent the newly-formed Milton riding;
  • Life-long conservative and community leader Monte McNaughton, Ivey Executive Education ’03, was re-elected to a third term in Lambton-Kent-Middlesex;
  • Stephen Lecce, BA’08 (Political Science), a small business owner and longtime conservative insider, was elected in the riding of King-Vaughan; and
  • Rod Phillips, BA’88 (Political Science & English), former head of Ontario Lottery and Gaming who stepped down as chair of Postmedia last November to enter the race, is now the MPP for the riding of Ajax.