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Who Won it All? When You Need to Know About the Ontario Election

Well, it’s official. He got it done: Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives won decisively, capturing 83 seats and an even larger majority. The NDP maintained their status as the official opposition. Two leaders resigned last night, on election night. And no one, no one, predicted the Liberals would once again fail to get official party status. 

Throughout the election, Ford and the Tories numbers held constant, according to the Ontario poll from Léger on April 1. The final numbers are just the littlest bit higher – proving Ford’s very smart team ran one of the cleanest front-runner campaigns in recent Canadian political history.

So what changed? Not much. The parties ended up close to where they started, at least according to the polls: in the popular vote, the PCs garnered 40.8 per cent, the Liberals earned 23.8 per cent with the NDP slightly behind at 23.7 per cent – but thanks to great NDP vote efficiency the numbers didn’t translate into seats for the Liberals  In a significant upset for the Grits, leader Steven Del Duca lost his seat. The old adage goes that low turnout favours the incumbent parties – and yesterday’s results proved no different. In the absence of a “vote him out” election, the progressive parties lost many seats they otherwise might have flipped. The overall turnout to the polls was reported to be 44 per cent, a significant decrease from 2018’s 58 per cent voter turnout.

Be sure to listen to McMillan Vantage Vice President Karl Baldauf weigh in on what this victory means for Ontario in a 1:1 interview with Matt Galloway on CBC Radio One’s The Current this morning.

What are the top 5 decisions the transition team will have to make

As early as next week, the Premier will likely announce a transition team of five to ten people. This team will be made up of close confidants who are respected, experienced, and will provide advice on both Cabinet composition as well as the first several months of what the new government’s mandate should prioritize legislatively. Here are some central questions the transition team will be asking themselves:

  1. How do the PCs deal with caucus management through the appointment of Cabinet? With an even larger majority, caucus management will be an issue for this government. Do they also try and bring the independent MPP from Haldimand—Norfolk into caucus, who had previously been a long-time PC caucus staff member?
  2. The Tories just won a massive majority and will be enjoying a honeymoon period. How does the government get some difficult things done during that honeymoon period, and what portfolios will be included in those priorities?
  3. This was a hard fought election campaign. Should the PCs bring the legislature back to pass the budget or do you rely upon the Supply Act and supplementary estimates that the government went through last fall and work with bureaucrats to push out transfer payments agreements, while delaying the return of the legislature until August/September?
  4. In an environment where PCs promised the moon, how do they reign in spending?
  5. What tone does the Ford government set in their second mandate with the Trudeau government? Recognizing that most pollsters suggest 20-25 per cent of people who voted for Trudeau then voted for Ford, how will the province retain that overlap to sustain an intergovernmental relationship but likewise blunt the provincial Liberals?

Who won / lost and how will that impact Cabinet and policy decisions?

All PC Cabinet Ministers that sought re-election were re-elected and since the 2018 election, with key seats being flipped blue:

  • PC candidate, Toronto city councilor and nephew of Premier Doug Ford, Michael Ford, picked up York–South Weston, a historically NDP/Liberal riding.
  • For the first time in 32 years, Timmins will not be represented by New Democrat Gilles Bisson, but by Timmins mayor George Pirie.
  • The PC’s swept Brampton, successfully picking up Brampton East, Brampton North, and Brampton Centre, serving a tough blow to the NDP.
  • PC’s picked up Windsor-Tecumseh and Essex which were New Democratic Party strongholds.
  • In Thunder Bay–Atikokan, PC candidate Kevin Holland has been elected. It was previously a riding held by the NDP, though historically a Liberal seat.
  • The PC’s picked up Hamilton East–Stoney Creek with former Tiger Cat Neil Lumsden. The riding had been an NDP stronghold with Paul Miller serving since 2007.

All of these considerations factor into Cabinet composition:

  • With a big win up north in Timmins and Thunder Bay-Atikokan, do the PCs have a fourth northern Ontario Cabinet Minister? The other three Ministers are very capable and in a normal election there is value in having those ridings represented by Cabinet Ministers.
  • Hamilton and Niagara are an important area of the province with a combined population of over one million people and yet presently have no representation in Cabinet. Will the Tories choose to address that?
  • Southwestern Ontario is a place where the Premier believes his brand of conservatism has a connectivity, and where the Party put a lot of resources into winning Essex and Windsor-Tecumseh. So, they may seek to bolster Cabinet representation here. The government presently has two ministers from southwestern Ontario, though earlier in the mandate they had four, removing Jeff Yurek and Bill Walker last year. There is no Cabinet representation in Kitchener-Waterloo, while the PCs re-won Kitchener South-Hespeler, Cambridge and Kitchener-Conestoga.

From a policy perspective, the party just swept Brampton, so they need to begin to show some demonstrable progress on the 413 to embed loyalty in their new voters there. Their win in Windsor-Tecumseh means they need to deliver on the Windsor hospital, which is at least a billion dollar project. Not to mention their win in Timmins and Thunder Bay-Atikokan means they will need to start delivering on the Ring of Fire.

Looking to the future, as well as they did province-wide, they underperformed in Ottawa, where Liberals held onto their deep regional support. If the Liberals are going to build in the next election, it will need to be a multi-step approach. They will need to take seats away from the Conservatives in Ottawa and take seats from the NDP in Toronto. How seriously does Ford now plan to stunt that growth, and how seriously does Ford re-dedicate himself to appealing to seats that should have been in his coalition of seats like Hamilton and Niagara? The question of where the PCs go from here starts with examining how they stunt opposition growth in areas they still need to work on gaining onside.

Cabinet speculation

Minister of Education Stephen Lecce has proven himself to be a strong communicator and capable at dealing with attacks and stakeholder relations. He is someone seen to be taken under the wing of the Premier and may be given a lateral Cabinet position, despite some controversy during the election campaign.

With Christine Elliott having resigned, the Ministry of Health (one of the biggest senior cabinet portfolios) is up for grabs. Where Trudeau when making his recent federal Cabinet set a benchmark of 50% female representation in Cabinet, the provincial Conservatives do not have such a policy. Nevertheless, we would expect a woman to hold one of the top Cabinet positions and Health is clearly one of them. The two strongest contenders thus far appear to be Sylvia Jones and Caroline Mulroney. They have proven to be both steadfast and strong in their jobs during the last government and were notable team players during the election.

Minister of Finance Peter Bethlenfalvy has proven to be a strong number two as the serious business counterpoint to Ford. Where Ford brings political credibility, Bethlenfalvy and his understanding of markets are exactly what the party needs right now in the Finance portfolio as they try to triangulate massive increases in spending and finding the money to pay for it.

Who hasn’t been in Cabinet but seems to be ready?

Michael Parsa, is a standout we expect to see in Cabinet. Maybe even Robin Martin to stunt the Liberals growth in Toronto, given that the Tories hung onto her seat by a slim margin.

Who is moving up?

Stan Cho is a strong performer and deserves his own portfolio, rather than an Associate Minister portfolio. Prabmeet Sarkaria was important as a confidant of the Premier to be in Treasury Board in advance of the election and at a time when the Premier’s office needed to move their agenda through with relative ease, but his track record at Red Tape demonstrates that he should be an externally focused Minister and so expect him to be moved to a portfolio with a lot of externally facing stakeholder relations.

Michael Tibollo may be rewarded for having defeated Del Duca in Vaughan-Woodbridge by being granted a full Cabinet portfolio, especially with York Region down a senior Cabinet Minister with the retirement of Christine Elliott.

The Premier will likely want to shine a spotlight on at least one new person from the new class of 2022.

What does the outcome mean for opposition parties?

It is clear the outcome of this election has created a great deal of uncertainty for the NDP and Liberals as both Horwath and Del Duca announced their resignation as party leaders last night.

With four elections under her belt, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath is resigning as soon as the NDP picks an interim leader, which party sources say could come within a mere matter of days. Although the NDP were able to retain official opposition status, they failed to expand their number of seats, returning to Queen’s Park with fewer seats than prior to dissolution. With Horwath out, expect an upcoming by-election in her seat. And, of course, there is now an open question of whether Horwath will run for mayor of Hamilton.

With Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca losing his home riding of Vaughan-Woodbridge for a second consecutive election, and the party unable to secure official party status, the disastrous blow of only increasing their seat count by 1 has forced the Liberals to re-evaluate the party’s brand and trajectory in Ontario. The Liberals will need to elect a member from within the caucus if they want to demonstrate they are taking seriously the need for a change in direction. With Vaughan Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua saying on June 2 that he will not be seeking re-election, we may well see Del Duca as well consider a run for municipal politics.

Of course, there’s also the scenario where someone could run for leader of both of these parties.

How do you land your message with government right now? What do you need to prepare to hit the ground running with a new minister and senior staff?

The budget is set, by and large, with the exception of the ODSP change so the horizon for spending decisions is in preparation for the Fall Economic Statement (FES), likely in November. The first month or two will be about Ministers getting up to speed on their portfolios so the summer is the right time to begin to engage around those decisions. Stakeholders will need to move fast to begin to influence the design of mandate letters, the Throne Speech and the FES. The work starts now and McMillan Vantage is well suited to support you.

For more information about Ontario government relations support  from McMillan Vantage, please contact Karl Baldauf or Tausha Michaud.

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