Doug Ford's Progressive Conservatives win a majority

Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives win a majority

By Jessica Smith Cross, David Hains and Christopher Reynolds

Only three months after securing a narrow victory in his party's leadership election, Doug Ford has led the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party to a majority victory in the 2018 Ontario election.

"My friends, the party with the taxpayer's money is over. It's done," said the premier-to-be at a victory party at the Toronto Congress Centre, to hundreds of rowdy supporters. "We will reduce your taxes, reduce your gas prices and keep more money in your pocket."

Shortly afterward, Kathleen Wynne announced her resignation as leader.

"This is a difficult night," said Wynne, to a small gathering in North York. "There is another generation, and I am passing the torch."

The change election say the Liberals reduced to a handful seats — only six clear wins as of 11 p.m., two short of official party status. Wynne narrowly won her own seat, but most of her cabinet — including high-profile ministers Charles Sousa, Glenn Thibeault and Yasir Naqvi, as well as long-serving Grit whip Jim Bradley — were defeated.

Wynne congratulated Ford and said she was committed to helping with a smooth transition. "I trust that the rancour and the polarization of an election campaign can give way to the necessary civility of well-run government."

Also making history, Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner was elected in Guelph and is set to become Ontario's first Green MPP.

Andrea Horwath's NDP will form the official opposition.

"My friends, from the very start of this campaign, people wanted change and I could not be more proud that we offered a position vision," she told a cheering crowd in Hamilton. "New Democrats rejected the politics of fear and division... And Ontarians have responded like never before. Today, millions of people voted for change for the better. We have won more seats than we have held in a generation."

The incoming leader of the opposition said she had spoken with Ford, and said her party would be working hard to make life better every day better for the majority of Ontarians who don't want to see cuts to their hospitals and schools. "We will be the voice at Queen's Park for those Ontarians."

Running on a slogan of "Change for the Better," the NDP steadily gained momentum in the first three weeks of the campaign, to the point where polls consistently showed them in a statistical tie with the Tories in popular vote support, and some showed a lead.

But it wasn't enough to beat Ford.

The former city councillor and brother of late Toronto Mayor Rob Ford waged a populist campaign under the slogan "For the People" and promised a program of massive tax cuts and unspecified plans for finding "efficiencies" in government.

He broke with tradition by never releasing a fully-costed platform outlining the fiscal impacts of his plans — instead, with only eight days to go, his party published a list of promises online with estimated costs attached. It included no information as to how a PC government would pay for its new spending promises nor how it would make up for tens of billions of lost government revenue that would results from its promised tax cuts. It also did not include a path to balancing the budget. His critics charged that his plans, as outlined, would benefit the rich and lead to either deep cuts in core government services or deeper deficits, or both.

Ford cast himself as the champion of "the little guy" and warrior against the "elites." He entered the race for the PC leadership with a January press conference in his mother's Etobicoke basement, in which he railed against his own party's elite, casting the executive and mostly rural caucus as "Toronto elites" who didn't want him in the race.

Ford won the race to replace Patrick Brown, who resigned in January after being accused of sexual misconduct. His leadership win came in part thanks to the rules of PC leadership races that assign candidates points based on the share of the vote they take in each riding — challenger Christine Elliott won both the majority of the votes and the majority of the ridings.

After assuming the leadership of the PCs in March — with a nearly 20-point lead in the polls — Ford's first marquee promise was also about his war on the elites. He pledged to fire the CEO and board of Hydro One over their high compensation and continued to rail against CEO Mayo Schmidt, whom he has dubbed "the $6-million man," throughout the campaign.

As the campaign progressed, Ford promised to cut corporate taxes, small business taxes, income taxes and gas taxes. He has also promised to allow the sale of beer and wine in corner stores and bring "buck-a-beer" back to Ontario.

Ford also found himself embroiled in numerous controversies, some of his own making and some relating to PC candidates he'd inherited from his predecessor. One candidate quit amid accusations he was connected to the theft of personal data from the company that runs the 407 ETR toll highway company and his connection to controversial Tory organizer and convicted fraudster Snover Dhillon, who has been connected to many other PC nomination controversies.

Ford had a nomination controversy of his own, after the Liberals released an audio recording of him working with Etobicoke Centre candidate Kinga Surma to sign up local PC party members. Ford could be heard suggesting prospective members did not have to pay. The Liberals said paying for other people memberships would be a violation of the Election Act, as it would amount to an undisclosed campaign donation, and would be a violation of the PC party's internal rules.

But Ford's most personal controversy came in the last week of the campaign, when Renata Ford — Rob Ford's widow — filed a statement of claim against him and his brother Randy Ford, alleging they conspired to deprive Rob's children of their rightful inheritance by siphoning money from the estate of the late Doug Sr. and using it to prop up family businesses, after Doug and Randy's negligent mismanagement drove it into the ground. His response has been to deny the allegations in the suit, and say he has always taken care of Renata and her children.

In the latter half of his campaign, Ford began to place his focus on the PC slate of candidates, who were dubbed "Ready to govern," highlighted at regional events arrayed around Ford at boardroom tables and touted as "all-stars" with cabinet potential.

At the same time, he continued to increase his rhetoric against the surging NDP's "radical" and "anti-Semitic" candidates, whom he said hate police, accuse soldiers of war crimes intent on destroying the economy, have been arrested for sabotage, and, if elected, would destroy the economy, driving up hydro bills, and making gas even more expensive.

The NDP had made early gains and, at one point, held a lead in the poll, drawing attacks from both the Liberals and the PCs that intensified as the campaign worse on. Late into the campaign, the PCs shifted gears from a campaign strategy that foresaw the Liberals as their main opponent, and developed a narrative to push back against the NDP. Polls showed Horwath was the most personally popular of the three, and so the PCs instead focused on candidates on the NDP team, consistently using the word "radical" and characterizing views like criticism of the poppy as out of the mainstream.

The strategy pushed the NDP on the defensive as Horwath tried to defend the party as ready to govern. Horwath spent much of the second half of the campaign fending off candidate controversies. One candidate allegedly posting a Hitler meme on Facebook, another one promoted a female oil wrestling match, and one candidate was once jailed for participating in a 2004 protest against the treatment of Grassy Narrows victims. She stood by her candidates in each case.

Horwath also initially stood by a $1.4-billion annual error in her platform that was initially noticed by Ottawa Citizen journalist David Reevely. It was only after former parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page, who had reviewed the assumptions in the platform, agreed it was an error that Horwath backed down. The PCs and Liberals used the incident to stoke fears the NDP could not be trusted with the provincial budget, with Ford going so far as to say that Horwath couldn't add.

Largely avoiding the candidate controversies that plagued the two rival parties, the Liberals struggled nonetheless to shake off the baggage of 15 years in government.

Scandals at eHealth Ontario in 2009 and the Ornge air ambulance service as well as the controversial $1.1-billion kiboshing of two GTA gas plants in 2010-11 and the 2016 cash-for-access fundraisers continued to hang over the Liberal legacy. Ford has hammered Wynne on skyrocketing hydro bills and executive compensation at Hydro One, promising to cut rates, boot the CEO and axe cap and trade.

The party cut bills by 25 per cent on average last year, but caught constant flak for the partial privatization of Ontario's largest electricity transmitter, Hydro One.

Despite a 3.1-per-cent boost in health-care expenditures to $53.8 billion in 2017 — including cash to reduce wait times for priority surgeries and emergency care — New Democrats seized on overflowing hospital wards to slam the governing party on "hallway medicine," taking some of the steam out of the Liberal campaign slogan of "Care Not Cuts."

Balancing the books in 2017-18, Wynne dove back into the red with the March 2018 budget, a move other parties would mimic through projected deficits for at least the first two years of a PC or NDP government.

The five-year leader's signature accomplishments include expanded rent control and OSAP grants, universal pharmacare for people under 25, and the minimum-wage hike to $14.

QP Briefing Staff

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