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The Weekly Writ for Aug. 2: So are the Liberals doomed all of a sudden?
Why you should take a breather before changing everything you believe to be true, plus great fundraising for the Conservatives and bad polls for the Liberals.
Welcome to the Weekly Writ, a round-up of the latest federal and provincial polls, election news and political history that lands in your inbox every Wednesday morning.
Well, that escalated quickly.
Two weeks ago, the discussion among Canada’s pundit class (myself included) was about what could and should happen if, after the next election, the Liberals finished just behind the Conservatives in the seat count but could still form a majority with the NDP.
Not much talk about that these days.
Instead, the conventional wisdom has suddenly shifted from a close contest between Justin Trudeau and Pierre Poilievre to one in which the Trudeau Liberals are trailing badly in the polls, the government is now unlikely to be re-elected and the cabinet shuffle from last week was a desperate attempt to right the ship of state that went disastrously off course.
That’s quite a turn. But ask yourself this: has anything materially changed in the last two weeks?
Well, the numbers have. Abacus Data released a poll on cabinet shuffle day that set the agenda, as Trudeau’s trip to Rideau Hall took place on a day in which the Liberals were trailing the Conservatives by 10 points, a psychological threshold that makes for a very clear-cut story. Most reports I read or heard cast the shuffle in the light of the Liberals’ bad polling.
Those numbers were then corroborated by a Léger poll published by our friend Philippe J. Fournier. Though it was conducted a few weeks before the Abacus survey, Léger’s poll had the Conservatives nine points ahead.
From the Liberals’ perspective, both of these polls are among the worst we’ve seen from these reputable pollsters for years and, by my calculation, would put the Conservatives knocking on the door of (but not necessarily getting to) a majority government.
Those results can’t be dismissed, and it is very possible that the Liberals are in such dire straits. Indeed, that is a reasonable conclusion to draw.
But when the narrative shifts gears that quickly over such a small number of data points, we might want to pump the brakes a little bit.
Now, I’m not going to sugar-coat things for the Liberals. As you’ll see below, I detail just how bad these numbers are for the party. But, if there’s anything that I hope I’ve been consistent with over my career of watching and commenting on the polls, it’s to counsel against over-reacting (and, when appropriate, under-reacting) to some new numbers. Especially when there is nothing urgent — like, oh, an election — happening within the next few days.
That fact is, we’ve seen similar numbers before. Abacus had the Conservatives ahead nationally by eight points in January and February. Léger had a six-point lead for the Conservatives as recently as April. Last fall, a few surveys gave the Conservatives leads of between seven and nine points in Ontario.
Plus, these numbers come as the rolling Nanos Research poll has consistently given the Conservatives a lead of six-to-eight points since June, the same kind of lead Nanos was awarding the Conservatives at various times in January, March and May.
That the Liberals are trailing the Conservatives is now obvious — and it has been that way for the last year. The range of polls only extends from a strong Conservative lead to a statistical tie, suggesting that the environment we’re in remains a modest Conservative lead of about four-to-six points, perhaps now widening to five-to-seven points. That being the case, we should regularly expect polls to show the Conservatives ahead by nine or 10 points, or the two parties neck-and-neck.
But the timing of the Abacus release, coupled by the corroboration of the Léger poll, has produced a narrative shift that may or may not prove to be predictive (or self-reinforcing) of a serious negative trend for the Liberals. That both Abacus and Léger gave the Conservatives a solid lead in Ontario and erased the Liberals’ lead in Atlantic Canada should be setting off alarm bells in the PMO. The Liberals remain very competitive in Quebec, but those Ontario and Atlantic numbers would make it impossible for the Liberals to have a hope of matching, let alone surpassing, the Conservatives in the seat count.
I’ve also heard discussion (and received questions) concerning the different stories being told by the polls and the recent byelections. In the quartet of byelections in June and the more recent contest in July, the Liberals have held their own, suggesting that the party is not bleeding the kind of support that the polls suggest they are.
I do think that is a data point worth paying attention to that counsels against changing all of our priors over a few polls. But those byelection results will not stand up against a consistent polling trend that turns against the Liberals. I’ll be the first to defend the significance and importance of byelections, but I can’t say that the results in Calgary Heritage tell me much about how the Liberals are doing in Ontario.
Byelections have proven predictive of directional trends in subsequent general elections, but the research I’ve done looking at the history of byelections in Canada shows that they predict whether a party will gain or lose support in the next general election only two-thirds of the time. One-third of the time, they predict squat.
All this to say that if your prior position was that the next election was a toss-up between the Liberals and the Conservatives, the last few weeks should probably shift your view to seeing the Conservatives as the favourites, but by no means a lock to win (the seat math is still tricky for them).
I’m simply not convinced that things have dramatically changed over the last two weeks. The Liberals should be worried, but suddenly assigning them the title of “dead government walking” because of a couple of polls might be a tad premature.
Now, to what is in this week’s instalment of the Weekly Writ:
News on the Conservatives’ fundraising dominance, what to make of the results of last week’s Ontario byelections and a new research paper on race and voting.
Polls show the Conservatives with a big lead, plus Doug Ford’s PCs are ahead in Ontario.
The Conservatives knocking on the door of a majority government if the election were held today.
A Regina byelection in this week’s riding profile.
The transformative 1943 Ontario election in the #EveryElectionProject.
IN THE NEWS
Conservatives open up widest money lead ever
While I urge caution on interpreting the polls, I would urge panic for the Liberals when it comes to fundraising.
The Conservatives raised $7,964,000 in the second quarter (Q2) of 2023 from nearly 47,000 individual contributions. That is up significantly from the $4.4 million raised in Q2 2022, though that was in the midst of a leadership race when donor money was heading elsewhere.
The fundraising ability of Poilievre’s crew is remarkable. He has led the party now for three full fundraising quarters, and those three quarters rank #1, #2 and #3 on the all-time list for the Conservatives outside of an election year. The $16.3 million raised by the Conservatives so far in 2023 ranks only second to the run-up to the 2019 election, when the Conservatives raised $16.5 million.
That does, I suppose, urge more caution. The Conservatives didn’t win the 2019 election despite out-raising the Liberals by a significant margin. Money talks, but it doesn’t say everything.
The Liberals took in $3,191,000 from almost 31,000 contributions, an increase on the $2.8 million the Liberals raised in Q2 2022. While it pales in comparison to the Conservative haul, this was the best Q2 for the Liberals outside of an election year since 2016. The Liberals have raised $6.8 million so far this year, up from $6 million raised in the first two quarters of last year. Again, that’s their best start to a non-election year since 2016, shortly after the party first came to power.
Relative to their own performances these are decent numbers for the Liberals. Relative to the Conservatives, though, they aren’t decent. The Conservatives have raised $9.5 million more than the Liberals so far in 2023. That’s the widest gap ever to start a year, beating the previous record of $9.3 million set by Stephen Harper’s Conservatives in 2011. That year didn’t end so well for the Liberals.
The New Democrats raised $1,375,000 from about 17,000 contributions, up from the $1.2 million raised in Q2 2022. This was a good quarter for the NDP, as their only better Q2s in recent years were in 2019 and 2021, when the party was revving up for an election. The NDP has raised $2.6 million so far in 2023, a little better than where they were at this point in 2022.
The Greens raised $408,000, their worst Q2 since 2013, while the Bloc Québécois took in $240,000. The Bloc’s $562,000 haul for the first half of 2023 is below what it managed over the previous two years. As of writing, the Q2 results for the People’s Party had not been posted.
Oh, and past Conservative leadership contestants still raising money to pay off debt include Peter MacKay ($133,000 raised in Q2 2023), Scott Aitchison ($42,500) and Roman Baber ($24,000).
Ontario Liberals win two byelections as Tories fight amongst themselves
Last Thursday, the Ontario Liberals pulled off a bit of a coup when they won re-election in their stronghold of Scarborough–Guildwood and flipped a seat in eastern Ontario that had been painted Tory blue for a century.
That latter win in Kanata–Carleton was an upset — not in the sense that it was unexpected, but in the sense that this is a seat the Progressive Conservatives can normally rely upon. The riding has changed over the years, but its current boundaries cover territory that has voted for the PCs (and the Conservatives before them) in every general election since 1923. The last non-Tory to represent this part of the province was a United Farmer.
We shouldn’t over-state the importance of this win, though. The Ontario Liberals are the third-place party at Queen’s Park with just nine seats and are in the midst of a leadership race. Their win here can largely be credited to Karen McCrimmon, the former Liberal MP for the riding who opted to run provincially in this byelection after stepping aside from federal politics ahead of the 2021 election.
McCrimmon took 34.4% of the vote, a far cry from the 43% she took in her last victory as a federal Liberal in 2019. Still, this represented a big jump of 11 points for the Liberals since the last provincial election. It looks like a nearly one-to-one trade with the PCs, whose candidate (Sean Webster) did 11.3 points worse than Merrilee Fullerton did last time. The 32.3% of the vote taken by the PCs here is their worst ever.
A bigger surprise than McCrimmon winning might have been the performance of the NDP’s Melissa Coenraad. She took 29.7% of the vote, a gain of 5.5 points in what turned out to be a three-way race. That result is even better than what the NDP did in Kanata–Carleton in 2018, when the party was at its recent high watermark.
Jennifer Boudreau of the New Blues dropped slightly to 2%, while the Greens’ Steven Warren was down 4.1 points from the party’s performance here in 2022. Turnout in the byelection was 35.1%, not great but respectable enough for a provincial byelection in July.
Turnout in Scarborough–Guildwood was far worse, with just 21.8% of eligible voters casting a ballot.
The Liberals’ Andrea Hazell was able to hold on to the seat with 36.6% of the vote, a drop of 9.7 points since 2022. That’s not terrific for the Liberals and puts an asterisk on the Liberals’ two wins — if the party’s support dropped nearly 10 points in Scarborough–Guildwood, it stands to reason that the Liberals probably would not have been able to win in Kanata–Carleton without a star candidate on the ballot.
But a drop for the Liberals here did not correspond with good news for the PCs, who dropped 1.9 points themselves to 29.6%. Gary Crawford, a Scarborough city councillor, was supposed to be a star candidate for the PCs, but he doesn’t seem to have helped at all. In fact, his performance here is below how the party did both in 2018 and 2022, elections in which they formed government. It is more like the results the PCs put up here in 2007, 2011 and 2014 — elections in which they lost.
Here again the New Democrats did surprisingly well, with Thadsha Navaneethan gaining 9.5 points for the party and finishing a strong third with 26.2%. That didn’t quite match the NDP’s 27.6% from 2018, but was nevertheless an impressive result.
The Stop the New Sex-Ed Agenda party finished fourth with 3.3%, making the finishes for the New Blues and (especially) Greens at 1% rather embarrassing.
Also embarrassing: the post-results gossip. Someone within the federal Conservative Party felt it was really important for everyone to know that Pierre Poilievre’s Conservatives had purposely tried to screw over Doug Ford’s PCs by denying them assistance in Kanata–Carleton. This was apparently an act of retribution for the PCs denying the Conservatives help in the recent federal byelection in Oxford.
How important did this “senior federal Conservative” think it was to get this message of internecine fighting out? Within minutes of the results being finalized, Laura Stone of The Globe and Mail, Robert Benzie of the Toronto Star and Colin D’Mello of Global News were tweeting it out. Not once, not twice, but thrice did this senior Conservative pick up the phone to reach out to some of the top Queen’s Park reporters to spread the word.
Let’s be honest — if I’m the Ford PCs, I would have wanted to stay out of the Oxford byelection, too. There was controversy about the nomination process, as a candidate close to the Poilievre crew (Arpan Khanna) was parachuted-in from the GTA. I’m not sure why the Ford PCs would want to pick a side in a divisive local bun fight.
I’m a little amazed that anyone thought it was a good idea to make a private beef between the Ford PCs and the Poilievre Conservatives so public, with a gleeful vindictiveness that should impress no one. How it helps the federal Conservatives is beyond me, as the Ontario PCs are at least as popular as the Conservatives in the province and, unlike the federal organization, have actually won an election in Ontario in the last decade.
From the Ivory Tower: The role of race in voting patterns
An interesting-looking article is in early preview in the Canadian Journal of Political Science. The full article is available to university students and faculty through their library, but the rest of us will have to wait. The abstract sounds intriguing, however, as Isaac Haie of Occidental College in Los Angeles looked at the impact on voting intentions after Jagmeet Singh, “the first non-white leader of a nationally competitive Canadian political party,” took over the NDP. Here’s a bit of the abstract:
I show that NDP vote choice polarized on the basis of racial attitudes following Singh's ascension to party leader. Voters with cold feelings toward racial minorities were less likely to vote for the NDP in 2019 and 2021 than in comparable historical elections. In contrast, there is no significant difference between 2019/2021 and prior elections in support for the Liberals and Conservatives among such voters. These results suggest that racial attitudes are salient in Canadian elections and that national parties may face an electoral penalty when selecting non-white party leaders.
I’ll keep an eye on this article to see if it will be put in open access in the coming weeks.
THIS WEEK’S POLLS
Conservatives finally break through in Ontario?
The two national surveys published last week had great news for the Conservatives and disastrous news for the Liberals, with the Conservatives opening up a nine or 10 point lead. And, unlike other surveys that have put the Conservatives ahead nationally, the regional results were nearly as positive for them as the toplines.
Nationally, Abacus gave the Conservatives 38% support, a jump of four points since the end of June. The Liberals were down one point to 28%, followed by the NDP at 18% (-2), the Bloc at 7% (unchanged), the Greens at 5% (also unchanged) and the PPC at 4% (-1).
Léger had the Conservatives at 37%, up six points since the end of May, with the Liberals down five points to 28%. The NDP was down two to 17%, followed by the Bloc at 8% (-1), the Greens at 5% (-1) and the PPC at 3% (+1).
It’s the regional results that really stand out. The Conservatives held their usual lead in Western Canada, but the results in Ontario and Atlantic Canada were particularly good for Poilievre.
Abacus gave the Conservatives 39% support in Ontario, six points ahead of the Liberals. Léger also put the Conservatives at 39%, but ahead by nine points. When Abacus and Léger were both in the field at around the same time in late May and early June, the Conservatives only had a lead of one or two points in the province.
The one-point lead awarded to the Liberals in Atlantic Canada is also a big shift, as in the spring the two polling firms awarded the Liberals a wider lead of nine (Abacus) and 27 (Léger) points. That’s a huge change.
Quebec’s results were more typical, while British Columbia provides the point of disagreement. Abacus gives the Conservatives a 14 point lead (over the NDP), while Léger has the Liberals ahead by two.
B.C. apart, these results would really eat away at the Liberals’ seat count in Ontario and Atlantic Canada. Using a simple swing model, Léger’s numbers would award the Conservatives 68 seats in Ontario, with just 42 going to the Liberals, while the Atlantic count would be 18 Liberal seats and 13 for the Conservatives. The Abacus numbers would produce the same results in Atlantic Canada, but a smaller Conservative margin in Ontario (61 seats to 49). The better B.C. results for Poilievre would make up the difference, however, and in both scenarios the Conservatives would be around the 160-seat mark, only a few shy of a majority government.
With both polls, the Liberals would be down about 40 seats from where they currently stand, with no realistic hope of holding on to government in a minority parliament.
The Léger poll only contained voting intentions results, but the Abacus survey paints a picture of problem after problem for the Liberals. Government disapproval is at 51%, as high as it has been in recent years, with approval at just 32%. Justin Trudeau’s positive impressions are down to 29%, with 51% holding a negative impression of the prime minister. Only 19% believe that the Liberals should be re-elected, while 50% say it is time for a change and there is a good alternative available.
It’s not all a slam-dunk for Pierre Poilievre, however. The spike in Conservative support is not coinciding with a spike in his personal ratings, as 31% of Canadians hold a positive impression of him, virtually unchanged from when he first became leader. His negative ratings stand at 37%, again largely unchanged over the last year (though down from the high of 40% he reached in mid-June).
Nevertheless, this Abacus poll is dreadful for the Liberals, with the trend lines all heading in the wrong direction for them — and in the worst places.
POLLING NEWS BRIEFS
Also from Abacus Data, Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives lead in Ontario by 17 points, with 41% support to just 24% for the Liberals and 23% for the NDP, virtually identical to where things stood in the 2022 provincial election. The results don’t quite match up with the PCs’ poor showing in the two byelections, but the local dynamics at play probably had a lot to do with that.
IF THE ELECTION WERE HELD TODAY
The Conservatives find themselves knocking on the door of a majority government, now with an estimated at 161 seats. That’s thanks largely to significant gains at the expense of the Liberals in Ontario and smaller gains from the NDP in British Columbia.
Despite the byelections, the Abacus numbers point to a better overall picture for Doug Ford’s PCs. They are back up to 79 seats, with the NDP at 30, the Liberals at 12 and the Greens at two.
The following seat estimates are derived from a uniform swing model that is based on trends in recent polls as well as minor tweaks and adjustments. Rather than the product of a statistical model, these estimates are my best guess of what an election held today would produce, based both on the data and my own experience observing dozens of elections since 2008.
Changes are compared to last week. Parties are ordered according to their finish in the previous election (with some exceptions for minor parties).
RIDING OF THE WEEK
Regina Walsh Acres (Saskatchewan)
In the three provincial byelections taking place in Saskatchewan on August 10, the focus will primarily be on the two Regina seats the governing Saskatchewan Party won by small margins in 2020. Of those two, Regina Coronation Park was the closest, decided by just five points in the last election and by an even smaller margin in the one before that. If any of these three ridings are going to flip to the New Democrats, it is Regina Coronation Park.
But Regina Walsh Acres will still be one to watch.
Derek Meyers won this seat for the Sask. Party with 46.6% of the vote in 2020, replacing former Sask. Party MLA Warren Steinley, who had made the jump to federal politics. An up-and-comer, Meyers’s political career was tragically cut short when he passed away from cancer earlier this year.
Kelly Hardy of the NDP came second with 37.7%, followed by Independent candidate Sandra Morin, who finished with 11.8%, and Ken Grey of the Progressive Conservatives with 3.9%.
Morin was the NDP candidate (and a former NDP cabinet minister) before then-leader Ryan Meili vetoed her nomination. Morin ran as an Independent, complicating the electoral math here. Some of Morin’s vote would have otherwise gone to the NDP. Had there not been the nomination controversy, the margin in Regina Walsh Acres might have been even closer.
The Sask. Party has held this riding since 2011, but prior to that the New Democrats held sway here, winning every election between 1986 and 2007 (though in that last campaign the Sask. Party didn’t have a candidate here).
This riding in northwestern Regina is mostly suburban and had a mix of polls won by the NDP and Sask. Party in 2020. The NDP’s strength lies mostly south of 9th Avenue North, closer to the city centre, while the Sask. Party does best on the outskirts of the city.
The most recent polling by Insightrix Research puts the NDP ahead of the Sask. Party by six points in Regina, representing a swing of seven points since the last election when the Sask. Party won the city by about one percentage point.
But the 44% recorded by Insightrix represents a small drop for the NDP, who took 46% of the vote in Regina in 2020. It’s difficult to know exactly what to take from the numbers, as the poll awarded 13% to the PCs. The party took only 3% of the vote in the city in the last election.
The sample size in Regina was small, so we shouldn’t lean too heavily on the results. But if we assume that a lot of that PC vote isn’t real — brand confusion with the federal Conservatives might be inflating the PC numbers — then Regina hasn’t shifted very dramatically. Covering that 8.9-point margin from 2020 won’t be easy for the NDP, even with the help of some of that Morin vote.
Tasked with holding off the NDP is the Sask. Party’s Nevin Markwart, who played 309 games in the NHL between 1983 and 1992, mostly for the Boston Bruins and also the Calgary Flames. Since retirement from professional hockey, he has worked in the investment and cybersecurity sectors.
Elementary school teacher Jared Clarke is running for the NDP, while Indigenous activist Joseph Reynolds is the Green candidate. Rose Buscholl, the interim leader of the Saskatchewan PCs, is running here. Her result will provide a reality check on where the party actually stands in Regina — and perhaps beyond.
(ALMOST) ON THIS DAY in the #EveryElectionProject
The Big Blue Machine revs up
August 4, 1943
Wars are transformative moments in history, and the Ontario election of 1943, taking place just as the tide of the Second World War was turning in the Allies’ favour, was a transformative moment for Ontario.
Not only did the election gave birth to a new political dynasty, it also inaugurated a new party system that has survived in Ontario to this day.
Even before the war started, Ontario had been going through a period of turmoil. The Great Depression had impacted the province like everywhere else, and helped bring to power the charismatic (and some would say demagogic) Mitchell Hepburn, a populist with a volatile personality — and a colourful personal life. Though a Liberal premier, Hepburn would quickly become the nemesis of Liberal prime minister Mackenzie King.
After initially working together once Hepburn had come to power, the two would eventually come to hate each other. Hepburn felt that King interfered too much in his bailiwick. The paranoid King saw in Hepburn a rival who was continually trying to bring him down and take his spot at the head of the Liberal Party and the country.
When Hepburn joined Quebec premier Maurice Duplessis in criticizing King’s prosecution of the war effort, the prime minister pulled out all the stops to defeat Duplessis in the 1939 Quebec election and subsequently took his own national victory in 1940 as a rebuke of Hepburn’s attacks.
Eventually, Hepburn’s erratic and hard-living style was impacting his leadership of the Ontario Liberals as well as his own health, and he stepped down as premier in 1942 (though he stayed on as the provincial treasurer). By then, though, Hepburn had almost gone entirely over to the other side, campaigning with federal Conservative leader Arthur Meighen in the York South byelection (which Meighen lost) and saying he would vote for John Bracken, Meighen’s replacement as leader, in the next federal campaign. When Hepburn likened King’s political tactics to Adolf Hitler’s, the Ontario Liberals had finally had enough and Gordon Conant, Hepburn’s ally and choice as interim successor, removed Hepburn from cabinet.
As the date for the Liberal leadership approached, the divisions within the Liberal Party were coming to a head. Conant, claiming nervous exhaustion, removed himself from contention and checked himself into a hospital. Delegates chose Harry Nixon, who had brought the remnants of the old United Farmers and Progressives into the Liberal Party in the 1930s, as the new leader and premier of the province.
Nixon had King’s support, and the prime minister saw in his victory a deliverance from the Hepburn menace, a “remarkable evidence of the moral forces that work in the unseen realm, and of the vindication of right in the end.” King also advised that Nixon go to the polls as soon as possible, and Nixon called an election shortly after he was sworn in as premier.
But Nixon’s decisive leadership victory did not heal the divides within the Liberal Party, and the organizational links between the provincial and federal wings had been severed. Hepburn wouldn’t go away either, and he ran as an Independent Liberal in his Elgin riding.
While the Liberals were tearing themselves apart, the Conservative opposition was getting its act together. Now under the leadership of First World War veteran George Drew and re-branded the Progressive Conservative Party (Bracken, a Progressive premier in Manitoba, had accepted the national leadership of the party on the condition that the name be changed), the Tories had developed a progressive 22-point policy platform and strengthened their local organizations across the province.
Also stacked against Nixon and the Liberals was the rising Co-operative Commonwealth Federation under Ted Jolliffe. Though the Ontario CCF had been shutout in the 1937 election, the war saw a rise in CCF support across the country. National polling was beginning to put the socialists in contention and its prospects for forming government in places like British Columbia and Saskatchewan were looking up. Labour was uniting behind the CCF and Jolliffe was an effective, articulate leader, pitching a future vision of the province that would deliver a better life for workers, soldiers and their families after the war was over.
Polls before the campaign had put the CCF in third, but by election day the latest numbers from the nascent Gallup Poll had the CCF ahead, with 36% support to 33% for Drew’s PCs and 31% for the Liberals.
The competitive contest pushed the Liberals to try to lump the PCs and the CCF together, seeing in Drew’s progressive platform yet more socialism that only a Liberal government could keep at bay. But the PCs were just as opposed to the rise of the CCF — Drew would campaign hard against the ‘Red Menace’ once in power — and his allies went to bat against the socialists, claiming that the CCF would break Canada’s connection to the British monarchy. One third-party ad charged that “The C.C.F. Would Get Rid of Churchill” and begged Ontarians to “Keep Ontario British”.
The Liberals were facing pressure from both ends — and also had to grapple with the unpopularity of the Mackenzie King government. King had just held a plebiscite on conscription that divided English and French Canada (again) and was still refusing to send conscripts overseas, so the Tories cast Nixon as King’s puppet, and King’s government as beholden to Quebec. “The voice may be the voice of Nixon,” Drew said, “but the words will be the words of Mackenzie King.”
Citing the requirements of the war, the teetotaler King had also instituted a reduction in the supply of beer in the country, sparking an uproar among Canadians who were willing to give up a lot for the war effort — except a drink. It wasn’t prohibition, but the result was that the beer halls would run out of supply before the end of a hot summer’s day, when labourers and farmers were thirsting for a cool beer after a long day’s work under the sun. The Liberals were doomed.
Still, the outcome of the election was in doubt. Every leader claimed they were on track for victory, but an editorial in the Ottawa Evening Citizen summed it up best: “stalemate seems probable,” the editorialists wrote, “yet so unpredictable are elections under present circumstances that almost anything can happen.”
The result showed a divided province. Drew and the Progressive Conservatives won 38 seats, an increase of 15 since the 1937 election, but saw their share of the vote drop 3.6 points to 35.8%. They suffered losses to the CCF, but also made gains in the southwestern portion of the province that had long been the Liberal heartland, and where the Tories had been shutout in 1937.
The CCF captured 31.6% of the vote, a gain of 26 points since the last election. The party won 34 seats, sweeping northern Ontario, making significant gains in Toronto and winning seats in the industrial centres of Windsor, Hamilton and Kitchener. Two Communists were also elected (A.A. MacLeod and J.B. Salsberg) in Toronto under the Labour-Progressive banner, as the Communist Party had been banned in 1940.
Support for the Liberals collapsed, dropping 19 points to just 30% and leaving the party with only 15 seats — 16 seats if Hepburn, elected as an Independent Liberal, is added to the total. The Liberals had retained their support among Franco-Ontarians and in parts of the southwest, but they had been dealt a serious blow.
“In my inner nature,” King wrote in his diary after the results of the election were known, “I feel a sense of relief that a cabinet that has been so unprincipled and devoid of character has been swept out of Queen’s Park.”
The Liberals had indeed been beaten, but Hepburn wasn’t done just yet. He’d return as leader once again after Nixon’s resignation. But the 1945 election would not see the return of the Liberals to power. Instead, Drew and the Progressive Conservatives would secure a majority government — and the Big Blue Machine would continue powering Ontario until 1985. The CCF had come close in 1943 and would whither under Drew’s ferocious attacks in 1945, but it formed the official opposition again in 1948 and on several more occasions as the Ontario New Democrats, who themselves would form a government in 1990.
The 1943 election had brought the Conservatives back to power, where they would remain for decades. But it also brought about a new dynamic in Ontario politics that has stood the test of time.
That’s it for the Weekly Writ this week. The next episode of The Writ Podcast will be dropping on Friday. As always, the episode will land in your inbox but you can also find it on Apple Podcasts and other podcasting apps. And don’t forget to subscribe to my YouTube Channel, where I post videos, livestreams and interviews from the podcast!