Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne entered the 2018 Ontario election as premier and limped across the finish line on June 7, winning her Don Valley West seat by just a few hundred seats.
Wynne’s party dropped from 55 seats down to seven on Thursday, falling one short of official party status in a dramatic night that ended with Wynne announcing her resignation.
Wynne thanked her supporters and touted her government’s accomplishments in her speech, before wrapping it up with the declaration that she was stepping aside so a new generation could lead the party.
“There is another generation and I am passing the torch to that generation,” she said to supporters on Thursday night.
“It is the right thing to do,” she said.
Few saw the speech live, as PC Leader Doug Ford took the stage seconds later to deliver his own victory speech.
Wynne’s emotional goodbye was a far cry from the start of the campaign on May 9, when she launched her re-election bid with a visit to Doug Ford’s riding in Etobicoke.
Wynne promised “care over cuts,” while acknowledging that her plan didn’t differ all that much from the one touted by NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.
“The difference is that we actually have laid out how we would do the things that they would do, how we would pay for them, what the impacts would be and in many cases that’s not the case with the NDP,” she said.
The Liberals tried to sway voters their way by focusing much of their attention on the PCs in their messaging and at the televised debates. They also frequently characterized Ford as a Donald Trump-like figure, while trying to avoid comparisons between Wynne and Trump’s vanquished foe, Hillary Clinton.
The Liberals staged a major attack on Ford on May 23, with the release of an audio recording alleging he improperly registered new party members for PC candidate Kinga Shurma.
Their aggressive approach lasted until a sunny afternoon in early June, when Wynne effectively admitted defeat and started campaigning for the survival of her party as a whole.
Wynne urged voters to look past their dislike for her and vote for Liberal candidates, if only to avoid handing a majority government to the PCs or the NDP.
However, her party’s popularity continued to slump in the polls, even as the NDP surged into second place.
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The Liberals entered the campaign with the baggage of 15 years in power, and the spending and ethics scandals over that time.
Wynne inherited some of those burdens, such as the $1.1-billion price tag to cancel two gas plants, when she took over from Dalton McGuinty in 2013.
Others, including the rising cost of hydro bills and the partial privatization of Hydro One, became headaches as well.
The Liberals largely avoided taking any major blows during the campaign, but they also didn’t make any significant gains when scandals hit their opponents.
Admission of defeat
The biggest surprise to come out of the Liberals was ultimately Wynne’s acknowledgment of defeat in the final week of the campaign.
“Despite every effort, I know that a new government will take office after June 7,” she said in Toronto on Saturday.
“We need Liberals at Queen’s Park to stop a majority for either of the other governments,” she said.
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Wynne said the change-up breathed new life into the Liberal campaign by allowing candidates to promise real change.
“There’s change that people want — that I will not be the premier, that the Liberals will not be forming a government,” she said on Monday.
Polls in the final week of the campaign suggested her party was on the verge of dropping below the eight seats needed to maintain official party status. Support for the Liberals dipped from 26 per cent when the writ dropped to 19 per cent on the eve of the election.
Political analyst Dan Rath said ahead of the election that the Liberals stand a better chance of rebuilding during a PC-led government than under one led by Andrea Horwarth and the NDP.
“If the NDP form a government, particularly if they manage to fluke out a majority, Andrea Horwath will be premier for two or three terms,” he said.
Wynne’s move might have also served to depress the turnout among die-hard Liberal voters, according to Barry Kay, a political science professor at Wilfrid Laurier University.
“A lot of Liberals will just stay home and just not vote at all because the leader has said, ‘This isn’t going to happen,’ so why bother?” he said after the announcement.
The Liberals failed to secure any major newspaper endorsements, watching instead as traditionally left-leaning publications offered lukewarm support for Horwath and the NDP.
Some, including The Globe and Mail, urged voters to instead vote for the local candidates they liked best.
— With files from The Canadian Press