Wynne admits she won't win Ontario election
TORONTO -- In an 11th-hour bid to save her party from decimation, an emotional Kathleen Wynne admitted Saturday that the governing Liberals will lose the Ontario election next week but urged voters to ensure neither of her rivals wins a majority.
The premier -- tears streaming down her face and her voice breaking up at times -- appealed to voters to set aside their feelings about her and support Liberal candidates so that they can keep the next government in check.
Her plea comes at a time when polls suggest the Liberals, who have been trailing behind the Progressive Conservatives and the New Democrats, could be at risk of losing official party status after the June 7 vote.
"If your concern is that you'd be electing me or electing a Liberal government, that's not going to happen," she said. "And so we need Liberals at Queen's Park to stop a majority for either of the other governments."
Wynne, who first entered politics as a school trustee in 2000, said at the beginning of the campaign that she believed her party could turn the tide. But as the polls painted an increasingly grim picture, she was forced to come to terms with her own waning popularity.
The decision was a hard one to make, she said, but seemed to be the only solution in an election where voters appear set on a new government but reluctant to fully hand over the reins to either of her rivals.
"It is a logical next step," she said.
Wynne wouldn't say whether she'll stay on as party leader after the election, but stressed she would keep fighting for her slate in the last days of the campaign.
"You're not getting rid of me, I'm going to be campaigning really hard right through until that last vote is cast because those local fights are really, really important," she said.
She declined, however, to endorse either the Tories or the NDP, nor would she comment on the possibility of strategic voting, a perennial issue in elections where voters appear to be clamouring for change.
Wynne said whichever way the vote goes, people should hope for a minority win to keep the government "from acting too extreme -- one way or the other."
The move did not sit well with NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, who accused Wynne of "playing a dangerous game" that could propel the Tories to a majority.
"Her request today for a minority government is a demand that she be allowed to continue to hold the power at Queen's Park -- something voters have already rejected," Horwath said in a statement.
"Now, a vote for Kathleen Wynne and a vote for Doug Ford mean the same thing. Let's not go from bad to worse."
Ford, meanwhile, had little to say about Wynne's announcement, noting only that the election is about change and people are fed up with the Liberals.
Liberal insiders said the party was essentially fighting for its survival.
Omar Khan, a Liberal executive council member, said the party is now working on maintaining official party status.
"We need to do everything to make sure we get at least eight seats in the legislature...so we can be in a position again to be a moderating influence on the other two parties," he said.
A senior Liberal, speaking on condition of anonymity, said "the party is facing an existential crisis."
"Right now we could win as little as zero seats, so we have to -- as Liberals and I think all progressives in Ontario -- need to realize that and kick into high gear over the next five days to make sure that doesn't happen," they said.
The source listed about a dozen ridings in which the party thinks they have a reasonable shot at winning, such as Vaughan-Woodbridge, Toronto --St. Pauls, two Ottawa seats and some in eastern Ontario. Wynne's own riding was not one the Liberal source listed.
A senior campaign official said Wynne started thinking about the move after her hope for a bump in polling following the last debate didn't materialize and it became clear the Liberals couldn't win.
Tamara Small, a political science professor at University of Guelph, said Wynne made a strategic -- and "very unusual" -- move in predicting her own government's defeat.
"It's a realization that the Kathleen Wynne brand might be more detrimental than the Liberal party brand," she said. "They're hoping they can salvage (the party)... it's about saying to people: don't abandon us. We will fix this."
By taking the blame, Wynne could be saving some of her key candidates who otherwise might have been tarnished by public opinion of her, Small said.
"So I think electorally, it's strategic, but as a leader of a party, I actually think it's really selfless. She's saying, 'I'm not going to destroy this organization with my own personal hubris."'
The move could nonetheless backfire and endanger the very seats Wynne is trying to protect by suggesting that a vote for the Liberals is a wasted vote, said David Coletto, CEO of the polling firm Abacus Data.
At this point, polls show there is less fear of an NDP government than a Tory one and this might push some potential Liberal voters to throw their support behind the New Democrats, he said.
"It's a risky strategy for the Liberals, very much a Hail Mary kind of pass at the late stages of the game," he said.
"I view it as the potential harm is greater than the gain but at this stage, I think the Liberals are doing all that they can to keep party status in the legislature and win enough seats that rebuilding is possible or much easier than if they get wiped out."
Liberal Michael Coteau, who served as minister of children and youth services until the election began, said news of Wynne's decision was shared in a conference call less than half an hour before she publicly announced it. Coteau, who wasn't on the call, said he learned of the move on social media.
With files from Maija Kappler in Toronto and Janice Dickson in Ottawa