Ontario proves crucial to propelling Liberals to second term

Ontario once again has picked the party that will form the federal government, as it has done now for 13 of the last 14 elections.

The most remarkable thing about how election night 2019 played out in Ontario is how little things changed from 2015.

Justin Trudeau’s Liberals barely sustained any damage in Canada’s biggest province, with their seat count dropping just one from the 80 they’d won in the last election. Ontario MPs will now make up half of Trudeau’s caucus when he returns to Parliament Hill with a minority.

The Conservatives not only failed to make the significant gains they needed in Ontario, they also lost a seat they’d held for the past 11 years. Former cabinet minister and leadership candidate Lisa Raitt’s loss in Milton to Liberal political newcomer Adam Van Koeverden will reverberate among Conservative circles.

“There’s going to be a lot of thought put into what this election meant, and where it went, but that’s not for tonight,” Raitt said when CBC Toronto’s Lisa Xing asked about the reasons behind her loss.

The finger-pointing blame-game has already started among the Conservatives.

Some on the ground in Ontario are grumbling about Andrew Scheer and his campaign team. These Conservatives feel Scheer failed to do enough to define himself in Ontario, allowing the Liberals to capture the narrative and define Scheer as a Doug Ford wannabe.

Some say the central Conservative Party campaign failed to support Ontario candidates. “They did nothing for Lisa (Raitt),” a Conservative told me Monday night, asking not to be named to speak candidly about party internal matters. That Conservative also said Scheer failed to present a real vision for why to vote for him, rather than just against Trudeau.

Data from CBC’s online Vote Compass questionnaires suggests Ford’s policies made more than half of Ontario voters less likely to vote Conservative federally.

Certainly the Liberals felt Ford was providing them with ammunition with which to hammer Scheer. Even Ford knew he was toxic to the Conservative brand. He all but disappeared from public view after late August. He adjourned the legislature until next week (six weeks later than usually scheduled). He took questions from reporters only twice all campaign, in relatively off-the-beaten-track northern locations.

There’s a danger of overstating what’s come to be called the “Ford Factor” in this election. But, the popular vote results in Ontario are not in step with the rest of the country, and that certainly could have something to do with provincial politics.

The Liberal share of the popular vote dropped significantly in the Atlantic region and western Canada, but in Ontario it fell just three percentage points. The Conservative share of the popular vote rose nationwide, but actually tipped downward in Ontario.

As for the NDP, Jagmeet Singh’s party has nothing to celebrate in Ontario, even though it’s the province where Singh got his start in politics. The New Democrats were hoping to boost their seat count, including winning back at least three seats by whittling away at Liberal fortress Toronto. Instead, the Liberals took all 25 seats in Toronto, just as they did in 2015, including Davenport, which the NDP felt was its best shot.

The NDP also lost a pair of seats in southwestern Ontario, Windsor-Tecumseh and Essex. That reduces the NDP’s seat count in this province to just six.

The list of Conservative gains in Ontario from Liberal 2015 wins is short. Two of them are in eastern Ontario (Northumberland-Peterborough South, Hastings-Lennox and Addington). The other is in Aurora-Oak-Ridges-Richmond Hill, where Leona Alleslev retained her seat. This means it’s not really a gain, because although she’d won for the Liberals in 2015, she’d crossed the floor, so was running as a Conservative incumbent.

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