The Sunday Read What happened?: Analysis of the 2022 Ontario Election and its meaning for the parties

In one of the strangest elections in recent Ontario history, voters gave Doug Ford’s Conservatives a resounding victory with an even stronger majority in the Legislature at 83 seats.  While the election night results were stunning for the Conservatives, it was a significant setback for the NDP which lost almost a quarter of its caucus (reduced to 31 seats), and an unmitigated disaster for the Ontario Liberals at 8 seats (a gain of only one).  The likeable Mike Schreiner, Leader of the Green Party, retained his one seat but failed to pick up any others.  Before the night was done, two party leaders had resigned leaving a clear and open field for Doug Ford and his Conservatives.  Its “Ford more years”. 

That the Ontario PC Party was going to win was practically a foregone conclusion at the outset of the campaign, with public opinion for weeks consistently putting Doug Ford ahead of both the Liberals (in second) and the NDP very closely behind.  But the outcome on election night was a surprise to the Conservatives (not in outcome, but the overwhelming size of their majority), and a shock to the Liberals and NDP on how poorly they fared.

So, what happened?  

Lots of things happened. 

Below is our analysis and commentary that digs deeper beyond the headlines in the aftermath of the 2022 provincial campaign.

Doug Ford and the Conservatives The Ontario PC Party ran a perfect campaign – one that put Premier Ford front and centre, and targeted seats they needed to maintain, and new seats they wanted to win – and they got them.  In fact, they got those and a heck of a lot more.  

The Tories needed to maintain their strength in the “905”, the suburban area code that surrounds the City of Toronto where Ontario (and even federal) elections are won or lost.  The Tories did that by appealing to families that experience the misery of the GTA’s traffic congestion on a daily basis by promising to build the Bradford Bypass and Highway 413 across the northern and western part of the GTA. Under the high-level banner, “Get it done”, the Conservatives pushed a policy agenda outlined in detail in their 2022 Budget to make significant investments in all kinds of infrastructure, including highways, roads, bridges – and transit too.   Sure, downtown Toronto elites don’t like Highway 413 – but they don’t live anywhere near there, and they have all the highway and transit infrastructure they want in Toronto.    

But it’s not just promises of highways and subways that got Ford re-elected.  The Party also focused on pocketbook issues – issues that real voters care about – which included a combination of things from rebates on driver’s license renewal stickers, to reducing the gas tax (starting July 1), among others.  While opposition parties called out aspects of the policies as short-sighted, flawed, or where money could be better spent, Ontario voters ignored the Liberal, NDP and Green talking heads.

The Tories also looked beyond the 905 belt, and cultivated relationships – and seats – in northern Ontario, often viewed as a base for the NDP.  They did that and won big in Timmins (popular Mayor George Pirie, against very well-liked NDP stalwart Gilles Bisson), Kenora-Rainy River (Minister Greg Rickford), North Bay (Minister Vic Fedeli), and others.  

And the Tories also targeted private sector unions in a significant way, winning the endorsements of several unions that gave a big thumbs-up to Ford, and a finger to the NDP and Liberals that have traditionally relied on private sector union support to contest elections.  That helped the Tories win in the Greater Hamilton area and pull seats away from the NDP – even in Windsor.

Like Mulroney and Harper, Ford figured out how to win – by moving into the middle.  The question is, will Ford stay there over the next four years, or will he veer off the highway to the right and into the ditch?  Will federal Conservatives learn from his example?

Andrea Horwath and the NDP You know things aren’t going according to plan when pundits are openly asking whether the NDP Leader will resign if she’s not able to build on her seat count two weeks before election day.  With her fourth campaign as Leader, Ms. Horwath needed to win big to maintain her reins on the party.  She didn’t.  While Ms. Horwath should be credited for her tremendous success in 2018, and especially the NDP’s significantly improved fundraising efforts over the last four years, the Party did little to court voters in the centre and relied on the same policies, commitments, and rhetoric that keeps the NDP relegated to an opposition party, rather than a possible government.  

Although the NDP maintained Official Opposition status – something that was uncertain at the beginning of the campaign period – the results are a significant setback for the NDP, having lost nine seats.  It’s an open question if the NDP apparatchiks will learn from this in their upcoming leadership race and what they will do as a party.  Do they want to become a government in the future?  They’ll need to move to the centre and convince Ontarians they are more than a left-wing rump opposition party.

Stephen Del Duca and the Liberals Despite a lot of work, the recruitment of several star candidates, and extraordinary efforts to dig the party out of debt and despair since the 2018 election, the result was a complete disaster for the Liberals that rivals the crashing of the Hindenburg.  The Liberals had high hopes that they could supplant the NDP to form Official Opposition.  Certainly, they would beat out the NDP in the popular vote by a sizable margin?  The Liberals would have a more than reasonable chance they would reach 20 seats or greater!  At and bare minimum, the party would double their seat count from 7 to 14!!  

None of that happened. 

Despite his substantial political acumen, organization skills, and personal effort, Steven Del Duca simply did not connect with voters.  The party platform did not have any campaign themes that resonated with the public, and the Liberals were indistinguishable from the NDP and Greens on many items.  One dollar transit fares?  No one asked for that, and no one cared.  Cancelling Ford’s highway projects to invest in public education?  There are less students today than there were when the Liberals were in power, and investment in public education has never been greater, although the results remain middling and puzzling to many parents.  

While the leader’s inability to connect (this time) had an impact on his own electoral fortunes in Vaughan-Woodbridge, it also meant that the aircover of the central campaign that normally lifts candidates up in winning ridings did not materialize.  The Party did a great job finding stars that ran for all the right reasons, but with no aircover or ground support, these candidates were on their own to fight for every vote themselves.  In short, the Liberal campaign was a brutal and painful failure.  

Even with Steven Del Duca at the helm, the Liberal party was banking left, abandoning the side of the party that has traditionally delivered success.  For the Liberals to be successful in the future, they need to become a balanced, centrist party that Ontarians feel will serve as a competent and responsible option for Ontarians (and shedding the tarnish and stink from a series of scandals and policy mishaps that continue to anger many voters).  Any rush to a leadership contest is an absolutely terrible idea for the party, as no sane or competent person would ever consider taking the helm of what is left of the Liberals.  The party needs time (two years at least!), healing, an exorcism of the elements that make it irrelevant to Ontario voters, and a new leader that is a charismatic and likable alternative to Doug Ford.  The future of the party depends on getting this right.

There’s no crying in baseball, but its three strikes and you’re out.  Look at the Lib-Dems in the UK to see what can happen. 

The ‘meh election, and voter turnout Perhaps the most disappointing number coming out of the election results last night is the number of Ontarians that bothered to cast a ballot.  Only 43.5 percent of eligible voters did their civic duty, a whopping 13.5 percent lower than the 2018 election.  While Ukrainians are dying to save their country and their freedom to choose their own political leaders, the complacency in the Ontario electorate is very disappointing – not because of the outcome, but because of the number of people that bothered to spend 15 minutes voting, rather than 2 hours on their Facebook or Instagram accounts.  There’s likely a number of factors why this was so low, COVID fatigue being among the key reasons, and a general comfort with the direction Ford is taking Ontario (even if some didn’t want to vote for him).  

What to expect in the weeks and months ahead After an exhausting campaign (they always are), the Ford Conservatives are expected to announce a new Cabinet in the coming weeks with a number of notable changes and some newcomers to the Cabinet table.  

For the NDP and Liberals, they will need to select an interim leader, and undertake a harsh and objective analysis of what worked, and what clearly didn’t work at all, so that they can rebuild their parties for the future.  

The House is expected to come back in the fall, and the Conservatives will focus their attention on reintroducing the Budget, which will serve as their roadmap for the early part of their mandate.  

If you would like more information please contact Chris Holz chrish@campbellstrategies.com.

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