Other parts in this series at end of post.
Change was coming to Ontario after four decades of power for the Progressive Conservatives, but that change would not quite come yet.
As the election campaign approached, all three of the major parties were without their former leaders.
Around Thanksgiving in 1984, Progressive Conservative premier Bill Davis announced that he would be stepping down in 1985. He had been in office since 1971, and won four straight elections. Throughout his time in office, Davis had been very popular with residents. As a means to create a legacy project for himself, he would give full funding for Ontario’s Catholic school system. This decision was supported by all the parties, but residents were less enthused, especially the Progressive Conservative supporters. The decision would also cost $40 million during a time when the economy was suffering.
At the helm was Frank Miller, who had won the leadership of the party over three other candidates. As soon as he took office, he formed a cabinet of 33 members, the largest cabinet in Ontario’s history.
Soon after, he called an election, which many were surprised about since he had only been leader for a few months by that point. He had plenty of experience, serving in the Legislature since 1971, and had served as a cabinet minister since 1974.
Miller winning the leadership of the party would create divisions in the party and Miller had difficulty keeping his senior party staff in order. He was also known for speaking in a candid manner, which was not appreciated by those around him.
The Liberals were now led by David Peterson, who was the son of Clarence Peterson. Clarence had been at the conference in Regina that created the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation and adopted the Regina Manifesto. His father would also run against Ontario Premier John Robarts in the London North riding in 1955.
David Peterson had first joined the Legislature in 1975, and campaigned to become leader in 1976 but failed to defeat Stuart Smith. Many felt that Peterson reminded people too much of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, and was too young to be leader.
In 1982, after the resignation of Smith, Peterson would run for the leadership again and would win on the second ballot, defeating Sheila Copps with 55 per cent of the vote. As soon as he became leader, he began to organize the party to challenge for the leadership of the province. He would work to pay off the party’s debt from 1981, and he would prove to be popular with the press.
The NDP were also led by a new man, Bob Rae, who replaced Michael Cassidy. He would become very critical of the Davis government and its approach to social issues. He would say in his acceptance speech after winning the leadership that quote:
“Toryland is essentially a country club in which women and people of colour are not welcome.”
Rae then had to get elected to the Legislature, which he did several months after he became leader.
When Miller called the election, his party polled at 55 per cent, well above the other parties. Despite that lead, his campaign would be nothing short of disastrous. He would refuse to participate in a televised debate, which hurt him publicly.
Miller would state he hated the artificial setting of a television studio and it was the job of the leader of the Progressive Conservatives to get out and meet the people. Many questioned this as it took three weeks before Miller started to get out to meet people on the streets. His campaign bus was described as a Tory Blue Cocoon.
In a poll done by the Ottawa Citizen, it was found that while 42 per cent of voters would vote for former premier Davis if he ran in their riding, only 30 per cent said the same of Miller. Many found Miller to be uninspiring even when speaking to supporters.
There was still support for him throughout Ontario though. At one point, the mayor of Simcoe had a Chamber of Commerce lunch with Miller and used that moment to ask him tough questions on tobacco taxes and education financing. The crowd of 200 took offense to this and began to boo the mayor.
Davis implementing of full funding to the Catholic Schools would also cause problems for Miller who now had to find a way to implement it. Many Progressive Conservative supporters stated they would simply stay home rather than vote, due to their anger over the Catholic School funding.
Archbishop Lewis Garnsworthy would state quote:
“This is how Hitler changed education in Germany, by exactly the same process, by decree. I won’t take that back.”
Acid rain would be an issue through the election campaign, as Canada and the United States moved towards a treaty that would deal with the environmental issue. Both Peterson and Rae would go to the home riding of Miller and bring up the issue as well. The level of PCBs in milk in the Niagara region also came up, with tests showing levels were 16 times higher than acceptable federal standards. Peterson would state quote:
“I ask you this fundamental question, would you really buy a used environment from that man?”
Miller would promise to get tough with polluters, something Rae mocked in a speech saying quote:
“We are the ones who made pollution an issue. These are very real concerns that are legitimate and deep and stem very largely from having a government that hasn’t responded to them.”
Peterson would also accuse Miller of compiling a hit list and bullying voters into supporting his party. Peterson would say quote:
“I am not going to go around and threaten people with subtle or implied threats the way Mr. Miller has done.”
Miller would be criticized for warning voters to cast their vote for the Conservatives if they wanted government handouts in their riding. He would also say that if the Liberals or NDP came to power, it would begin a road to hell for the province.
He would say quote:
“In their zeal to win votes they have become careless and irresponsible.”
Rae was optimistic that the NDP could form the government. He would tell 1,000 supporters days before the election quote:
“We have the momentum. Now it is up to you to bring them home. Work just got a bit harder. People will make the difference.”
The Liberals were going all in, putting up signs that said “Welcome David Peterson, Our Next Premier” during campaign stops in communities. The Sault Star columnist Christopher Young would write quote:
“David Robertson Peterson is the man who will be premier if the Liberals win the election a week from today. Even if they only reduce the Conservatives to a minority status, a more likely outcome, he would still have a good crack at breaking their 42-year reign in the runoff election.”
Young would be more right than he realized.
Through the campaign, Peterson travelled 22,000 kilometres around the province in the hopes of a historic breakthrough for his party.
Heading into the election, Miller would predict he would win 73 seats, while Peterson said his party would have 43 and Rae predicted 38. As it turned out, Miller overestimated, Peterson underestimated and the NDP overestimated.
Miller would say quote:
“We’re very close to 1981 figures which gave Davis a very good majority. I’ve kept on saying we’re going to have a majority if we work hard.”
At one point, Miller stated that it would be a smashing Tory victory and that the crowd could quote:
“bet their mortgages on it.”
The statement was met with laughter from the crowd.
Prime Minister Brian Mulroney would wade into the election, stating that Peterson was a good jogger and Rae played the piano well and both would have a good race for second place.
In the May 2, 1985 election, the Progressive Conservatives lost their majority government, losing 18 seats to fall to 52. They would remain in power, but that hold on power was tentative at best. The loss of 22 seats was the sharpest drop for the party since the 27 seat drop in 1975. Eight cabinet ministers would lose their seats in the election.
Miller would try to stay optimistic and would state quote:
“I need the time for people judge me through throne speeches and legislation. We have learned that no party likes to go back to hustling too quicky.”
The Liberals would gain 14 seats to finish with 48, for one of their best showings in years. In fact, it was the most seats the party had won since the 66 seats won by Mitchell Hepburn in 1937.
Peterson would state quote:
“This is truly a magic moment. I am very proud to lead the party that received the most votes in this election.
The NDP also did well, gaining four seats to finish with 25 and remain in third place. Rae would say after the election quote:
“We look forward to interesting times. There will be no shopping list from us tonight. We will act responsibly and we will act accountably.”
One fascinating aspect of this election was that it was the first time that three premiers, all of whom were leaders of their party, went head-to-head-to-head in an election.
Of course, this election was not the end of things. Bob Rae stated that the NDP would support a Liberal government, while the Progressive Conservatives intended to remain in power with their minority government.
Ten days after the election on May 13, the NDP began to negotiate with the Liberals and on May 29, they signed an accord that would see several NDP priorities put into law in exchange for the NDP supporting a non-confidence motion of Miller’s government. The NDP stated they would support the Liberal minority government for two years and the Liberals agreed to not call an election before that time.
Miller, knowing of these negotiations, was going to do a televised address in which he disowned the funding for Catholic schools and would request an election be called before the confidence vote took place. In the end, Miller decided not to do this believing the party finances could not take it.
On June 18, 1985, the Progressive Conservatives were defeated in a motion of no confidence. Lt. Governor John Black Aird then asked Peterson to form a government.
The transition of power was without much drama. The Lt. Governor called Peterson to his home where they talked over brandy, and were then joined by Miller who had a drink with them.
On June 26, 1985, Miller resigned and the new Liberal government was sworn in that same day.
Peterson would say in a speech quote:
“We know that we will not reach all of our goals over night. We will not accomplish all of our objectives exactly as we set out to do. And we will not solve the province’s problems without difficulty.”
Miller would leave a sign on the door of the premier’s office that stated quote:
“Dear Bob and David, don’t get too comfortable. We’ll be back soon.”
After 42 years, 10 months and nine days, the Conservative Dynasty had ended and the Liberal were back in power for the first time since the Second World War.
As for Miller, he resigned as leader shortly after his government fell. By 1987, he was out of politics and returned to a private life.
As for the Progressive Conservatives, they would not be gone forever, and the party was only a decade away from coming back into power.
As Ontario headed into the 1987 election, it was a very different political landscape. The province had seen the end of the Progressive Conservative dynasty, and the Liberals were now in power with help from the New Democratic Party.
The Liberal government introduced several changes to Ontario, including the ending of extra billing by doctors, bringing in pay equity provisions, reforming the rental laws and labour negotiation laws, and conducting more housing construction and pension reform.
The Liberals were still led by Peterson, who had become premier two years previous and had been the leader since 1982.
The Progressive Conservatives were now led by Larry Grossman. Grossman was the son of Allan Grossman, who had sat in the Legislature for 20 years until he retired. At that point, Grossman took over from his father in the riding and won in 1975. Grossman had attempted to succeed Davis when he retired but he was not elected as leader but he lost by only 77 votes. That time would come in 1986 when he took over from Miller. The win of Grossman was not welcomed by everyone in the party, who felt he was too far to the left to be a proper Progressive Conservative leader. Heading into the election, 13 Progressive Conservative MPs stated they would not run for re-election and the party had difficulty filling those vacancies in ridings.
Leading to the campaign, Grossman would attempt to change his image. One problem was that when compared with Peterson, he was half a foot shorter which did not come across well on camera. He would also try wearing contact lenses instead of glasses and worked to have an easy going and relaxed demeanor on camera.
Bob Rae continued to lead the NDP, who had enjoyed much more power in the Legislature thanks to their allegiance with the Liberal Party.
The Ottawa Citizen would state of Rae quote:
“he’s still a little stiff and awkward when meeting voters on the street. The common touch, so prized by politicians, doesn’t come easy to Rae. He’s most comfortable standing behind a podium delivering a speech to the party faithful.”
Grossman would campaign on the promise of tax cuts to stimulate the economy but this failed to ignite the voters as most didn’t seem to care about the tax cuts and Grossman was not seen as an inspiring leader, especially compared to Peterson.
Rae and the NDP would campaign on the successes of the Liberal Party over the previous two years, hoping to get credit for many of the changes that were brought in during that time.
The first televised debate in 10 years would also occur and Grossman would outmatch a stumbling Peterson in front of 1.4 million viewers. For the Progressive Conservatives, this gave them fuel leading up to election day. During a visit to Oakville, Ontario, a young supporter held up a sign stating that Grossman won the debate. Grossman would state quote:
“Don’t you feel the momentum turning? It’s changing out there.”
The Ottawa Citizen reported quote:
“Peterson appeared ill at ease from the start and at times seemed to lack the trademark self-assuredness many have come to associate with him.”
When a second debate was planned for the end of August, Peterson chose not to attend stating he had other commitments, but it was likely because of his poor showing in the first debate. Rae and Grossman would mime handshakes with the absent Peterson that sat between them during their debate. Grossman would call Peterson quote:
“The one candidate who did not care enough to come.”
Rae would say quote:
“The man who wants to avoid the debate.”
The Progressive Conservatives would also hire a plane to trail Peterson on the campaign trail to mock his decision to not debate the other leaders a second time. This included during a stop in front of 200 supporters on the shores of Lake Ontario. Peterson would laugh off the prank, stating it was probably the work of a low level Progressive Conservative in the riding.
The Progressive Conservatives would put $2.4 million into advertising, putting Grossman’s face out there on billboards, newspapers and especially television.
Grossman would attempt to push more voters to his side by claiming that Peterson was going to introduce official bilingualism into Ontario, while stating his party would never do so. This would backfire as many Progressive Conservative candidates were running in ridings with a lot of Francophone voters.
Nonetheless, Grossman would stay firm on his anti-bilingual promise. Several Francophone groups would condemn him over this. Serge Plouffe of the Canadienne-Francaise de L’Ontario would state quote:
“We cannot permit ourselves to have a leader whose vision of Canada demonstrates such narrow-mindedness.”
One of the main issues of the election campaign was free trade, which Peterson stated he would only support if it protected Canadian industries and the sovereignty of Canada.
He would state quote:
“Canadians can accept only the right deal, or no deal at all. I am running for Ontario and the country.”
He would say at another event, and this would prove to be all too sadly true. He said quote:
“I expect that next week they will say that Wayne Gretzky will go to the US under free trade.”
One year later, Gretzky was sold to the Los Angeles Kings.
Grossman, would support free trade, stating quote:
“There are two trains leaving the station. One is the train of US protectionism, the other is a freer trade train. You are simply wandering around the station frightened of making a choice.”
Rae was firmly against free trade as well, stating quote:
“The final strength that Ontario has is that many of these questions are matters of provincial jurisdiction. We would refuse to accommodate agreement.”
One issue that was beginning to grow in importance was the AIDS crisis. Rae was the only leader who made any comment on the health care crisis, stating that his party would provide $30 million for AIDS prevention and education. He would also promise $25 million to create garbage recycling programs in the province.
Grossman would also pledge that his government would require teachers to take refresher courses every five years, while also introducing province-wide testing. He stated quote:
“No part of our platform is more important to Ontario’s real future than education.”
He would also promise to reduce the seven per cent retail sales tax and give tax breaks to small businesses in the province.
Throughout the election campaign, the Liberals sat on top of the opinion polls. One poll had them at 48 per cent, while the NDP sat at 28 per cent and the Progressive Conservatives at 24 per cent.
Grossman would state that he did not believe the Progressive Conservatives were running in third, and expected better results when the election day came. He would state quote:
“I don’t care the least what the Toronto Star polls say. I can tell what’s happening. The poll reflects something we don’t think is accurate.”
Peterson was often popular wherever he went. At one stop at a Toronto radio station, 50 people stood outside to cheer him on.
Peterson would say in one interview, quote:
“There’s no politician whose had more luck than I’ve had.”
Saturday Night magazine would even call him The Premier Who Walks On Water.
There were some slip-ups including when he commented that diet and lifestyle had a large impact on the development of leading killers such as stroke, heart disease and cancer. He then turned to the funeral home director next to him and said quote:
“You might like that, Neil, in your business.”
He also met with protestors at some stops, including at a Toronto subway campaign stop where people were angry at him for his pro-choice stance regarding abortion.
The funeral director would tell reporters he did not find the joke funny. Peterson would gloss over the incident saying it was a light-hearted joke.
Grossman would also levy an odd insult at Peterson, stating that he was developing the vague style and cautious approach of former premier and Progressive Conservative leader Davis. Grossman was a member of the Davis cabinet for seven years, and comparing his opponent to his former boss was an odd choice.
Rae knew that Peterson would be tough to beat, but he would say quote:
“The campaign is not going to be a coronation. It’s not going to be a cakewalk and its not going to be a summer stroll.”
In the Sept. 10, 1987 election, the Liberals achieved their greatest success to date. The party surged ahead by 47 seats to finish with 95, the most seats ever won by a party in Ontario’s history. The seat total was almost 30 more than the next highest seat count for the party, which was during the Mitchell Hepburn years of the 1930s. In fact, the won more seats in the 1987 election than the party had won in every election between 1943 and 1959 combined.
Peterson would state quote:
“The message has come through loud and clear tonight. Ontario will be able to speak with a strong voice for a strong Canada. They will have to pay attention to this. We must earn the people’s trust every single day.”
The Progressive Conservatives, meanwhile, collapsed, falling from 52 seats to just 16. This was the party’s worst defeat since the 1929 election and it was the first time since 1919 that the party was not the leading party in the Legislature or the Official Opposition. Grossman would lose his own seat in the legislature and would resign from the party soon after the election.
Grossman would say quote:
“Having lost fair and square, we must now turn to the task of rebuilding our great party. I think this party has got to get on with rebuilding. Its got a lot of work to do.”
The NDP, who had hoped to make gains, were unable to break through and lost six seats to finish with 19 but would be the Official Opposition due to the collapse of the Progressive Conservatives.
Rae would promise to keep the Liberal majority in check. He would state quote:
“As long as I have breath to breathe, there will be no abuses of power.”
After winning the most seats in the history of Ontario, expectations were high for the Liberals and their leader David Peterson.
Over the previous three years, many criticized the Liberals for being a juggernaut that was arrogant and didn’t listen to critics. With the NDP and Conservatives reduced in power after the 1987 election, the media and special interest groups became the main critics of the party.
Unlike the first administration for the party, the Liberals from 1987 to 1990 were less involved in major changes to Ontario. That being said, they would eliminate health insurance premiums, brought in no-fault automobile insurance and introduced progressive measures related to environmental protection. Peterson would also gain criticism for his leading role in creating and promoting the Meech Lake Accord, which would ultimately fail. Ironically, the Liberals would be seen by voters in the election as more inline with the federal Progressive Conservatives and Brian Mulroney than the provincial Progressive Conservatives. The Patti Starr affair also hurt the party after it was found that Starr, who was a Liberal fundraiser, was diverting money from a land development scheme and charities to the Liberal Party. Several Liberal ministers were involved in this, which was a major blow to the popularity of the party. One bright spot for the party was the 1989-90 balanced budget that followed years of deficit spending in Ontario.
Overall, the party remained somewhat popular even though the party was being accused of opportunism.
The NDP were still led by Bob Rae, who had done what he could to keep the party relevant as the Official Opposition despite having 76 less seats than the Liberals.
The Progressive Conservatives were now led by Mike Harris, who had to work against the distrust many voters had of the Progressive Conservatives from the four decades they were in power. Harris first entered provincial politics in the 1981 election, motivated to oppose the policies of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. He would support Miller in his bid to become leader, and he briefly served as a cabinet minister in Miller’s cabinet. After Larry Grossman lost his seat in the 1987 election, Harris was chosen as the house leader for the party and became the dominant voice for the party by 1989. In the 1990 leadership race, he won on the first ballot over Dianne Cunningham by a margin of 1,300 votes. With that, he was the new leader of the party and the one who would take it into the 1990s.
With the election called soon after Harris became leader, he had to quickly rally the core supporters of the party for the election. The Progressive Conservatives would pledge tax cuts and spending reductions. Thanks to his background as a teacher, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation would endorse Harris. Overall, Harris stayed relatively quiet during the election, which you may notice given his lack of focus as a topic in this section of the episode. The main thing Harris would do was distance himself from Brian Mulroney, which was easy considering Mulroney was often more willing to talk to Peterson than to Harris. At one point he would state quote:
“Brian, stop the proposed GST. The truth is, there are many differences between Mike Harris and Brian Mulroney.”
Peterson would try to counter this by linking the provincial party with its federal counterpart, stating quote:
“If Honest Mike wants to be a taxfighter, tell him to call Brian Mulroney and cancel the GST. Any Conservative vote in this province will be construed as support for Brian Mulroney.”
As the election campaign, few gave any of the other parties much of a chance to defeat Peterson and the Liberals. The Progressive Conservatives were mostly broke, and the NDP was not seen as a party that could lead as they had never won an election before. With all this, Peterson decided to take advantage and called a snap election. At the time he called the election, the Liberals sat at 50 per cent in the polls.
Things got off to a bad start for the Liberals when attorney general Ian Scott stated that the election was a foregone conclusion, stating quote:
“They’re not going to vote for Mike Harris, and what are they going to do, vote NDP?”
Many voters saw this as a mark of arrogance by the party and a sign that the Liberals were now detached from the regular voter.
At a press conference, Peterson was confronted by a member of Greenpeace, Gord Perks, who had a briefcase handcuffed to his arm and a tape recorder inside playing a pre-recorded list of broken Liberal environmental promises. Peterson didn’t know what to do, and with reporters watching on, appeared awkward and uncomfortable. In fact, that Greenpeace member would follow Peterson around campaigning, becoming a thorn in his side. He would even be written about during the election campaign due to following Peterson. The Sault Star would write quote:
“We feel voters must realize what the issues are and politicians must realize these issues won’t go away.”
During a call-in radio show, Peterson was treated to a barrage of criticism over his stance on bilingualism. Callers would also yell at him over the early election, especially in the wake of the Starr scandal. One caller would say quote:
“With matters this serious I think you owed it to us to clear the air before calling an election.”
Overall, Peterson came away from the radio show unscathed, but it showed the anger towards him among the electorate.
Unlike previous elections, this election lacked any defining issue. The economy’s downward trend was seen as a main issue, but even that was not at its worst point and it was believed Peterson called the election before the economy really tanked. If there was a major issue, it was the election itself, which many people did not want called.
Throughout the campaign, protestors followed Peterson around to events, receiving a lot of media coverage in the process. As well, various groups such as teachers, environmentalists and doctors criticized the government at campaign events, in print, television and on the radio. At one point, Peterson told an anti-poverty protestor quote:
“Some day you’re going to grow up and find a responsible job.”
While Peterson was greeted by protestors, Rae was greeted by supporters who gave his bus the thumbs up.
The NDP would campaign on an Agenda For People, and the party was not overly scrutinized because many did not see the party as having a chance to defeat the Liberals. Rae would accuse Peterson of lying, he would portray the premier as a pawn of big business and he especially attacked the party over its record with the environment. This included having a helicopter fly over the community of Hagersville where a tire fire had been going for 17 days and then providing the footage to the news. Rae would say of the Liberals quote:
“They used the environment as an excuse to raise the tax, and then they did not invest the money to deal with the problem.”
After the Conservatives promised to reduce the sales tax from eight per cent to seven per cent, Rae criticized the premier for what he saw as opportunism. He would state quote:
“This is one of the most cynical acts of political opportunism I have ever seen. He is going to be punished by the voters of Ontario for attempting to bribe them.”
Rae and the NDP would not make a promise a day, but instead put forward a $4.2 billion economic agenda platform that included an eight per cent tax on business profits, limiting rent increases and taxing income earners who made their money from real estate speculation.
Through the election, the NDP began to gain momentum and this would worry the Liberals. At first, the Liberals slogan was Effective Leadership For A Strong Ontario but by the last week of the election it was Warning: An NDP government will be hazardous to your health.
Peterson would say at one point quote:
“This is not the time to gamble on some cockamamie socialist view of how to run the province.”
At one point in the final week of the campaign, Peterson claimed without evidence that the proposed minimum wage increase by the NDP would cost Ontario 100,000 jobs and drive businesses out of the province.
Running an election in the dead of summer came with challenges as people were involved in other things and there seemed to be a lack of interest in the election itself. David Agnew, the NDP campaign director would state quote:
“A lot of people don’t even know that there is an election on.”
Those who did follow the election were unhappy it was happening, especially with a $40 million price tag. Eva McMahon, a resident of St. Catherine’s would state quote:
“This election is totally uncalled for.”
Colleen Debert, president of the Union of Unemployed Workers, would state quote:
“Forty million dollars is going to be spent on this election when in fact we have people starving, people with no shelter, people with no clothes. The money could have been put to far better use.”
At the Aug. 20 debate, no one came out as the clear winner. Graham White, a professor with the University of Toronto would state quote:
“I think on balance they all came across as reasonably effective politicians but it wasn’t the most scintillating television.”
Harris would challenge Peterson to a second debate, stating quote:
“David Peterson is making a lot of accusations about Mike Harris. I’m saying David Peterson is the issue, he’s the one I want to debate. If they want to bring Bob along, I’ll take the two of them on.”
Peterson would decline to debate.
As the election wore on, the hope of a Liberal majority began to decrease. On Sept. 1, Peterson admitted that his party may only get a minority government. By the day before the election, he was openly worried that the NDP would form the government. He would state quote:
“It’s a possibility. There’s no question, its a prospect.”
In the Sept. 5, 1990 election, Ontario would see not just the greatest upset in its history but arguably the greatest upset in Canadian political history.
The Liberals would collapse, losing 59 seats to fall to the Official Opposition status. The drop from 95 seats to 36 seats was the worst defeat in Ontario’s history since the Conservative collapse in the 1934 election. Peterson would lose his own seat and would be out of provincial politics after leading the province since 1985.
Peterson would say quote:
“Any shortcomings were mine.”
In his resignation as leader, Peterson would state quote:
“When I called the campaign some 36 days ago, I knew it was going to be a very interesting campaign. I had no idea it was going to be this interesting.”
The leader of the federal Liberals, Jean Chretien, would state quote:
“For the party it is not very good. It’s good for me as the Leader of the Opposition. Mr. Peterson was in much better shape than Mr. Mulroney. I wish we had an election with Mr. Mulroney right away.”
The Conservatives would fair better, gaining four seats to finish with 20, but still far below the levels of success the party had during its four decade reign. Despite the election loss, Harris would remain as leader of the party and that would turn out to be a good thing for the Progressive Conservatives.
As for the NDP, the picked up 55 seats to finish with 74. This was a result no one saw coming and for the first, and so far only time, in Ontario’s history, the NDP led the province. The 74 seats won by the party was more almost 40 more seats that it had won in 1975, when the party had its most success up until 1990. The 74 seats won by the party was as many seats as the party had won from 1934 to 1959 combined.
Rae would say quote:
“Obviously there was an element of protest there. The lesson is that people’s trust must be earned.”
Former NDP leader Stephen Lewis would say quote:
“It is a fantasy come true.”
Prime Minister Brian Mulroney stated to Rae quote:
“You assume the highest responsibilities of political office in Ontario at a challenging time in the history of our country. I offer you my best wishes as you set out to fulfil the important objectives you set for your government and very much look forward to working with you in the future.”
This would also be the second time that the province would see three current and future premiers running as leaders of their parties in the election.
Ironically, Rae had been thinking of retiring as leader of the party after the election but with the win, he stayed on and became known as the Accidental Premier.
This election also saw a record 29 women elected to the Legislature.
Since 1985, Ontario had seen the end of the four-decade Conservative dynasty, the quick rise and sudden fall of the Liberal Party and the unbelievable election victory of the NDP. Looking at 1995, many wondered what exactly the election had in store.
Over the previous five years, the NDP under Premier Bob Rae would bring in many changes to the province. The province was hit by a tough economy and would release its first budget with a projected record deficit of $9.1 billion in 1991. This budget increased social spending, put forward a plan to create 70,000, invested in social assistance, child benefits, social housing and a higher tax on high-income earners, while 700,000 low-income earners would see their taxes lowered.
One of the most controversial decisions was the creation of the Social Contract, an austerity legislation that reopened collective bargaining agreements with the public sector unions. This legislation imposed a wage freeze and introduced the measure that required civil servants to take 12 days off, without pay, per year. While this gave the province $2 billion in savings without laying anyone off, it was widely criticized by the public sector unions.
Rae’s government would also place a cap on enrolment into medical schools, establish an employment equity commission, affirmative action initiative, and rent increase controls. His government also committed sizable sums of money to food banks despite stating that he would eliminate food banks through anti-poverty initiatives.
The government also put a freeze on the construction of nuclear power plants, opposed plans to privatize Ontario Hydro, opposed the North American Free Trade Agreement and increased the basic assistance allowance by seven per cent.
By the time the election came along, the unemployment rate of the province had risen from 6.8 per cent to 8.8, but the province had recovered 330,000 jobs. At the same time, the long-term debt had doubled to $96.5 billion in the time Rae was in power.
Support for the NDP in the province was bad enough that in the 1993 federal election, the federal NDP lost all 11 of its seats in Ontario.
With both the Conservatives still led by their previous leaders, Mike Harris and Bob Rae, it was the Liberals who had a new person in charge. For the first time in the history of Ontario, it was a woman. Lyn McLeod was first elected in the 1987 election, defeating the Progressive Conservative opponent. Despite the complete collapse of the Liberal Party in 1990, she retained her seat and that helped raise her profile in the party. A leadership convention was held in 1992 and McLeod put her name forward as a candidate. She would finish second on the first ballot and second ballots, then moved into first on the third ballot and claimed the leadership of the party on the fifth ballot. In her speech to delegates, she promised to balance the budget and defeat the New Democrats in the election. After the convention, it was revealed she had spent $272,947 on her campaign, breaking the spending cap, something her main opponent, Murray Elston, also did. With her win, she became the first woman to lead a major party in Ontario.
When the election campaign began, the popularity of the NDP had rebounded somewhat but most believed that the NDP would not be re-elected to lead the province.
The Liberals hoped that they would be the party to benefit the most from the fall of the NDP, especially because the party led the polls from 1992 onwards.
When the election started, the Liberals sat at 52 per cent, the Conservatives at 26 per cent and the NDP at an abysmal 17 per cent.
The Liberal campaign would mirror the federal Liberals campaign of 1993, which had cruised to a majority government under Jean Chretien. The McLeod Red Book was created as a result to defuse criticisms of her leadership by showing where she stood on the issues, and addressing voter skepticism by detailing costs and timetables for implementing promises.
The party would promise to repeal the five-per-cent provincial tax on insurance premiums, scrap the JobsOntario training program that cost $330 million, develop a new curriculum for Ontario schools and adopt a victim’s bill of rights. As well, they would pledge to balance the budget by 2000 through $4 billion in spending cuts.
On the first night of the Liberal TV commercials promoting the party’s platform, more than 600 people called in to request copies, 100 within the first three minutes alone.
Rae would say of the platform quote:
“I believe the McLeod plan is a real departure from the best of the Liberal in this province. When Mike Harris came out with his Common Sense revolution, the Liberals were originally critical of it. Now, that’s changed.”
The plan would earn praise from future Prime Minister Paul Martin, who was the current federal Justice Minister. Martin would state quote:
“It has set out an extremely creditable plan in term of deficit reduction and it is that kind of plan, rigidly adhered to, I believe is going to bring us much better times.”
When Harris appeared on the radio, McLeod sent him a silver platter with hot sauce packets and his party’s policy book because Harris said he would eat the policy book if he didn’t follow through on his promises.
Harris seemed to respond well to the attacks of McLeod. When she called his plans wacky, he would wear a T-shirt that said quote:
“Call me wacky, but I’m for a tax cut.”
Unfortunately, the party, and McLeod, had many missteps in the election campaign. There were several policy reversals before the election as well, with the worst being McLeod withdrawing support for the Equality Rights Statute Amendment Act, which would give same-sex couples the same rights as common law couples in the province. The act would fail as a result after it was introduced by Rae’s government in 1994. It was believed McLeod did this to boost the support of the Liberals in the more socially conservative rural areas of the province. What it actually did was give the party the image of flip-flopping. Protestors would show up to her campaign events dressed as giant rubber sandals and yell Lyn McFlip Flop over and over.
McLeod would be criticized for her views on same sex couples as well. She would state quote:
“I cannot support the change in the definition of spouse and family and therefore the extension of adoption rights to same-sex couples.”
In the campaign, Mcleod also criticized the handling of Somali refugee claims by drawing attention to gangs that were forcing Somalis to move to Ontario, stating they were defrauding the welfare system. This greatly offended immigrant voters who saw this as a criticism to the entire Somali community.
It seemed her campaign had no end to problems. On one election stop at a party fundraiser in Toronto, her appearance was postponed for two hours while her audience waited due to a crisis. That crisis turned out to be the dumping of a candidate who had written a book full of slurs against women, the Pope and the Catholic Church. At another point, she was answering questions when her aid suddenly cut off all questions and McLeod was given the look of someone who was hiding from the media.
She would also be criticized, quite unfairly, for standing on a small platform when she spoke behind the microphone at events. This platform was called Mount McLeod. One Toronto radio DJ would state quote:
“I just don’t think you can elect somebody who needs a booster seat.”
Liberal candidates often had issues with voters as well, including one candidate who made a crude comment to a woman over a dispute related to lawn signs. Sharon McWhirter would state that Liberal candidate James Brown said quote:
“If I want lip from you I’ll rattle my zipper.”
Throughout the campaign, Rae was met with angry voters, including in areas that were considered NDP safe zones. At one point, visiting Peterborough he stepped off the bus and was greeted by a heckler who yelled quote:
“I want to hear what more lies are going to be told.”
Rae walked up the block, shaking hands and looking at crafts on display, past windows with “Stop Rae” posters on full display. At one medical clinic, a doctor had written in red ink on a piece of paper quote:
“If the New Democratic Party is reelected in Ontario, the clinic will be closed permanently.”
This was displayed prominently in the window. As Rae stopped to do a news conference, a man drove by and yelled quote:
“Bob Rae, so full of [blank] his eyes are brown.”
Rae would say of the unpopularity he was facing quote:
“People were calling for my head in 1985 and 1987. I never believed things were as good as people said or as bad as they said. Triumph or disaster are imposters.”
Harris would campaign on the promise to balance the budget, slash income tax rates by 30 per cent and reform welfare after costs went from $1.3 billion in 1985 to $6.8 billion in 1995. He also promised to eliminate subsidized housing and welfare payments for 16 and 17-year-olds who left home.
The party would release a 21-page document called the Common Sense Revolution which pledged to save a family of four with an income of $50,000 a total of $4,000 in taxes over the next three years. Harris would say quote:
“The average Ontario family is poorer today than it was 10 years ago.”
Harris also pledged to end hiring targets for visible minorities, the Indigenous, disabled people and women. He would state quote:
“I want an Ontario where people are judged by their qualifications, not legislated equality.”
McLeod would criticize Harris’ promises, stating that they were making wild, simplistic promises that can’t be kept. Rae would call the Progressive Conservative’s plan irresponsible.
Former Progressive Conservative premier Frank Miller also campaigned for Harris, visiting his hometown to drum up the vote. Miller would state quote:
“I think we have a real fighting chance. Mike is doing a good job. There is a little more upbeat mood among the Conservatives.”
During the televised debate, McLeod would severely hurt her party’s chances of being elected due to her performance. Many saw her as overly-aggressive in the debate due to severe clashing with Rae and waving her party’s platform before the camera on several occasions. Rae was left mostly alone by the other two party leaders, as his party’s numbers were continued to slip and was no longer seen as a front-runner. After the debate, many voters who were leaning towards the Liberals shifted support to the Progressive Conservatives.
With the Liberals faltering, Rae turned his attention to Harris and attacked him every day leading up to the election. He would say quote:
“We are talking about defending our way of life in this province in the face of this radical right-wing agenda.”
As poll numbers continued to slide for Rae, he would state quote:
“I’m in the business of turning heads. I’m not in the business of the counting heads. We have five days to go to convince people that the Harris/McLeod agenda doesn’t make sense.”
McLeod would say the same as her poll numbers began to tank. She would say quote:
You go through a campaign with a very clear strategy and that’s just to work hard and get your message out. Let’s wait and see what the electors say on June 8.”
In the June 8, 1995 election, the Progressive Conservatives under Mike Harris surged ahead with a 62 seat gain to finish with 82 and a majority government, the party’s first since the 1981 election. The party’s 62 seat gain was the most for the party in one election in its entire history. It was also the most seats the party had won since that 1981 election.
Harris would tell his supporters on election night, quote:
“Some may call us victorious. In truth, we are fortunate to have been honored with your trust. You have voted for major change. Your mandate is a direct action to fix government that isn’t working for you anymore.”
The NDP completely collapsed, losing 57 seats to fall to 17, going from the ruling party to the third party in the Legislature. The 17 seats won by the party was its worst showing since the party had seven seats in the 1963 election. It would not be until 2014 that the party would gain more than 17 seats in an election again.
Rae would say quote:
“Life is too short to be bitter. The people have spoken and their view is final and it’s worthy of our respect. I believe in what is going on around here. I’m not just going to pack my bags. I’ve got some things I want to do and say.”
The Liberals did not benefit from the fall of the NDP as much as the party had hoped. The party only increased its seat count by five, and would become the Official Opposition with little power in a Legislature dominated by the Progressive Conservatives.
McLeod would tell her supporters regarding her future quote:
“Let’s see what happens when we get into a session of the Legislature.”
After the election, both Bob Rae and Lyn McLeod announced their resignations as leaders of the party as the Conservatives hoped to begin a new dynasty 10 years after their last one ended.
The Conservatives had come back into power after 10 years on the outside looking in, the Liberals had regained the Official Opposition and the NDP had seen a complete collapse from their height in 1990.
By the end of the decade, two of the three main parties would be led by new men, and Mike Harris would be vying for a second majority government after his election win in 1995.
In 1996, the Liberals had moved on from Lyn McLeod as their leader and elected a new man they hoped could take them back into power, Dalton McGuinty. McGuinty had won the leadership that year even though he was not the front runner going into it. A total of seven candidates vied for leadership, with McGuinty finishing fourth on the first ballot. He would remain in the running, but again finished fourth on the second ballot. On the third ballot, he was able to move to a tie for second behind front-runner Gerard Kennedy. On the fourth ballot, McGuinty took control of second place but still trailed Kennedy by almost 300 votes. Everything changed on the fifth ballot when Joseph Cordiano pulled out of the running and put his support behind McGuinty. On the fifth and final ballot, at 4:25 a.m., McGuinty won the leadership of the party. In return for his delegates, Cordiano was named deputy leader of the party.
McGuinty was seen as young leader who could lead the party back to power. His father, Dalton McGuinty Sr., had served as an MPP for the party and McGuinty was seen as more Conservative, with critics calling him Harris-lite. For many, they felt that McGuinty would get the party elected to power because he was more to the right than the left.
The Conservatives immediately jumped on the fact that McGuinty was new to the leadership position and not ready for the job of leading the province.
The NDP were now led by Howard Hampton, who had also taken over the leadership of the party in 1996 from Bob Rae, who had retired following the election loss. Hampton had been in the Legislature since 1987 and had served as the Attorney General under the government of Bob Rae. Despite having a cabinet post, Hampton did not get along with Rae who did not like that he retreated from an election pledge to introduce public automobile insurance to the province. On June 22, 1996, he would win the leadership of the party on the third ballot over Rae ally Frances Lankin.
In his first term as premier, Harris had immediately brought in many changes to the province. He cut social assistance rates by 21.6 per cent and argued too many people were taking advantage of the program. He also introduced Ontario Works, which was a program that required able-bodied welfare recipients to participate in training or job placement programs. Provincial income tax rates were cut by 30 per cent, and the Fair Share Health Levy was created to charge high-income earners to help pay health care costs. His government laid off hundreds of nurses to cut costs and closed several hospitals. He would say of the nurses losing their jobs and hospital closures quote:
“Just as Hula-Hoops went out and those workers had to have a factory and company that would manufacture something else that’s in, its the same with the government, and you know, government’s have put off these decisions for so many years that restructuring sometimes is painful.”
One of the biggest changes his government brought in was the splitting of Ontario Hydro into five companies with the plans of selling them off but the government postponed those plans due to public opposition. The number of MPPs were also reduced from 130 to 103, the lowest number since the 1950s. Due to this, several incumbent MPPs would be directly facing each other for new seats, including competing for their own party’s nomination.
The government would eliminate the fifth year of high school in Ontario, mandate a standardized curriculum, and require high school students to complete 40 hours of volunteering in community service in order to graduate.
One of the most contentious issues of his first term was the Ipperwash Crisis in 1995. When protestors were fighting over land claims at a provincial park west of Toronto, the Ontario Provincial Police acting sergeant Kenneth Deane fired on Indigenous demonstrators in the park, killing Dudley George. The George family called for an inquiry but this would not happen until 2003. It would be testified at the inquiry that Harris had said he quote:
“Wanted the [blank]ing Indians out of the park.”
Harris would deny this.
When the campaign began, the Liberals had a lead over the Progressive Conservatives in the poll but the parties, even the Liberals, cast doubt on its accuracy. Subsequent polls showed the Progressive Conservatives with a large lead over the Liberals.
The Progressive Conservatives would bring in American experts from the Republican Party to help the campaign, which continued to target McGuinty as not being ready for the job of leader.
Throughout the campaign, protestors would appear at Harris’ campaign events, often yelling bye-bye Mike. On May 10, four students were arrested for blocking his campaign bus. On May 13, there were allegations that underage teens were drinking on a Conservative campaign bus after they were lured by organizers to cut classes and attend a Harris rally. At another campaign stop, a protester dressed up as Darth Vader and held a sign that said quote:
“Mike works for me.”
Another campaign stop saw protestors swarm towards Harris, and one man was arrested and charged with assaulting police. One officer suffered a gash under his eye.
At one election stop in Newmarket, where he was in the backyard of Lindsay Mason, where he had launched his plan to cut Ontario taxes by 30 per cent four years previous, residents of the area were angry that his campaign team had not contacted them as they suddenly found police cruisers and media vehicles all over the streets. Guido Dewinne would state quote:
“At first I thought it was a murder.”
Of course, Dewinne would also state that Harris had his vote. He said quote:
“He did what he promised. He pushed through a lot of things that have been lying around for years.”
In the campaign, Harris would campaign on a 20 per cent reduction in the provincial portion of property tax, a $3.8 billion increase in health care spending and $10 billion in an infrastructure program over the next five years.
He would also have a campaign prop that was widely mocked called the Spendometer, which he used to show what he claimed would be the fiscal dangers of opposition promises.
The Liberals would pledge not to raise taxes, but won’t cut any until the deficit is eliminated. The party ran pre-election ads showing Harris proudly announcing tax cuts, with images of lineups at the hospital emergency wards. McGuinty would state quote:
“We can be a proud province or we can follow New Jersey. We can choose dignity for our sick or put them on stretchers in emergency room hallways.”
After 62-year-old Barry Dunn of Thunder Bay died in Minnesota after a bed could not be found for him in Ontario, McGuinty used this on the campaign stating quote:
“Mike Harris couldn’t afford a hospital bed for Barry Dunn but he could afford a $100 million advertising campaign telling Barry Dunn and the rest of us that when it comes to health care in our province, things were just fine.”
At one point, McGuinty would call Harris a thug, as the election campaign began to heat up.
The NDP would promise to reverse several of the Harris cuts, and to charge those who earned more than $80,000 a year to pay for new spending. Howard Hampton would also compare him to Norman Bates from Psycho. He would apologize for this, stating quote:
“The characterization used by the media should not have been repeated by myself. I will make sure nothing like this happens again.”
McGuinty would respond quote:
“I accept his apology but Howard Hampton owes an apology to patients and students who will suffer if Mike Harris is re-elected.”
During the leaders debate, McGuinty would have a poor performance and was unable to explain the platform of his party clearly. Both Hampton and Harris would target McGuinty heavily in the debate. Many would consider Hampton the winner of the debate. Tom Long, chairman of the Harris campaign would say quote:
“I think Howard certainly managed to get his points across. I give Mr. Hampton credit for being passionate. He’s clearly somebody who believes in what he’s saying.”
When reporters asked McGuinty about appearing wooden and stiff in the debate, he responded with quote:
“Have you been talking to my wife?”
The joke did not go over well.
McGuinty would also deal with protestors for the first time. At a stop on May 26, four whistle-blowing protestors began to blow their whistles while wearing Blow The Whistle. They demanded that McGuinty say where he would get the money to put back into education and health care. He would say to the protestors quote:
“Mike Harris wants to spend $2.5 billion on tax cuts and advertising. I will take the same money and spend it elsewhere.”
The election saw the first major use of attack ads, something that was relatively unknown to politics for the most part at the time. McGuinty would state quote:
“Mike Harris has launched new attack ads against me. I want to make it perfectly clear, they are nothing less than a pack of lies.”
Harris would respond quote:
“The Liberals are always whining and complaining. They’ve quite a negative party I’ve found in the last four years.”
The New Democratic Party spent most of the election distancing itself from the memory of Bob Rae. Hampton would reach out to labour groups but the unions had decided to abandon the NDP for the Liberals in an effort to defeat the Progressive Conservatives through strategic voting.
The election was pushed to the backburner by many residents in Ontario as the Toronto Maple Leafs were in the playoffs at the same time. Earl Saye would say quote:
“Who cares about politics right now. I’d much rather see the Leafs win the Stanley Cup than the party of my choice win this stupid election. Politicians all say what they’re going to say, they do what they’re going to do, but they don’t bring home the Cup.”
Harris would wear a Leafs hat and jersey on the campaign trail in order to bring in some support for his election campaign from Leafs fans. Hampton, who had a hockey scholarship to attend an American university, would also play a pickup game the morning of the televised debate.
Six days before the election, the Conservatives polled at 42 per cent, while the Liberals were at 41 per cent and the NDP at 16 per cent.
In the June 3, 1999 election, the Progressive Conservatives lost 23 seats to fall to 59, which was still good enough to hold onto power with a majority government. The 59 seats for a majority government was the lowest the province had seen 1948. This was the first time a Conservative premier had won back-to-back majorities since John Robarts in 1967.
Harris would tell his supporters quote:
“Tonight, for the first time in 30 years, a majority Progressive Conservative government has been succeeded by a majority Progressive Conservative government. Regardless of how you voted, my commitment is that we will move forward together.”
The Liberals would gain five seats, rising to 35 seats and staying on as the Official Opposition. McGuinty would say quote:
“We have fought a good fight for all the right reasons. I’m very proud tonight to say that close to two million Ontarians voted Liberal today. We will continue to fight for all those things that the majority of this province believe in, and it is my honour and privilege to lead that fight.
The NDP would lose eight seats, falling to nine seats in the Legislature. The nine seats won by the NDP was its worst showing since the party won seven seats in the 1963 election.
Hampton would state quote:
“I wish the results had been different. They will be next time.”
For Harris, this would be his last election. In 2002, he would resign as premier and join a Toronto law firm. The next year, it would be once again time for another change in Ontario politics.
As Ontario moved towards the first election in its third century, many residents appeared to be ready for a change.
Mike Harris had resigned as leader and was now replaced by Ernie Eves, who became the 23rd premier of Ontario as a result. He had first been elected to the Legislature in 1981 by only six votes, but would hold the seat until 2001 when he resigned due to personal issues. When Harris resigned the following year, Eves would win the party leadership and regained a seat in the legislature. While he only served 16 months as premier before the election was called, his government dealt with many issues including the coroner’s inquest into the death of Kimberly Rogers, who committed suicide while under house arrest for a disputed welfare fraud conviction. One of his cabinet ministers was also forced to resign when it was alleged he spent $100,000 on meals and alcohol in expensive restaurants and hotels in Toronto. After the budget came out, Energy Minister Chris Stockwell was forced to resign after it was found he let a company he regulated pay for a family trip to Europe. Even with these problems, his government won praise for negotiating a deal with striking government workers, cancelling an IPO of Hydro One and deferring tax breaks for corporations and private schools. This pushed the Conservatives up in the polls but Eves would not call an election to take advantage of this. He would instead wait, likely because he remembered the Liberals calling a snap election in 1990 that was highly criticized and helped sink the party. By this point, the Conservative government was being criticized for its response to the SARS epidemic that had hit Toronto, and the 2003 North American Blackout that happened in August. The late response to the crisis was criticized, although Eves did hold several daily press briefings after the blackout and would be praised for being cool under pressure.
The Liberals were still led by Dalton McGuinty and by all accounts he began to find his role as the Opposition Leader in the Legislature. He would hire more skilled advisors to work with him, and he would bring in former Liberal cabinet minister Greg Sorbara as the party president. He would also launch the Ontario Liberal Fund to rebuild the party’s finances. With the election approaching, McGuinty worked to improve his debating skills through training by Scott Reid who had trained John McCain in debate. He would also have his party adopt a platform that emphasized lowering class sizes, hiring more nurses, increasing environmental protections and holding the line when it came to taxes.
Howard Hampton continued to lead the NDP and he made a name for himself when he became an advocate for public ownership of Ontario Hydro after the government unveiled plans to privatize the utility. Partly due to his opposition work, the plan to privatize was abandoned by Eves.
The election campaign began poorly for Eves with Tom Long, the former chairman of the Harris election campaigns refusing to work with him, with most speculating it was because Long saw him as wishy-washy. The party would campaign on the slogan of Experience You Can Trust, which focused on the two decades of experience in provincial politics for Eves. The Progressive Conservatives would promise tax reductions for mortgage payments, rebates for seniors, tax credits for parents sending their children to private schools, banning teacher strikes and a made in Ontario immigration system.
Through the campaign, Eves settled into a pattern of highlighting something from the party platform, then attacking McGuinty for opposing it. Eves would also state that McGuinty supported the federal immigration plan, which Eves said would allow terrorists into the country.
Attack ads were once again a focus for the Progressive Conservatives, nearly all of which focused on McGuinty, stating he wanted to raise taxes and that McGuinty sided with unions and would allow teacher strikes.
McGuinty would not take the positive and negative message approach of Eves, instead having his caucus members criticize the Eves government, while he focused on promoting a positive plan for change. As well, the Liberal ran only positive ads during the campaign, rather than meeting negative ads with negative ads. Most of the ads featured McGuinty in natural environments, speaking directly to the camera about his plans for Ontario if he were elected.
McGuinty would say of his approach quote:
“We have taken the high road. I’ve known Mr. Eves for 13 years and that’s not the Ernie Eves that I’ve come to know, its just not. He must be very tired.”
The NDP, who had lost their official party status in the last election, focused on making themselves unique from the Liberals on the issue of public ownership of public services. They would have the slogan of PublicPower. Each campaign stop was built around a visual thematic. This was seen in the first week of the campaign when Hampton attacked the Liberal’s energy platform by saying it was full of holes, and then holding up a copy of the Liberal platform with holes in it. Hampton would criticize the tax breaks for the rich by the Eves government by appearing in front of the home of millionaire Peter Munk. They would also make several pledges on a social platform, including creating 20,000 new daycare spaces for parents at a cost of $10 per day.
The issues that would dominate the campaign would be the Walkerton water tragedy that left several people dead because of E.coli contamination in the town’s water, which also sickened half the population, the SARS outbreak, funding for education and tax cuts, with all parties promising various levels of tax cuts in one form or another.
In the first week of the campaign, it was a tight race with the Liberals only leading by about two per cent. This would begin to change as time went on and the Liberals would slowly carve out a solid lead as the election campaign went on.
Protestors would often greet Eves at various campaign stops, but he would make the effort to speak to them, rather than staying away. Bob MacDermid, a political science professor would say quote:
“Some people see him in some ways a better manager than Harris because he listens to people.”
In the mid-way point of the election campaign, a raid of a meat packing plant showed severe health code violations. It was then found through leaked documents that the government had not implemented recommendations to improve meat safety. Agriculture Minister Helen Johns made matters worse by not speaking to the media and having to be tracked down in her riding.
Without a doubt, the most lasting controversy of the election campaign came on Sept. 12, 2003 when the Eves campaign released a news statement that called McGuinty quote:
“An evil reptilian kitten-eater from another planet”
Eves would state that it was a joke, with some saying it was a reference to Buffy The Vampire Slayer, a show that McGuinty stated he enjoyed. Eves would state quote:
“I know it was an attempt at humour but it was an ill-advised attempt at humour. I’m not apologizing, but I am acknowledging that it certainly went over the top.”
McGuinty would state he would not be sidetracked by the issue. He said quote:
“This is not just a lot of noise and I’m going to stay focused on what people want me to talk about during the campaign. I love kittens and I like puppies too. I have eaten calf, I’ll admit to that.”
A white kitten was released at a Liberal event, with some blaming the Conservatives. Instead of shooing it away, McGuinty held the kitten as media took photos, creating a defining moment of the campaign. The Liberal Party leaned into the issue, making shirts that said quote:
“Call Me An Evil Reptilian Kitten Eater but I want change”
By this point, the Conservatives were on the defensive and dropping in the polls. In an effort to reduce the slide, Eves appeared at a campaign event with barbed wire and a get out of jail free card to accuse the Liberals of being soft on crime. The media didn’t focus on the message, but Eves first use of props during the election.
In the leader debate, McGuinty rebounded from his terrible debate performance in 1999 by playing off the low expectations many had of him. Eves would do well in the debate as well, with some pundits saying he won. The Ottawa Citizen would state quote:
“Premier Eves, who initially appeared stiff and uncertain, grew confident in the debate as the evening went on. His campaign has been confused and he had to deliver a coherent message about where he’ll take the province. Again, he succeeded.”
Eves would try to get his message across to voters who were quickly turning away from his party. He would state quote:
“I’m trying to get this message through to people that if you go down this road, I just want you to understand what exactly it is you’ll be voting for.”
As the final week of the approached, Eves would call McGuinty a pointy head, for which he later apologized, stating quote:
“The remark I made about Mr. McGuinty was quite frankly, inappropriate. It was probably out of frustration.”
McGuinty used this the next day when joking with radio hosts when he said he had to be careful so he quote:
“Won’t spear you with my sharp pointy head.”
Eves would also deny that his tactics in the election had been below the belt. He would state quote:
“I have tried not to be personal about anything to do with Mr. McGuinty. I have tried to set out what our platform is and compare it to what they stand for.”
The Conservatives would eventually start to pull the negative ads against McGuinty, and state that they were moving on to the next phase for the campaign.
In the Oct. 2, 2003 election, the Progressive Conservatives lost 35 seats to fall to 24, becoming the Official Opposition. This was the party’s lowest seat count in 13 years and the party’s worst drop in seats since 1987. Eves told reporters and supporters regarding McGuinty quote:
“We have some fundamental differences but we both share a desire to make life better for the people of Ontario.”
The NDP would also lose seats, falling to seven, their worst showing since 1963 when they also had seven. Hampton had predicted his party would be the Official Opposition, which didn’t pan out. He would say on election night quote:
“When we started this campaign, I said we were going to fight for things that mattered to the average person of Ontario. I thought we ran a good campaign. We did run a good campaign but that’s the way it goes.”
The Liberals would surge ahead by gaining 37 seats, finishing with 72 seats in the Legislature. This was only the second time in the party’s history that it had received more than 70 seats in an election. It was also the party’s second best showing ever after the 95 seats won by the Liberals in 1987.
McGuinty, the new premier, would state quote:
“The people of Ontario have voted strongly for change but they have chosen something more profound than a change of government. They have rejected a negative message and chosen a positive one. They have rejected the politics of division and chosen instead to work together.”
As the 2007 election approached, the Liberal Party had one goal, do something that the party had not accomplished in 70 years, win a second consecutive election. After winning nine consecutive elections from 1871 to 1902, the Liberal Party had only won three elections, in 1934, 1937 and 1987.
In Premier Dalton McGuinty’s first term in office, his government immediately brought in auto insurance reforms, rolled back corporate and personal tax cuts that were scheduled for 2004, and passed legislation that made publicly-funded health care provincial law. In the wake of the Waterton drinking water scandal from the Harris years, the Liberals hired more meat and water inspectors. The first budget for the Liberals would have a strong focus on health care, with money going to hospitals to shorten wait times, bringing in free immunizations for children, and creating 150 new Family Health Teams to improve access to physicians. In order to pay for all this, including $200 million into public health care, a Health Premium was created that cost between $300 to $900, which was highly controversial. The budget also had a $5 billion deficit, which caused the party to drop in the polls.
Other changes brought in by the Liberal government was the banning of junk food in schools, outlawing smoking in public places, banning pit bulls in the province, made the move to legalize same-sex marriage in the province and expanded Ontario’s Drive Clean emissions program. There were various small scandals, including the police raiding the Sorbara Group offices, which were owned by Greg Sorbara, the Finance Minister on the grounds Sorbara and directors of the company had defrauded the shareholders. One of the biggest scandals came in the wake of revelations that Mike Colle, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, had mishandled government funds. He had given out $32 million in government grants to cultural and immigrant groups without official applications or statements of purpose. In one of the worse examples, the Ontario Cricket Association received $1 million when it only asked for $150,000.
The party had also brought in legislation that made election dates fixed by a formula to be every four years unless the government fell in a vote of no confidence.
Heading into the election, the party pledged $14.7 billion in new spending including $3.1 billion for public education and $100 million for hospitals.
The Progressive Conservatives were now led by John Tory who had served as the campaign co-manager on the Kim Campbell election campaign, where he authorized the infamous face ads during the 1993 federal election. He had run for mayor in 2003 but lost to David Miller. When Ernie Eves announced his resignation as leader of the Conservatives, Tory put his name forward to lead the party. Only two other candidates ran against him, Jim Flaherty and Frank Klees. On the first ballot, Tory took 45 per cent of the vote, and then won with 54 per cent of the vote on the second ballot. On March 17, 2005, Tory was elected to the Legislature.
The Conservatives campaigned on the platform of A Plan For A Better Ontario, which would eliminate the health care tax, address the doctor shortage, fast track the building of nuclear power plants and invest in a gas tax for public roads.
The NDP were still led by Howard Hampton, who had led the party since 1996 and had seen the party go from 17 seats to seven seats in the Legislature. There would be a lot of pressure on Hampton to reverse the downward slide of the party that had begun after the NDP led the province from 1990 to 1995.
The main issue of the election would be public funding to faith-based schools in the province. This was a proposal put forward by Tory. At the time, Catholic schools were fully funded in the same way that public schools were. Jewish, Muslim and Evangelical Christian schools were not funded by the province. This was cited as discriminatory by the Supreme Court of Canada and the United Nations Human Rights Committee.
The issue was highly controversial in the province. Many Ontario residents opposed it, as did some in the Conservatives who openly criticized it.
The Conservatives would continue to use attack ads and visual aids to combat the Liberals in the election. The I Need That Money Machine was one such effort, which was a phonebooth-sized enclosure where a man with a Pinocchio nose tried to stuff paper into his pockets as air jets forced the money into the air around him. A recording of McGuinty saying I Need That Money would also play over and over. The Pinocchio character would often go to events held by McGuinty and heckle him.
Attack ads began to air closer to the election, citing Ontario residents complaints in how McGuinty handled crime, health care and the economy. The ads would also not mention the faith based funding promise by Tory.
One of the most unique moments came when all three leaders went against each other to make the perfect furrow at the International Plowing Competition in Crosby, which Hampton was able to win. At the event, McGuinty spent seven minutes meeting people with federal Liberal leader Stephane Dion. He would cite this as an example of him meeting regular citizens after both the NDP and Conservatives criticized him for being afraid to meet Ontario residents. McGuinty would state quote:
“You maybe weren’t there when I met Mr. Brady and mainstreeted in an Ottawa hospital. I’ve had a great opportunity to meet with Ontarians and get a sense of where they’re at and where they want to go.”
Mike Brady, a cancer patient at the Ottawa Hospital, would be responsible for a Conservative gaffe as well. Tory would repeatedly use the name of Brady incorrectly, calling him Mike Bradley. Tory would apologize after stating quote:
“I apologize. I wrote my own speech. It was hand-written.”
McGuinty and Tory would agree on one issue in the campaign, and that was over street racing, with both wanting to see new laws that would make the roads of Ontario safer in the midst in a rise in street racing.
In a poll run on Sept. 26, 26 per cent said they did not care about the funding issue, 13 per cent were in support of it and 43 per cent were against it.
Tory would state that the stalling of his party’s numbers was not an indication of the party’s potential to win. He would say quote:
“If you look at a horse race and they’re on the back stretch, halfway through, it is not the time to be predicting who is going to win. I’m very confident we’re doing just fine.”
The Liberals and NDP both opposed the plan, while the Green Party proposed eliminating funding to Catholic Schools.
The issue of the funding for religious schools would dominate all other issues in the campaign.
The Liberals would make several announcements, including refusing to follow Alberta and Quebec in privatizing liquor stores. McGuinty would state quote:
“I think we have a pretty good system in place right now to provide access to beer and wine and liquor. It is accessible and safe.”
The NDP ran on a plan to support working families, which included eliminating the health tax, spending $125 million to protect auto industry jobs and to raise the minimum wage to $10 an hour.
The leaders’ debate was seen as something where there was no clear winner. Tory did not take the time to explain the main issue over the faith-based school funding, focusing instead on attacking McGuinty. Hampton did reasonably well but McGuinty was described as weak and whey-faced.
As the election continued, Tory and the Conservatives tried to tone down the talk about the faith based school issue, but not abandoning the promise. Tory would say quote:
“I will not be backing off and saying it is the wrong thing to do because I believe it is the right thing to do.”
In an effort to explain the proposal further, ads were created by the Conservatives only days before the election, where Tory stated he would hold a free vote on the issue.
Hampton would show irritation on the fixation on the faith based issue, feeling that it was taking away from the other issues. He would tell reporters quote:
“I am frustrated because there are many problems, many questions in Ontario, but when I look at the media, there’s only one question.”
In the Oct. 10, 2007 election, the Liberals achieved their goal, winning two elections in a row for the first time since the Mitchell Hepburn days of the 1930s. The party picked up 71 seats in the election to maintain their majority.
McGuinty said in his 14 minute victory speech quote:
“Ontarians are telling us we will judge a government by its record, warts and all, but we value progress above all.”
The Conservatives were only able to win one extra seat, finishing with 26 and once again serving as the Official Opposition. This was also the first time since the 1930s that the Conservatives served as the Official Opposition for two elections in a row.
Tory won his new seat in Toronto, at a risk of losing his seat by not running in a safe riding. He would say to his supporters quote:
“I took a significant political risk so that I could make a statement about Toronto, so I could make a statement about rebuilding our party within Toronto and so I could really show how committed I am to building a strong Toronto within a strong Ontario.”
The NDP were able to maintain 10 seats in the Legislature, which was a small rise for the party after several years of losing seats in elections.
The Green Party would pick up eight per cent of the vote, but did not win any seats
The Liberals were on a roll. After winning two elections in a row for the first time in seven decades, Liberal leader Dalton McGuinty was hoping to do something that had not been done by a Liberal leader since Oliver Mowat, win three elections in a row.
The second term of McGuinty was not as smooth as the first. The government was forced to admit not doing the minimum wage increase to $10.25 in 2010 was a mistake. In addition, the Harmonized Sales Tax that was implemented in 2010 proved to be quite unpopular with residents of Ontario, hurting the Liberals in the polls. The biggest setback for the party during this second term would come when it was found that eHealth Ontario CEO Sarah Kramer had approved $4.8 million in no-bid contracts during the first four months of the agency’s operation. Originally called Smart Systems for Health Agency, it spent 15 per cent of its $225 million annual budget on consultants despite having 166 people making more than $100,000 in their employ. McGuinty would be forced to admit the hiring of Kramer was a mistake.
The Progressive Conservatives would now be led by a new man after John Tory resigned as leader on March 6, 2009. Three months later on June 27, 2009, Tim Hudak would become the leader of the party. Having sat in the Legislature since 1995, he was considered to be the front runner in the contest and had the backing of the majority of the Conservative caucus. He would lead on each ballot, and took the vote for good on the third ballot with 54.25 per cent of the vote. As leader, he would make it his goal to make inroads in the major cities. He would state he would begin with quote:
“Reaching out to new Canadian communities. I want to make sure that the next wave of new Canadians, whether from the Czech Republic or India or China, will see the Ontario PC party as home.”
Hudak would start campaigning in the election far before the election began. In the fall of 2009, he would launch one of the major platforms of the party, the PC Caucus Small Business Jobs Plan, which he said would be essential to the economic recovery of Ontario. Throughout his time as the Leader of the Official Opposition at this time, he would oppose the Harmonized Sales Tax and the government’s approach to the Ontario nuclear industry. Hudak would say quote:
“Reducing Northern Ontario’s high energy costs is key to making industries there more profitable and preventing future mill closures.”
In regards to the harmonized tax, he would say quote:
“McGuinty will do what he does best, raising taxes on hard working families. People will feel it at first at the pumps at midnight. Next, they will get hit with it on their utility bills.”
The NDP’s leader for 13 years, Howard Hampton, had resigned from the leadership of the party. It was time for someone else to take over and that person would be Andrea Horwath. She had be elected to the Ontario Legislature in 2004 and in 2008 launched her campaign to become the party leader. In the voting, she led through every ballot, eventually claiming the leadership of the party on the third ballot with 60.4 per cent of the vote. With her win, she became the first woman to lead the Ontario New Democratic Party and the second woman to lead a major party in Ontario politics after Lyn McLeod.
Leading up to the election call, the Progressive Conservatives actually led the public opinion polls. That lead would slowly begin to shrink as the Liberals began to make gains throughout the election campaign.
This election would be notable as it was the first where social media began to play a roll, especially on Facebook and Twitter. Throughout the campaign, keywords used on Twitter were lies, tax, family, health, hospital and environment. The Liberals would have a team of online party workers that spent the campaign attacking opponents of the Liberals. Horwath would also see the biggest increase in tweets using the word leader, while the name of the recently passed Jack Layton was also used a lot in tweets concerning Horwath.
There was no dominant issue in this election, and most of the parties campaigned on dealing with job creation. The Liberals would promise to bring in new clean energy jobs, including a proposal to create 50,000 jobs in the sector by the end of 2012. The Progressive Conservatives would campaign to certify more apprentices that would help young people get jobs, but their main strategy for job creation was the lowering of tax rates.
Hudak would say quote:
“Dalton McGuinty won’t help people get an apprenticeship position and Dalton McGuinty will give companies $10,000 to hire anybody but young workers.”
The NDP would announce a Job Creation Tax Credit of $5,000 per worker made available to anyone who added a new job staff position. They stated this would help create 80,000 jobs and cost $400 million. Horwath would also be forced to deal with the revelation that an NDP candidate had a podcast that skewered religion. She would stand by the candidate and say quote:
“This is nothing more than an attempt to smear him.”
The campaign would get nasty at times, something Horwath would comment on saying quote:
“I think the worst part was the tendency of the campaign to get a little nasty from time-to-time. There was really no call for that kind of tone.”
McGuinty would be attacked heavily by the Conservatives over his failed promise to hold the line on taxes. The Conservatives would accuse McGuinty of having a plan to bring in a carbon tax. Hudak would say quote:
“It is not a hard thing to raise taxes. It is the easy route.”
Hudak would be criticized for being anti-LGBTQ after a flyer was circulated by the Progressive Conservatives that was critical of the Toronto District School Board’s education campaign against homophobia. The flyer called for people to vote against the McGuinty Agenda. The Progressive Conservatives were forced to put out a statement saying that the real issue was that teachers were specifically told not to consult about the issue with parents.
Due to the fact that the Liberals and Conservatives were neck-and-neck in the polls, the televised debate would take on an added importance to sway undecided voters. John Wright, a polling firm vice president would say quote:
“This debate may be crucial because of how close the PCs and the Liberals are, and how the balance of power could end up in the hands of the NDP.”
In the debate, all three leaders came out attacking the other leaders in the hopes of turning the tide of the election. The Ottawa Citizen would write quote:
“Hudak certainly exceeded expectations and should be pleased with his performance. Horwath did fine, and was able to get the important points of her platform across to the televised audience…As for McGuinty, he struggled but held his own. The premier has been involved in many leaders’ debates, so he avoided some possible pitfalls.”
The debate would actually result in Horwath moving within striking distance of the Liberals and Conservatives. Before the debate, the Liberals and Conservatives were tied at 35 per cent, while the NDP were at 25 per cent. After the debate, the Conservatives sat at 34 per cent, while the Liberals were at 32 per cent and the NDP were at 29 per cent.
As the NDP rose, Hudak would begin to attack Horwath in front of the media. He would lump the NDP in with the Liberals and state quote:
“The other parties are high-tax parties. The NDP wants to increase taxes on job creators and kill jobs in our province. That’s wrong.”
In the Oct. 6, 2011 election, the Liberals would retain their leadership of the province but it would not be a good election for the party. The Liberals would lose 17 seats, falling to 53. This was only one less than what they needed to have a majority government. Even with the loss of seats though, this was still the third straight election win for the party. The last time that happened was when the party won the 1871, 1875 and 1879 elections under Edward Blake and Sir Oliver Mowat. McGuinty was also the first Ontario premier to win three consecutive elections since Bill Davis. The election also saw the defeat of several Liberal cabinet ministers, especially in southwest Ontario.
McGuinty would say quote:
“The Ontario way is about believing in, trusting in and investing in our people, so that together, we can take on the world and win.”
The Progressive Conservatives would have success under Hudak, who helped the party regain 12 seats to finish with 37. The party would retain its Official Opposition status. Hudak would say in his speech quote:
“A few minutes ago, I spoke with Dalton McGuinty and I congratulated him and his team on his victory in today’s election…It is very clear that the people have sent a strong message that they want a change in direction.”
As for the NDP, they too saw their seat count grow under a new leader. The party under Horwath would pick up seven seats to finish with 17. The last time the party had that number of seats was in 1995, after the collapse of the NDP government in the 1995 election. The party’s 20 per cent of the popular vote was also the highest it had seen since that same year.
Horwath said quote:
“Well friends, thousands of you voted for change. You voted to send more New Democrats to fight for you at Queen’s Park. Instead of voting out of fear, you voted for hope. Instead of voting for the same old solutions, you voted for change.”
The voter turnout for this election was the worst in the history of the province, and worse than any federal election. Only 48.2 per cent of eligible voters came out to vote.
As well, after staying in power for 120 days after the election, he became the longest serving Liberal premier since Sir Oliver Mowat, officially passing Mitchell Hepburn. This would be the last election for McGuinty though, and it would be another three years before the parties would go head-to-head again.
We have now reached the two most recent elections in Ontario’s history. This episode has been the longest I have ever made and at this point my script for the entire five-part series is pushing 50,000 words.
Since these are the two most recent elections, I am going to slightly gloss over them a bit but will still give plenty of information about each.
After the Liberals were able to secure their third election win in a row, albeit with a decreased amount of seats, Dalton McGuinty announced his resignation as leader of the party on Oct. 15, 2012. Two weeks later, a woman named Kathleen Wynne resigned her cabinet post and announced her bid for the leadership of the Liberal Party. Going up against six other candidates, Wynne was seen as the front-runner and she was the only candidate to have supporters in all 107 ridings in the province.
On Jan. 26, 2013, Wynne gave her speech at the convention, where she spoke of working with the opposition parties, teachers and she would attack her main rival, Sandra Pupatello, who did not have a seat in the Legislature by saying she was ready to take leadership immediately in the Legislature. As a lesbian, she would also address her sexuality stating quote:
“When I ran in 2003, I was told that the people of North Toronto were not ready to elect a gay woman. Well, apparently they were. I don’t believe the people of Ontario judge their leaders on the basis of race, colour or sexual orientation. I don’t believe they hold prejudice in their hearts.”
On the first two ballots, Wynne trailed Pupatello but thanks to endorsements, on the third ballot Wynne was able to win the leadership election and become premier of Ontario. With her win, she became not only the first female premier of Ontario, but also the first openly gay premier in the history of Canada.
Almost as soon as she was sworn in as premier, Wynne had to deal with the Ontario Power Plant Scandal, which had developed under the administration of McGuinty. Wynne was accused of having a role in the costly cancellation of the construction of gas plants in 2011. Wynne denied she was involved in the decision and she would ask the auditor governor general to investigate the cost of cancelling. The report found that the cancellation cost taxpayers $1.1 billion. Wynne would apologize and vow not to let it happen again. She would introduce the Public Sector and MPP Accountability and Transparency Act, which implemented measures to increase the accountability of the government.
In her first budget, Wynne introduced auto insurance rate reductions, $295 million into youth jobs, $5 million for Indigenous education, $45 million to help Ontario musicians and increased the Ontario Child Benefit.
Wynne would also negotiate a new bargaining agreement with teacher unions, restoring their bargaining rights, right to strike, while also keeping the wage freeze on teachers. Her government also increased the minimum wage of the province.
The Progressive Conservatives were still led by Hudak, who hoped to increase the seat count of his party and possibly win the election after pushing the Liberals to a minority government in the previous election.
Andrea Horwath continued to lead the NDP, but within the party she was receiving criticism for running a populist campaign, which was described as right-wing by some.
With a minority government, Wynne had to have the support of the opposition parties to stay in power. In 2014, she put out a budget that was described as NDP-friendly, but the NDP chose not to support the budget this time. The day after the budget was read, the province was going into an election.
At the start of the election, the Progressive Conservatives and Liberals were in a dead heat. Some polls showed that the Conservatives were ahead of the Liberals.
The main issues of the election were the economy and transit. Since 2002, the manufacturing sector of the province had shrunk by 30 per cent, losing 300,000 jobs. The Progressive Conservatives would campaign on a Million Jobs Plan, while the Liberals pledged to invest in infrastructure to create jobs. The NDP would target tax credits and incentives to bring in new jobs.
In regards to transit, traffic congestion was a major problem, which was costing the economy of Toronto $7.5 billion to $11 billion per year alone. The Liberals would promise to invest $29 billion in infrastructure, including $15 billion going towards new transit lines. The Progressive Conservatives would pledge to cancel all planned lines except the Eglinton Crosstown, and expanding the Go service. The NDP would promise what the Liberals did, but also include an extra $1 billion to get some projects done quicker.
While things may have seemed bad at first for Wynne, two things would change her fortunes. First, the NDP got off to a slow start and many criticized them for causing the election to happen due to not supporting the budget. The second was the Progressive Conservative pledge to cut 100,000 jobs in the province.
The Conservative platform actually promised to create one million jobs, and to reduce the public service by 100,000 jobs through attrition. What people would focus on was the loss of jobs, which severely hurt the party in the election. Many Conservative MPPs did not know about this Million Job Plan and they would criticize Hudak for not consulting with the caucus about the platform.
Only the Toronto Star endorsed the Liberals, and the Globe and Mail endorsed the Conservatives. There was also a great deal of controversy in the Sun newspapers that published an editorial cartoon that featured broken glasses, presumed to be those of Wynne, with blood around them. Many felt that this was projecting an image of abusing women. It was almost universally condemned.
By the time the election came, the Liberals were ahead in the polls.
In the June 12 election, the Liberals were able to surge back under their new leader and won a majority government. The party picked up an extra 10 seats to finish with 58. The four election wins in a row was the first time a party had accomplished this since Bill Davis did the same from 1971 to 1981. It was also the first time the Liberals won four elections in a row since Edward Blake and Sir Oliver Mowat, who won four straight elections from 1871 to 1883. With her win, Wynne also became the first woman in Ontario’s history to win an election for her party.
The gain for the Liberals came at the expense of the Progressive Conservatives who lost nine seats to finish with 28. For Hudak, this would result in the end of his time as leader of the party. He would resign soon after, but remained in the Legislature.
The NDP, despite stumbling in the election, remained with 21 seats, to finish third in the province, although they did increase their percentage of the vote by one per cent.
After last election, and with a majority government, Kathleen Wynne would privatize Hydro One and reform the Liquor Licence Act to allow for the sale of six-packs of beer at grocery stores. In her first budget after the election, transit was the main priority with the government paying the entire cost of construction of the Hurontario-Main LRT line to connect Mississauga and Brampton. Her government would also fund the cost to build an LRT system in Hamilton with $1 billion going towards the project.
In her next budget, a climate change plan was unveiled that included a cap and trade plan. Education also received further funding to provide free college and university tuition for families that made less than $50,000.
Unfortunately, her approval rating began to suffer, reaching a low of 18 per cent at one point.
Wynne was also dealing with negativity on Twitter and Facebook, where many of the posts made sexist or homophobic slurs against her. In May 2016, after appearing as a guest at the Alberta Legislature, Wildrose Party MLA Derek Fildebrandt attacked her economic policies. On his Facebook page, one of his constituents then made a homophobic comment and Fildebrandt responded that he was quote:
“Proud of constituents like you.”
Fildebrandt was expelled from the caucus, but later readmitted after he apologized saying that his support of the comment was an honest mistake.
As the 2018 election approached, Wynne’s government spent $800,000 in rebates for electric vehicles. The minimum wage also jumped heavily to $14 from $11.60, with a promise to jump it to $15 the following year. On Jan. 1, 2018, all prescription drugs were made free for people aged 24 and under.
The election also saw the redistribution of seats from 107 to 122. The new districts were criticized as undemocratic as they had only a population of 30,000 compared to 120,000 in other areas of the province. The National Post would suggest that the population sizes in the ridings violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The Progressive Conservatives were now led by a person with major name recognition in Ontario, Doug Ford, who was the brother of former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. Ford had even served on council while his brother was mayor. Patrick Brown had taken over as the leader of the Progressive Conservatives in 2015 but in 2018 allegations came against him in 2018 from two women regarding sexual misconduct dating back to when he was in Parliament. He would resign from the leadership soon after and was expelled from the caucus. In the subsequent leadership race, Ford was the first candidate to put his name forward to lead the party. Ford would portray himself as a candidate for the “little guy” in Ontario, calling his opponents insiders and political elites. One of his opponents also had some major name recognition. It was Caroline Mulroney, the daughter of former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. In the leadership election, Ford finished second on the first ballot, first on the second ballot and then won on the third ballot with 50.62 per cent of the vote over Christine Elliott.
The NDP, still led by Horwath, ran on a platform of creating Canada’s first universal Pharmacare plan, while also giving universal dental care . She also promised a child care plan that ensured 70 per cent of Ontario parents would have free child care or pay $12 a day for it. She would also pledge to return Hydro One to public ownership and that she would close the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station.
In her pre-election budget, Wynne tabled a budget that brought in billions in free childcare spending and expanded dental care, but the budget also ran with a $6.7 billion deficit.
Ford called the budget a spending spree.
Heading into the election, Ford promised to revive manufacturing in Ontario by cutting taxes, easing registrations and ensuring competitive electricity rates. Throughout the campaign, Ford was compared to President Donald Trump. Ford would reject the comparison but praise some of Trump’s policies.
One of the most famous promises that came to define the election in many ways was the promise by Ford to create buck a beer. He pledged to lower liquor prices in the province, reducing the price of beer from $1.25 to $1. According to Google Trends Data, buck-a-beer was the second most searched for term related to Doug Ford ahead of polling day.
On June 2, seeing that the Liberals would not win another election, she urged voters to vote for Liberal candidates to ensure an NDP or Conservative minority government.
The June 7, 2018 election would be an absolute disaster for the Liberal Party. The party would lose 48 seats in the election, falling to just seven seats in the Legislature. This would put the party to third party status. This was the worst result for the party since Confederation and with only seven seats the party lost its official party status for the first time. The next lowest seat total for the party was eight seats in 1951. This was also the worst result for any incumbent governing party in Ontario’s history.
The NDP would surge ahead to gain 19 seats to finish with 40 and become the Official Opposition. The 40 seats won by the party was its most since the 1990 election when the party had 74 seats. Outside of that election, the 40 seats was the most the party had ever won in an election.
The Progressive Conservatives won the election, their first election win since 1999, finishing with 76 seats. This seat count was the third highest for the party since 1967, behind only the 78 seats in 1971 and the 82 seats in 1995. With that, Doug Ford was the new premier of Ontario.
And that brings us to the end of the series, five parts, over 50,000 words and hours and hours of content. I do apologize for the last two elections being glossed over somewhat but with them being so recent I felt they were still much more fresh in the minds of listeners.
Nonetheless, I hope you enjoyed the series and now we begin work on the Quebec elections history with episodes starting in September.
Information from Canadian Encyclopedia, Ottawa Daily Citizen, Wikipedia, Ontario Legislative Assembly, Elections Ontario, Macleans, Montreal Star, Montreal Gazette, Kingston British Whig, Hamilton Spectator, Winnipeg Free Press, Winnipeg Tribune, Owen Sound Times, St Catherines Standard, Windsor Star
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