Kathleen Wynne resigns as Ontario Liberal Party leader
TORONTO – After a disastrous election for the Ontario Liberal Party, Kathleen Wynne resigned as its leader late Thursday. And based on preliminary election night results, the Liberals have been reduced to only seven seats in the legislature and will lose official party status.
What is clear is that Doug Ford's Progressive Conservatives have won a majority government.
Wynne, who kept her own seat in Toronto's Don Valley West, resigned as party leader during a speech to a small crowd of dedicated supporters in a Toronto art gallery shortly after 10 p.m.
"Our democracy is strong," Wynne said during her speech. "And because of that, let me congratulate Doug Ford.”
"I've spoken to him and I wish him well, and I have committed to work with him to make this transition as smooth as possible."
"And now, I trust that the rancour and the polarization of an election campaign can give way to the necessary civility of well-run government," Wynne added.
"Let me leave you with this," she said. "Whoever you are, in whatever corner of Ontario you have made home, you are part of a beautiful, vibrant place."
"Election campaigns make us feel that we are divided, that somehow we’re not in this together, but believe me we are," Wynne said to cheers from the crowd.
Wynne ended her speech by singing a few notes of the song "I'm still standing," and then invited her partner Jane Rounthwaite and supporters on stage to dance.
No one was surprised by Wynne's decision to resign. In fact, she had prepared supporters for the likelihood, declaring last Saturday that she knew she would “no longer be Ontario’s premier.”
Joan Tadman, a Liberal volunteer and retired teacher who showed up to cheer on Wynne, said she found the result inexplicable. She compared Ford's win to that of U.S. President Donald Trump.
"Voters are angry ... but they didn't look at the transit (Wynne) has done, bringing in all-day kindergarten ... and all the other things."
"I don't know why people are angry right now," Tadman added.
Fabian Sekora, 16, agreed.
"She doesn't deserve all the backlash she gets," he said."I'm really surprised at the PCs forming a majority government.
"Last time the PC was in charge of the province, they absolutely ruined it," he said. "Honestly, NDP would be a better choice."
As University of Toronto political scientist Chris Cochrane explained on CTV News Channel over the weekend, polls showed Wynne is less popular than her party, so her admission that she wouldn’t be premier was likely an attempt to signal to Liberal voters who had soured on her personally that they could vote for local Liberals candidates they like.
In other words, Wynne seemed to realize that the party that ruled the province for nearly 15 years would likely, at best, survive the election as kingmakers in a minority government. She will need eight seats to maintain recognized party status.
Wynne’s historic win
That save-the-furniture speech was in sharp contrast to the one Wynne delivered four years earlier, on election day in 2014. Wynne had managed to walk away with a majority government after polls had suggested for months that she would lose to the PC’s under Tim Hudak. She beamed that night as she noted the historic nature of her achievement, inviting her partner Jane Rounthwaite to join her on stage.
“I am so proud to be standing in front of you as the first woman ever to have been elected the premier of Ontario,” Wynne said. “This is a beautiful, inclusive place that we live in, Ontario.”
Despite her success that night, Wynne was never particularly popular. In the months after her victory, only about four in 10 people said that they approved of Wynne, and that turned out to be the height of her popularity. By 2015, the Liberals had fallen back behind the Progressive Conservatives in polling.
The low numbers might not have been surprising considering the situation Wynne inherited from her predecessor, Dalton McGuinty. The province had racked up so much debt that Wynne said she had no choice but to sell off part of the public electricity utility, Hydro One.
Without that unpopular decision, she would not have been able to continue to reduce the deficit while also following through with major spending on roads and subway stops that she had promised during the election.
Wynne was also left to deal with the fallout of McGuinty’s decision to cancel two gas-fired power plants in order to save seats in the 2011 election, at a cost the province’s auditor general estimated at up to $1.1 billion dollars. That scandal was particularly galling for voters as monthly electricity bills started rise faster than inflation. The Liberals said the rising bills were the result of necessary upgrades to a neglected grid. Many didn’t buy that.
In 2016, Wynne had a major victory when she and her fellow premiers reached a deal with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to expand the Canada Pension Plan, allowing her to check off another of her major election promises.
Wynne veers left
But polling continued to put her behind the PCs. By 2017, the Liberals were faced with a choice. They could continue to aim for balanced budgets in order to win over fiscally conservative centrists, or they could spend big and tack left in an attempt to convince NDP voters that Wynne was the only person who could stop the PCs.
Wynne veered left. First, she announced Fair Hydro Plan, which cut electricity bills in the short term despite adding what the auditor general estimates will be $4 billion in extra interest payments to the province’s debt over the long term.
Then, in March of 2017, she announced the creation of free prescription drug coverage for all Ontarians under the age of 25.
That was followed three months later by another announcement that had a lot of left-wing voters cheering. Wynne reversed her position on the minimum wage, promising to raise it from $11.40 to $14 by Jan 1, 2018, with another $1 raise planned for Jan. 2019.
As the New Year dawned, Wynne continued to sit second place in the polls, with about 30 per cent support compared to 40 per cent for the PCs and 20 per cent for the New Democrats.
It seemed luck was on her side when the PCs were plunged into a leadership race -- and again when they narrowly chose the polarizing Doug Ford over former MPP Christine Elliott.
In the March budget, the Liberals stuck with their strategy to try to peel away NDP voters. They extended free prescription drug coverage to seniors, promised free daycare for everyone over age two-and-a-half and budgeted for large increases in health care funding.
It didn’t work. With just one month left before the vote, polls suddenly showed a surge in support for Horawth’s New Democrats.
Sorry not sorry?
Scrambling for a new tactic, the Liberals released advertisements with a plaid-clad woman and a rural backdrop admitting that “everything hasn’t been perfect in Kathleen Wynne’s Ontario.”
That was followed by another apologetic ad, this one with Wynne staring directly into the camera. “I’m sorry that more people don’t like me,” she says. “But I’m not sorry for keeping business taxes low and attracting Google and Toyota here, or for covering tuition for hundreds of thousands of students so they can get good jobs. Not sorry we brought in rent control or that unemployment is at record lows,” Wynne goes on. “And I’m really not sorry we’re not asking single moms to raise families on $11.40 an hour anymore.”
Wynne continued with the “sorry not sorry” campaign at the final election debate but it didn’t seem to sway voters.
In an interview with CTV Toronto’s Colin D’Mello on the day before she admitted defeat, Wynne tried one last tactic: invoking the name of former Progressive Conservative Premier Mike Harris, who left office in 2002.
“I got involved in politics because I saw, under the previous conservative government, our education system, our health care system, really being attacked,” she said. “My kids were in elementary school and high school when (Progressive Conservative) Mike Harris was the premier and I saw resources being taken out of the schools. I saw people really suffering from the cuts that were being made.”
“I think there’s more overlap between what we’re putting forward and what the NDP is putting forward,” she admitted. “But that becomes a different question about who can actually implement the plan.”