I'm still overjoyed with last night's historic win for Kathleen Wynne's Liberals in Ontario. Wynne is now the first elected female premier of Ontario, and the first out LGBT person to be elected to lead a state/provincial/national government in the English speaking world!
Last night was a little bittersweet for me as I spent yesterday pulling Liberal voters to the polls in Parkdale-High Park where my good friend Nancy Leblanc came close to beating out NDP veteran Cheri DiNovo. Nancy would've made a great addition to this Liberal government with her expertise in corporate and public sector governance. I truly hope Nancy runs again in the near future after such a close result (with little more than a month to campaign as the official candidate.)
But the Liberal sweep of most GTA seats - taking seats away from both the NDP and the Tories - forms the backbone of the new Liberal majority. The Liberals did manage to take 3 downtown ridings away from the NDP, including my old stomping grounds of Davenport. I'm glad that Michael Prue is finally gone from the legislature. I never did forgive him for his nasty 2001 byelection campaign in which he slandered his Liberal opponent in order to secure a win.
But the Liberal gains in Tory strongholds are the most stunning. Virtually every possible seat in the GTA and surrounding area the Liberals might've gained from the Tories, they won. Etobicoke-Lakeshore proved to be an easy Liberal pickup, but longtime PC strongholds like Burlington, Halton, Thornhill, Newmarket-Aurora, and even Cambridge (which hasn't elected an Ontario Liberal in over 70 years!) fell to the Liberals. Further out, Barrie returned to the Liberal fold, as did Northumberland-Quinte West. Even the sprawling rural riding of Durham elected new Liberal MPP Granville Anderson in a seat that's been Tory since 1995.
The province has finally turned its back on the 1990s-style Common Sense Revolution championed by former premier Mike Harris and re-offered by Tim Hudak in 2014. Clearly, Ontarians, in their wisdom, have decided that returning to the days of hostile austerity and ideology run amok is not for them.
The Tories polled just 31.2% of the vote yesterday, which is the lowest that party has received since losing power in 2003. In 2003, they won 34.6%; in 2007, they won 31.6%; in 2011, they rebounded to 35.4%, only to fall back again last night. Clearly, something major is not working for that party.
Instead, Ontario opted for a progressive yet realistic plan under Kathleen Wynne, who was able to appeal not only to progressives in this election, but also centrists and even some red Tories. With a majority government, Wynne will be able to implement her plan, which includes some tougher measures to balance the budget by 2017/2018.
The big centre ground the old PCs of Bill Davis used to dominate has now moved over to the Ontario Liberals. Much of the Liberal victory has to do with Kathleen Wynne's personality and leadership abilities. But the Ontario PCs' refusal to give up its hard right turn of the 1990s also has much to do with it. Ontarians simply aren't interested in tearing down government for the sake of a
few tax cuts; they want quality public services and quality public
infrastructure and they'll grudgingly re-elect governments who sometimes raise taxes to offer these things. Ontarians don't hate working people or unions as much as some Tories, at their most ugly, seem to instinctively.
After their 2003 loss, the Ontario PCs seemed to understand that Ontario had turned away from the Common Sense Revolution of Mike Harris. So they elected a moderate in John Tory to lead them forward instead of Jim Flaherty. In a misguided sop to his party's right-wing, Tory promised to introduce public funding for religious schools, a decision which backfired immensely and got him defeated in 2007. After two painful years of trying to hang on, Tory finally called it a day after losing a 2009 by-election. After that, the Mike Harris wing of the party swept Tim Hudak into the leadership, insisting that a return to the Common Sense Revolution was their ticket back to power.
Clearly, Hudak and the Mike Harris wing are wrong. Dead wrong. Last night's results prove it. If the Ontario PCs are to win over Ontario voters again, they're going to have to put some water in their far right wine and moderate for good.