On Wednesday, October 10, 2007, Ontario voters returned the Liberal Party of Ontario to government with a historic back-to-back second mandate, the first since Mitchell Hepburn won back-to-back mandates in the 1930’s. The following note outlines the key aspects of the Ontario election and the emerging policy agenda for the McGuinty liberals.
The Liberals ("OLP") won 71 seats with 42% of the popular vote. The Progressive Conservatives ("PC") won 26 seats with 32% of the popular vote and the New Democratic Party ("NDP") won 10 seats with 17% of the popular vote. This represents a minor change from the election results in 2003 where the OLP won 72 seats with 46% of the vote, the PC’s had 24 seats with 34.7% of the vote and the NDP won 7 seats with 15% of the vote.
The number of citizens voting in the 2007 election has achieved a historic low with 52.8% of those eligible to vote actually casting a ballot. In 2003, 55.5% of Ontario citizens voted. The OLP lost only one Cabinet Minister—Caroline Di Cocco, Minister of Culture—in the election contest and the Premier easily won in his riding of Ottawa South. In the high-profile race in Don Valley West against PC Leader John Tory, the current Minister of Education, Kathleen Wynne, beat the PC leader by over 4,900 votes.
The PC’s had one significant gain in the Greater Toronto Area with Peter Shurman defeating incumbent Mario Racco (OLP) in a close race largely fought over faith-based school funding. A large number of religious groups supporting the faith-based funding plan of the PC’s made up a significant portion of the riding of Thornhill.
Mixed Member Proportional System (MMP):
As part of the general election, voters were also ask to cast ballots on reforming the current "first past the post system" to a new mixed member proportional system. This was part of the McGunity government’s plan to address the so-called "democratic deficit" and the recommendation of a panel of citizens and experts the government selected to advise on addressing this concern. The MMP system is currently in place in New Zealand. The overwhelming majority of Ontarians, however, rejected this option. The recommendation received about 36% support; but to pass, 60% of all votes cast would have to support the option and 50% in 64 of the 107 ridings across Ontario.
Public Opinion Polling:
The results of the Ontario election were widely anticipated in the public opinion polls reported in the media. Every poll released and reported in the media, since the beginning of the election period on September 10, showed the OLP with 39% to 43% support, with the PC’s trailing at 27% to 37% of support. The last poll reported on October 9 showed the OLP with 43% support with the PC’s at 30% and the NDP at 17%. These results generally translate into seat projections similar to what the actual results were on October 10. In other words, every public opinion poll reported in the media from September 10 to October 9 showed a substantial majority for the OLP.
However, the public opinion polls released by the media in the spring and summer of 2007 did show a much closer race developing between the PC’s and the OLP. A number of polls showed the OLP with a 3-5 point advantage over the PC’s in terms of popular support. For example, an Angus Reid poll showed a tight race across most regions of the province with 28% of undecided voters (September 7-8, 2007). In addition, that same poll indicated that 54% of Ontarians believed it was "time for a change" in government, with the Premier trailing the Leader of the PC’s by 10 percentage points in terms of who would make the best Premier.
In addition, an Innovative Research poll conducted in early September showed that most Ontarians were evenly spilt on whether or not OLP policies have made Ontario better or worse (34% each with 29% indicating OLP policies had no impact), and a large percentage of those surveyed (38%) Ontarians worried that the continuation of OLP policies would make Ontario worse off in five years.
Key Issues and Policy Driving the Election:
The key policy position driving voting behaviour in the election was the PC’s plan to extend public funding to faith-based schools. At the start of the campaign on September 10, roughly 49% of Ontarians polled were opposed to this policy with 39% strongly opposed (Angus Reid, September 7-8). This grew significantly throughout the campaign to about 60% opposed and became the so-called "ballot question" for most voters.
This contrasts with the concerns identified by Ontarian’s at the start of the campaign through a number of public opinion polls. Predictably, health care was the top of mind with integrity/keeping promises second and environmental issues third. For undecided voters too, health care was the top issue (Innovative Research Group, September 13). However, the faithbased school debate took the focus away from these issues and dominated media coverage of the election.
The Emerging Liberal Policy Agenda:
The Premier campaigned on the basis of continuing to move forward with a series of policy initiatives related to reducing wait times for health care, improvements to public schooling, moving forward with climate change programs and sound fiscal management. In his victory speech, the Premier made it clear that the Liberal Government would continue the work it started on these policy fronts and ensured that tangible progress will be achieved.
Since winning the election on October 10, the Premier has announced a new Family Statutory Holiday in February and a strategy to reduce wait times for emergency room care in Ontario hospitals. Other short-term priorities for the new McGuinty government include:
- New home tax credit for all first time home buyers
- Homeowners grant for senior citizens
- Dental services for low-income Ontarians
- Text book and technology grant of $300 per student
- Tourism competitiveness review to examine methods to enhance marketing opportunities
- Establish Investment Ontario Incorporated (an independent investment attraction agency).
Next Steps for the Liberal Government:
The immediate next steps for the Liberal government include:
- Creating a new Cabinet: the Premier will move quickly to implement his new Cabinet and most do not expect significant changes. However, the Premier is under pressure to appoint more women to Cabinet due to the resignations of Ministers Mary Anne Chambers, Marie Bountrogianni, and the defeat of Caroline Di Cocco. In addition, some current ministers have extra responsibilities due to these resignations and that of Minister Colle that will be reassigned in the design of the new Cabinet. Regional considerations will also come into the debate about Cabinet. Hamilton and central Ontario could have their newly elected MPPs appointed to Cabinet. Indications are that Cabinet will be sworn in by the end of October.
- Appointment of MPPs to Committees and Parliamentary Assistants’ Roles: before the Premier can recall the Parliament to deliver a Throne Speech, he will need to appoint MPPs to Standing Committees of the Legislature and to Parliamentary Assistant roles to Cabinet Ministers. This will provide the Premier some room to promote women into senior roles of government and reward newly elected MPPs from key regions.
- Recruit new Political Staff: a number of first term political staff will likely move on to other careers and more junior staff move up into more senior roles. At this point it is unclear who may be leaving key posts in the Office of the Premier, or in-line ministries. This process will likely take a few months to complete once Cabinet in sworn in.
- Fall Economic Statement: The Minister of Finance must deliver a fall statement on the province’s fiscal situation and the Government’s priorities by the end of November.
- Call a Legislative Session and Deliver Throne Speech: There is no immediate urgency to call the Legislature and deliver a Speech from the Throne. The government’s legislative agenda will take some weeks and months to settle before they are in a position to outline their legislative priorities for the next year. It is not likely the Legislature will be called prior to January, or early February of 2008.
Future of PC Leader John Tory:
Without a seat in the Ontario legislature and the overall election results, there will be some challenges for the PC Leader to continue to lead the party. John Tory has indicated publicly that he intends to stay on as leader to continue to rebuild the PC Party. Tory has also indicated that he will consult with party officials and the PC caucus to determine the appropriate course of action. Party officials are indicating support for Tory to continue as leader and the process of building support for the next election.