Why a PC minority would put Ontario’s Liberals ‘between a rock and a hard place’

Majority or minority, what kind of government will Ontario get on June 7?
WATCH ABOVE: The pitfalls of a minority government can be severe, but there's a big upside for the party in power. Alan Carter has more.

If the Ontario Liberals do as badly in June’s election as the polls predict, they’ll have a lot to deal with.

A seat projection published Wednesday by Wilfrid Laurier University predicts the party will get just seven seats. Party leader Kathleen Wynne may not be one of them — her Don Valley West riding might easily fall to the PCs.

In Ontario’s legislature, a party needs at least 63 seats to form a majority. And in Laurier’s prediction, that’s the number the PCs will end up with — a majority, but by the barest possible margin. (The NDP will form the opposition, with 51 seats, according to the projection. )

READ MORE: Growing number of Ontarians want a majority government: Ipsos poll

What if the PCs get just one seat less than Laurier predicts, and form a minority?

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In addition to being potentially leaderless and with a tiny caucus, the Ontario Liberals would find themselves with some high-stakes decisions to make between unattractive alternatives.

In a situation like this, Doug Ford would be offered the chance to form a government

But what happens after that is largely up to the Liberals, who could put the NDP in power through joining in a non-confidence vote. The problem is that none of the party’s options are very attractive.

WATCH: A new Ipsos poll shows a majority of Ontarians want a majority government with 43 per cent of those wanting a PC majority, while 39 per cent want a NDP majority.
Growing number of Ontarians want a majority government: Ipsos poll
Growing number of Ontarians want a majority government: Ipsos poll

“The Liberals would really be between a rock and a hard place,” says Laurentian University political scientist Nadia Verrelli. “If they do prop up the NDP, they would alienate their base, or at least upset their base. But if they don’t, it paves the way for the PCs to form a minority.”

“It’s a tough decision for the Liberals.”

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READ MORE: EXCLUSIVE: Liberals ignored green energy advice that could’ve saved Ontarians billions, lead engineer says

If they don’t help pass a non-confidence motion, they risk alienating left-of-centre voters. If they do, they risk allowing a rival party to gain credibility by governing.

In principle, they could offer to form a coalition with the NDP, but Verrelli sees this as unlikely — there is very little tradition of coalitions in Canadian politics.

“It seems that there is no appetite for a coalition in Ontario, or in Canada in general.”

Another thing that could make the aftermath of June 7’s election more interesting than usual is the possible presence of a Green MPP, party leader Mike Schreiner, who is running in Guelph.

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READ MORE: Andrea Horwath has chance meeting with former Liberal premier David Peterson

Unusually for Ontario, Guelph was a four-way race in 2014, and a recent poll put Schreiner in the lead.

Parliamentary math is unkind to the Greens. In Ontario’s 2007 election, they got over 354,000 votes across the province — more than the total population of Oshawa — and no seats at all. But concentrating on one or two winnable seats has been a better strategy for the party, as Elizabeth May showed in British Columbia, and Schreiner hopes to show in Guelph.

In a situation where the balance of power is in doubt and every vote counts, Schreiner could hold a lot of leverage over the NDP, Verrelli says.

WATCH: With less than two weeks until the Ontario election, an Ipsos poll shows the NDP’s upward momentum has stalled, leaving them three points behind the Progressive Conservatives.
Ontario campaigns intensify with 10 days left until election
Ontario campaigns intensify with 10 days left until election

READ MORE: ‘We’re going to send Kathleen Wynne packing’ announces Doug Ford to London rally

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“If it’s a weak minority and they depend on (the Greens), they would be very strategic in their support., try to get something out of this to lend their support.”

Could Schreiner ask to join the government itself, perhaps as environment minister, as a condition of support?

“I can see him proposing it, and I can’t blame him if he does. It depends. Are they one seat short of a majority? It may be in the NDP’s best interests to invite him to be minister.”

On the other hand, the NDP may be uneasy about giving credibility to a party that competes with them for votes.

“The Greens do take votes from the NDP,” she says. “If you’re not feeling satisfied with the NDP, it seems natural to go Green.”

READ MORE: Ontario election 2018: How, when and where to vote