TORONTO – Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne shook off the ghosts of Liberal scandals past, winning a majority government in the Ontario election. Wynne’s stunning victory is the fourth straight mandate for a party that had been mired in controversy.
Here’s what you need to know, now:
Throughout the bitter 40-day campaign, Wynne continually had to defend herself and her party against accusations of corruption and scandals inherited from former Premier Dalton McGuinty.
“You voted for jobs, you voted for growth,” Wynne told a jubilant crowd on Thursday night. Wynne said the Liberals would fight for all Ontarians.
“Elections aside, we live in one Ontario, and our job is to build this province up for every single person here,” she said.
Wynne faced continual condemnation from both Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak and NDP leader Andrea Horwath who made Liberal spending scandals and fiscal mismanagement key talking points in their campaigns.
Ill-advised campaign fliers and accusations of voter suppression marred the finals days of campaigning, as party staff went door to door, making every effort to get supporters out to the polls.
The Liberals defied almost all predictions, with most pre-election polls predicting either a Liberal or PC minority.
Preliminary results put the Liberals at 59 seats, the PC at 27 seats and the NDP at 21. At dissolution in the 107-seat legislature, the Liberals held 48 seats, the Tories 37 and the NDP 21, with one seat vacant.
On Thursday night, Wynne thanked Hudak and Horwath for the hard-fought campaign and thanked voters for putting their trust in the Liberal party. “We will not let you down,” she said.
Wynne said she would convene a new legislature within 20 days and will table the budget the New Democrats rejected on July 2.
Voter turnout in Ontario, which had fallen steadily in the last five elections, reversed a 24-year trend and rose above 50 per cent.
More than 9.2 million people were eligible to vote in the provincial election, but leading up to the election, political observers predicted low voter turnout.
Experts said there was no hot-button issue driving people to the polls and more importantly, none of the leaders were able to capture the public’s imagination.
“There is not a lot of enthusiasm for any of the leaders, in part because I don’t think any of them are inspiring,” said Queen’s University political studies professor Jonathan Rose.
“This election has been a bust for everyone,” said Wilfrid Laurier University professor Barry Kay.
“None of the leaders have really been able to gin up enthusiasm for anything much that they’ve talked about.”
Last provincial election, fewer than half of eligible voters (48.2 per cent) cast a ballot.
Beyond the negativity of the campaign, many Ontarians just didn’t have elections on their minds.
“A lot of people are vacationing and a lot of people are just occupied by different things and that’s one of the reasons I think this election has got less traction maybe than the ones held in autumn or the very early spring,” said Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto.
(There’s also the kick-off of a little-known soccer – sorry, football – tournament on Thursday).
Beyond the mud-slinging, the discourse throughout the campaign focused on jobs, the economy, and lots of catchphrases.
Wynne positioned her party as one that would be open and transparent if elected, but controversies she inherited from McGuinty followed her throughout the campaign.
Wynne split her time on the campaign trail defending the party against accusations of corruption from both challengers and portraying her party as one that would provide support through a provincial pension plan and public services.
She took aim at Hudak’s job cuts, including 100,000 public sector jobs, saying they would thrust the province back into a recession. She also attacked the NDP for straying from its core principles and warned voters that a vote for Andrea Horwath is essentially a vote for Hudak.
After winning the majority, Wynne told supporters that her government will promote jobs, transportation infrastructure and benefit “every single person in this province.”
She said she was proud to be the first woman ever elected as Ontario premier.
The PC leader hammered home his “Million Jobs Plan” throughout the campaign – a promise to create one million new private sector jobs over eight years.
Hudak’s plan was scrutinized by a number of independent economists who questioned the math behind his jobs promise. But despite the criticism, Hudak stayed on message, saying he wants to be the “jobs premier.”
On Thursday he made one final pitch for votes, saying he would create jobs in Ontario so the province’s youth don’t have to fly out west for work (while standing in front of a plane at Pearson International Airport – get it?).
Political opponents weren’t the only ones taking aim at Hudak. A number of unions spoke out in unprecedented ads, asking members not to vote for Hudak.
As the news of Wynne’s victory sunk in on Thursday night, Hudak announced he was stepping down as PC leader.
“This has been a long campaign, without question. It has been a hard-fought campaign. We did not receive the results that we had wanted, but let me tell you this: I could not be more proud of the work of our team, and the positive message of hope and jobs and change that we offer,” he told a crowd chanting his name in Grimsby, Ont.
After refusing to support an NDP-friendly Liberal budget – triggering the $90-million snap election – Horwath spent her time on the campaign trail positioning her party as a viable alternative for voters.
The NDP leader repeatedly messaged that voters didn’t have to choose between the “corrupt” Liberals or PC’s “crazy” jobs plan.
“We’ve tried to do the work that we needed to do to show the people of this province that they can choose change that makes sense for Ontario,” she said.
But Horwath faced scrutiny from party supporters who said they were “deeply distressed” by the direction the party had taken during the campaign. In an open letter to Horwath, 34 long-time NDP supporters said they were angry she voted against “the most progressive budget in recent Ontario history” and for propping up Hudak’s policies “by adopting a more moderate right-wing program focusing on balanced budgets, austerity or at least public service cuts and ‘common sense.'”
On Thursday, Horwath said her party’s third place finish wouldn’t dampen her resolve to fight for working people in Ontario, telling supporters in Hamilton that the NDP would “work day in and day out” to hold the governing Liberals accountable.Follow @heatherloney
With files from The Canadian Press
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