Ontario's election heading to a big PC victory
Doug Ford on track to win a second term as premier
When the votes are counted after today’s Ontario provincial election is over, Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives are very likely to emerge with another majority government — and perhaps one that is even bigger than the one Ford’s PCs secured back in 2018.
It hasn’t been the most dynamic campaign, with the polls showing no significant movement for any of the parties. When I launched the Poll Tracker at the campaign’s outset, the PCs led with around 38% support, followed by the Liberals at 29%, the New Democrats at 23% and the Greens at 5%.
The final update posted just after midnight put the PCs around 39%, the Liberals at 26%, the NDP at 23% and the Greens at 7%.
That means no one moved by more than three points over the course of the campaign, though what movement did occur increased the PCs’ lead by a margin of four points. And, with a lead of 13 points across the province on average, that could give the PCs more seats than in 2018, when they defeated the New Democrats by a margin of just seven points.
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So, there might not be much intrigue going into today’s election. It would take an enormous polling miss for the Progressive Conservatives to lose this thing, and only a very big error for them to be knocked down into minority government territory.
But there’s still plenty to look out for tonight. Let’s break it down by party.
A similar majority or a bigger one for Ford?
The last set of polls conducted this week published by 10 different pollsters has awarded the PCs between 34% and 41% support — and eight have put it at a narrower band of between 39% and 41%. That’s pretty much exactly where the PCs ended up in 2018, though their polls at campaign’s end at the time put them a bit lower than that.
Any way you slice it, getting close to 40% of the vote in Ontario is going to get you a majority government. And when none of the other parties are anywhere close to 30%, that majority could be crushing.
For the PCs, their majority path is pretty simple. They win the rural seats in southwestern, eastern and central Ontario and add to that the suburban seats in and around Toronto and smaller cities like Ottawa and Kitchener.
That path looks solid going into election day, with big leads in southwestern and eastern Ontario and a double-digit margin in most polls in the Greater Toronto Area. That means the PCs can hold not only their York region seats to the north of Toronto, but those in Durham, Peel and Halton as well. Any losses the PCs might suffer to the Liberals in places like Scarborough and Mississauga could be compensated by gains at the expense of the New Democrats in Brampton and Oshawa.
It’s difficult to see a weakness for the PCs. Very few polls have put the other parties in striking distance. It’s possible we could see the PCs under-perform in some GTA ridings and they lose a bunch by narrow margins. But neither the Liberals nor the NDP are showing much momentum in this final stretch, so any surprise upsets would indeed be surprises.
If anything, it seems more likely that the Liberals and NDP will be fighting amongst themselves in red-orange ridings, which will have lots of implications for who finishes second but will do little to change who finishes first.
So, the PCs’ front runner strategy of a low-key, low-drama campaign looks likely to pay off. And don’t be surprised if the PCs beat their polls and win even more seats than some of the projections (including my own) are forecasting. Why? A low-turnout election is good for the incumbent, especially when that incumbent is supported by high-turnout populations — such as older Ontarians, who continue to back the Progressive Conservatives in big numbers.
Will the NDP save face?
New Democrats were hopeful that this would be the election that could get them back into power, even if it required the support of the Liberals in a minority legislature. Instead, the NDP is likely headed for another four years on the opposition benches.
The good news is that it will probably be the benches directly across from the premier rather than off in the corner.
The NDP just never gained traction in this campaign, trailing behind the Liberals in virtually every single poll published over the last four weeks. The last round of polls were unanimous in where the party sits, with every pollster giving the New Democrats between 22% and 25% support.
For Andrea Horwath, that puts her back to square one. She got 23% of the vote in her first campaign in 2011 and 24% in her second campaign in 2014. The 34% in her third campaign in 2018 stands out, but it won’t be matched in 2022.
With these kinds of numbers, it is hard to imagine that Horwath will get a fifth kick at the can — and one might wonder why she would want another one after 13 years as leader of the Ontario New Democrats. But, rather than resign in defeat, Horwath might still be able to hand the official opposition role to her successor.
That’s because the NDP’s support has proven to be robust in key parts of the province. It’s down across the board, granted, but the NDP is still polling around 30% in both the Hamilton-Niagara area and in northern Ontario, and is only a little shy of that number in the southwest.
The New Democrats have reasonable hopes of being able to retain a lot of their seats in these regions where they have solid bases — places like Hamilton, London, Windsor, the northeast and the far north. Add a few extra seats in Kitchener-Waterloo and downtown Toronto to that, and the NDP should be able to clear the 20-seat mark that probably keeps them in second place.
It could go sideways pretty easily. The NDP’s numbers in Toronto have not been great and late-campaign polling in the north has been pretty horrendous. If the Liberals steal a few seats away in Toronto and the PCs score some upsets in the north, this could prove to be a very bad night for the NDP.
Either way, it is unlikely to be a good night. But beating low expectations could be enough to salvage a moral victory of some sort.
The election that got away
The Liberals could be in for a rough night.
It won’t be as bad as 2018, when the Liberals won less than 20% of the vote and just seven seats, the worst result in the party’s long history. But at least in 2018 the Liberals were expecting catastrophe. In 2022, the Liberals had reason to hope for much better.
The party was in decent shape in the polls heading into the campaign, knocking on the door of 30% support and thus a two-horse race with the PCs. Steven Del Duca was little known, sure, but a good campaign could get his personal numbers to match the strength of the Liberal brand.
Instead, polls suggest Del Duca is as popular (or unpopular) as he was at the beginning, still trailing Horwath in preferred premier polling and underwater in his favourability ratings. The Liberals had an opportunity here, and it looks like it will be wasted.
The party does have a good shot at finishing second in the province wide vote. Of 10 pollsters who released numbers from the last week of the campaign, the Liberals were in second place according to nine of them. It’s a narrow edge, though, with the gap averaging just two points. Nine of 10 pollsters put the Liberals between 24% and 27%.
If the party can finish ahead of the NDP in the vote share, that will be the thinnest of silver linings. Finishing ahead of them in the seat count would be a more meaningful accomplishment.
But it won’t be easy. The Liberals’ support has faltered in the final days in places where it needed to hold up: eastern Ontario, Toronto and the GTA. It’s not so clear now that the Liberals can make more than a few gains in these areas. Finishing second required the Liberals to go through the NDP in central Toronto but also to pick up PC seats in Scarborough and Mississauga. The PCs’ strong campaign polling finish in and around Toronto puts those gains in doubt.
So where else can the Liberals look? Not the north, where their numbers have sunk just as much as the NDP’s. Not in the southwest, where the Liberals have barely a pulse. A few decent local campaigns and lucky splits could boost the Liberals into the high teens, maybe even into the 20s in the seat count. But, barring a surprise outcome, it could be a pretty rough night for the Liberals.
Greens could be the only happy opposition party
There’s much less at stake for the Greens than their two opposition counterparts. Mike Schreiner is almost certain to win his seat in Guelph again and the best case scenario for the Greens is to win a second seat. It’s either a great night for the Greens or a bit of a letdown. But even that latter scenario will probably still feature some improvement.
At the personal level, Schreiner is the only leader who used this campaign to his advantage. Ford, Horwath and Del Duca are seen about as positively as they were before this campaign began, but Schreiner (at least in some surveys) is now the only one with a net positive rating.
The polls gives the Greens between 4% and 9%, with the 4% to 6% range perhaps a little more likely than the 7% to 9% range. The party will be hoping to improve upon their 4.6% support from 2018 and take a serious run at Parry Sound–Muskoka. The uptick in PC support at the tail end of the campaign makes Parry Sound–Muskoka a tougher upset to score, but anybody in that riding who has been paying attention to the election has undoubtedly heard that the Greens have a shot. That belief is a prerequisite to any Green victory in Canada.
Even if the Greens don’t win the riding, though, signs of progress could be enough. The party wasn’t close to winning a second seat in 2018 and it was even further away from winning a third. If Schreiner is playing the long game, getting close to winning a second seat this time might mean winning that second seat next time.
If, instead, the Greens under-perform their polls — as they habitually do across the country — this could turn out to be much ado about nothing, in which case we have to ask the question once again: what’s the future for the Green Party?
Will the New Blues or Ontario Party matter?
Probably not, let’s be honest.
The PCs are too far ahead for any potential split on the right to really cost them many, if any, seats.
The New Blues and the Ontario Party are minor parties to the right of the Progressive Conservatives led by aspirants to the 2020 Conservative leadership title (Jim Karahalios for the former, Derek Sloan for the latter party). The New Blues have run nearly a full slate of candidates, while the Ontario Party has over 100 candidates on the ballot.
Both parties are fishing in the same pond as Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party (and, according to one poll, supporters of the New Blues are similar in profile to those of the PPC).
Most pollsters do not include the New Blues or Ontario Party in their surveys, but among those who do the New Blues have scored around 2% to 5% and the Ontario Party between 1% and 2%.
Regionally, the parties have polled best in southwestern Ontario. This makes sense, as Karahalios (and his wife, former PC MPP Belinda Karahalios) are both running in the Kitchener area and Rick Nicholls, another former PC MPP, is running for the Ontario Party in Chatham-Kent–Leamington, just east of Windsor. The Kitchener-Waterloo and Windsor-Essex areas were also the regions with some of the highest PPC numbers in the last election.
They are a minor storyline at best, but keep an eye out to see if the Karahaliosi cost the PCs seats in the potentially tight Kitchener battlegrounds. Beyond that, I think we need another election cycle to determine whether these parties (and the PPC) have any staying power.
Why they play the games
Are the results pre-ordained? Not at all. Yes, the polls have been pretty adamant that Doug Ford is going to win this election. But the scale of that victory — and the ever-present danger of a polling miss — still provides some suspense.
The futures of the NDP and Liberals (and their leaders) will also be significantly impacted by tonight’s results, as will the political fate of hundreds of other candidates, some of whom could soon become household names.
So, tune in tonight to watch the results. I’m taking part in the CBC’s election night special starting at 8 PM ET. I’ll be the guy at the map trying to explain what it all means in real time.
Thanks for reading, watching and listening these past four weeks. There will be plenty more to come from The Writ as I parse through the results and track what comes next in politics in Ontario and around the country!
In case you missed it, Phillipe J. Fournier of 338Canada joined me earlier this week for our last take on the Ontario election: