On June 2nd, 2022 the Province of Ontario held a general election for its 124 seats in the Provincial Legislature.
The Progressive Conservative Party (PCs) led by Premier Doug Ford won a second term in office while increasing their seat total to 83. The New Democratic Party (NDP) led by Andrea Horwath remain the Official Opposition despite losing seven seats (31 total seats), the Ontario Liberal Party (Liberals) led by Steven Del Duca increased their seat count from seven to eight, and the Green Party of Ontario (Green Party) led by Mike Schreiner won one seat (Mr. Schreiner as re-elected in Guelph.)
Overall, only 43.5% of eligible voters voted despite 10 days of advance polls (May 19th to 28th) and the polls being open for 12 hours (9 a.m. to 9 p.m.) on election day. Early indication is that this is the lowest recorded turnout in the Province’s history1. The PCs received only a slight increase in total votes from 2018 despite winning more seats. The Liberals won 5,000 more votes overall than the NDP despite winning only eight seats.
On election night, both Ms. Horwath and Mr. Del Duca announced that they would be resigning as party leaders.
The election creates a number of issues that the three main parties need to consider in my opinion. Let’s look at them:
For the PCs:
The PCs remain in power, and with an increase in the number of elected MPPs could boast of their success and enjoy their time in power. However, when you look at the breakdown of numbers, it’s not that simple. They only received 40.8% of the popular vote (1.9 million votes), and the popular vote and less than half of all eligible voters (10.7 million were eligible to vote in the election) actually voted. In essence, while the party received 41% of the popular vote, only about 10% of eligible Ontario voters actually supported the party. 90% of voters either voted for another party or did not bother voting.
The party also has to deal with a number of trade unions supporting them in hopes that the party can help provide the supports needed for both public and private organizations to create jobs for their sectors. If the party fails to deliver, or if they don’t also support increased raises, etc. for those working in the trades, this support could quickly fall away.
The PCs have a dilemma as well: most of their support came from rural or suburban areas while the NDP and Liberals received much of their support from urban settings – Toronto, London, Hamilton, and Ottawa, plus Northern Ontario (for the NDP.) It’s easy to just say “Well, we won” but as more people move to Ontario they are tending to move to urban settings which means that more MPPs will end up representing urban settings. As such, the PCs need to look at why they are losing the urban ridings and try to adjust their policies to help gain support there. For example, one ‘big ticket’ item is intensification. Some people are critical of the Government for being pro-developer. But maybe the Government needs to work with local communities to create policies that allow for more intensification but in a way that local communities support – which may be different in different areas as well.
Plus, with soaring inflation if bankruptcies increase, or worse a recession occurs, the PCs may take a lot of the blame for this, especially if either affect a large number of voters – and remember those 57% of voters who didn’t vote – they may show up in four years and vote against the PCs if they suffer financially in the next four years.
The party has also made a lot of promises, including to restore the Northlander between Toronto and northern Ontario, dealing with increasing access to housing, increasing the minimum wage, and controversially to build Highway 413 despite opposition. If they fail fulfill their promises, or create/continue with controversial projects, they will lose popularity.
Mr. Ford has promised to try and work with people, those who are PC supporters, those who have voted for his party for the first time in 2022, and with those who didn’t vote for him. As 57% of those who voted, and almost 90% of all eligible voters, did not vote for his party, the latter promise is the most important. To retain power in 2026, the PCs will need to keep their supporters happy but also need to stop those who did not this time from voting against him in the next election.
The PCs also see some key MPPs departing the party following the election. Those include Christine Elliott and Rod Phillips. Ms. Elliott had been involved in politics since 2006 and was the Minister of Health and Deputy Premier from 2018 to 2022. Mr. Phillips, who was criticized for taking a vacation over Christmas 2020 when the Province had issued a stay at home order. He served in three Cabinet posts: Minister of the Environment, Minister of Finance, and Minister of Long-Term Care.
After the last two years of the pandemic, and with the opposition parties not standing out during the election, the PCs were easily able to get re-elected.
Going forward, if I were Premier, I would start looking at how to make the Government look more like they are for the people, especially as one of their catchphrases is “For the People.” Putting so much effort in making everyone part of “Doug Ford’s team” may come back to hurt the party and unite “non-Conservative” voters against them. I would be trying to show how I can provide benefits to all – especially as we are dealing with soaring inflation, soaring gas prices, increased housing costs, etc. all are issues that are hurting many in the Province. The Government needs to respect landlords but also tenants, needs to listen to doctors and nurses about health care related issues, educators about education, etc. instead of the confrontations we were seeing pre-pandemic. This isn’t about ‘wasting money’ but about making sure things are fixed in the right way to the benefit of all.
The Liberals were in power for 15 years (2003-2018) with only one minority Government during that time. While they made decisions that were unpopular, they managed to stay in power by evolving and changing during that time. The current Government, if it wants to remain in power past 2026, needs to do the same. We live in a world that is in constant change, with social media making it much easier for people to share their views. The PCs will need to show that they can adjust and change as time goes on.
The NDP entered the election following their second most successful election in 2018 when they formed the Official Opposition. Their only time in power was between 1990 and 1995 under Bob Rae.
They had 40 MPPs elected in 2018 and were trying to improve their performance. However, at times during the pandemic they were overly critical of the Government’s actions, especially in their slow responses to bringing in restrictions during the second, third, and fourth waves and then were critical of when the Government was lift restrictions. This frustrated many people, especially as time went along and people just wanted to move on. While the intention was good, I feel that it hurt the party’s chances in the election.
The NDP also suffered from some unions, especially trade unions, supporting other parties. The NDP historically relayed on support from the labour movement, so this was a blow to their campaign as well.
Also, the NDP has traditionally been pro-tenant. However, the PCs were able to do two things during the pandemic to show itself as caring for tenants – evictions were banned for parts of the pandemic as well as freezing rent increases. Both showed that the PCs could be a “friend” of tenants. This meant that a source of support for the party was not there.
Moving forward, I believe the NDP needs to look at itself. Selling itself as being pro-labour works well on one hand, but at the same time increasing the rights and benefits of employees means nothing if people are unemployed. The new party leader will need to find ways to encourage employment, especially unionized employment, if he/she wants to get support from the unions in 2026. Encouraging businesses to move to Ontario may not necessarily come over as being ‘pro-labour’ but it also means that jobs are created.
The new party leader will have to use his/her position as Official Opposition leader as a spotlight on progressive views. But after Ms. Horwath’s 13 years as party leader, the new leader needs to show that he/she isn’t just a carbon copy of the party’s past but a new person with new ideas and someone who can build on the party’s success in the last two elections.
The Liberals suffered the most – for the second straight election they finished with less than 10 seats, finishing in third place, and not having party status in the Legislature.
The Liberals never really had any momentum during the election. Mr. Del Duca was criticized by the PCs as being nothing but a continuation of the Kathleen Wynne years and he was never able to sell himself as not being the previous Liberal Government.
The next leader will also have to deal how to handle the party. Perhaps instead of trying to keep the party as being Centre-Left, it may be time to move back to a more Centrist position, balancing the needs of multiple needs. Running a more Centre-Left platform back fired in the election as it made the party look like the NDP but with red lawn signs instead of orange ones. A more ‘balanced’ position may allow the leader to gain voters from the PCs.
But, I also think the new leader has to be a motivational speaker – someone who can grab people’s attention. With a small number of seats in the Legislature, it is hard to elect a current MPP as party leader as the pool of candidates is small, but at the same time a non-MPP has a disadvantage of not being a current MPP and thus may not have the same focus, and getting a candidate to drop out so the person can win a by-election only works if people vote for the person. John Tory, when he was PC leader, tried this. He ran in a ‘safe’ PC riding after an MPP resigned in order for him to run but he ended up losing the seat. A similar situation would cost the Liberals a seat they cannot vote and would make their party leader look poor.
But, if I were the party leader, I would be working on trying to go back to a “middle of the road” platform. Try to create initiatives that benefit ‘both’ sides of the issue. But keep it simple – make easy to remember, easy to say messages that can easily be remembered both on the campaign trail and for the news.
I feel there are a couple of issues coming out of the election that affect all three main parties going forward:
- Apathy. This election showed that the political parties need to do more to encourage voters to come out and vote. Despite 10 days of advance polls, mail in ballots being readily available for use, and a very long polling day (polls were open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.), up to 57% of eligible voters in Ontario could not bother voting. Something has to change in order to encourage participation.
All three parties should look at way people did not bother to vote. “Winning” or “Losing” isn’t the issue – but why did people feel so uninterested in voting during this election? There is likely not going to be an easy fix, but low turnout – at least to me – is a major sign that people are not motivated to vote. Do they feel that no one “represents” them or that their vote “doesn’t matter”? If so, all three parties need to seriously think about what they can do to encourage people to vote, especially people who would normally vote for them. Even a modest increase, in specific ridings, could have altered the outcome of the entire election.
- Federally the Liberals are in power and have a Supply and Confidence Agreement with the NDP. In September 2021, the Liberals won a minority Government, but the Federal Conservatives won the popular vote and are in the midst of choosing a new party leader. Did the actions in Ottawa have an influence on the outcome of the election in Ontario? For the PCs, they more than likely benefitted from this – the leadership campaign, plus the Liberal-NDP agreement may have helped to put more emphasis on the PCs during the election. At the same time, the agreement between the Federal Liberals and NDP may have hurt their respective parties in Ontario. Plus, the current Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, is highly popular with some voters, but highly disliked by others. Seeing how poorly the Liberals did in the election one has to wonder if people who are not happy with the Federal Liberals didn’t take their opinion with them when they voted in the Provincial election.
For both the NDP and the Liberals, their new party leader may be wise to distance themselves from their Federal counterparts between now and the 2026 Provincial election, especially with the next Federal election due in 2025. The new party leaders will need to distance themselves to show that their party is different than their Federal counterpart and that they represent only Ontario, not the entire country – this is not always an easy process though.
This election may have lead to the re-election of the PC Party in Ontario. However, all three parties can learn from the election and the last four years and put the best interests of all Ontario residents and not just their core party supporters. Let’s hope we see some positive changes.