The NDP and Liberal leaders told voters Wednesday not to vote strategically and instead asked Ontarians to vote for their own parties' candidates — regardless of whether they have a realistic shot of winning their riding.
Thursday is election day.
Pre-election polls suggest Doug Ford's Progressive Conservatives are well-positioned to win a second mandate. They also suggest Andrea Horwath's NDP and Steven Del Duca's Liberals are near neck-and-neck in terms of their expected seat count.
Yet the NDP and Liberal leaders rejected opportunities on Wednesday to encourage left-leaning and anti-Ford voters to coalesce behind candidates best positioned to defeat their PC opponents.
"I'm asking people to come behind the NDP to vote for our candidates," Horwath said on Wednesday when asked if she'd like people to vote strategically.
Del Duca also rejected the idea of strategic voting.
"Do you believe people sit in their living rooms at night and consider what riding was held by whom, (and) when?," he asked in response to a QP Briefing question on the topic. "I don't think so."
Del Duca has said numerous times during the campaign, and again on Wednesday morning, that "the only way to stop the Ford Conservatives is to vote Liberal in this election."
While they often vie for similar voters, the Ontario NDP and Liberal party find stronger support than the other in distinct parts of the province. For example, Hamilton is an NDP stronghold, whereas Ottawa tends to be a Liberal-voting city.
Entering the campaign, the NDP and Liberal leaders presented similar electoral goals. Both sought to take Ford's PCs out of power, they said.
"Job No. 1 is definitely to get rid of Doug Ford," Horwath has said.
"He (Ford) is just the wrong person for the job," said Del Duca. "There's only one individual in this province who I know — watching his performance over the past four years — is not the right person for the job. His name is Doug Ford," Del Duca added on Wednesday.
Both leaders also entered the campaign leaving open the possibility of working together to dump Ford as premier if the PCs didn't win a majority of seats.
Del Duca said he's had "multiple" phone calls with Horwath during his two years as leader.
"I believe the people of Ontario expect their leaders to have the self-confidence, I'll put it that way, and the sense of humility and self-awareness to be able to work collaboratively."
Around when the campaign got underway, an NDP strategist told QP Briefing that the New Democrats' path to winning government — and Horwath becoming premier — hung on protecting ridings it won in 2018 and adding roughly 10 or more seats that it lost by slim margins the last time around. This was why the NDP targeted what it viewed as flippable PC-held ridings, the NDP strategist said.
QP Briefing promised this strategist anonymity so they would share information they otherwise weren't permitted to.
The NDP was also banking on the rebounding Liberals hurting PC candidates' prospects and taking a chunk of seats from Ford's party, the strategist said. The fact that Del Duca has so-frequently held events in NDP-controlled ridings has annoyed NDP campaign staff.
On the contrary, Horwath hasn't campaigned as frequently in Liberal-held ridings, but doesn't have the option to, given the Liberals only held seven seats going into the election — and four of them were in eastern Ontario.
On the Liberal side, Del Duca said the NDP hasn't exactly been playing nice, either.
"Two other leaders launched attack ads against me last May and June, and Andrea Horwath was one of them," he said on Wednesday.
As campaign days have ticked away, tensions have grown between the Liberals and NDP.
For example, it was the New Democrats that first alleged the Liberals used re-submitted signatures to confirm the candidacy of their subbed-in candidate in Chatham-Kent—Leamington. The Liberals dumped their original candidate in the riding after the NDP uncovered that he had posted a gay slur on Facebook when he was a teenager.
The Liberals' subbed-in candidate, Audrey Festeryga, threw in the towel on her candidacy a week before election day, leading to the testiest blow-up of the campaign between Del Duca and Horwath.
Del Duca said Festryga was subjected to "despicable personal attacks" by the NDP, and that New Democrats had "fundamentally lost their way" and were in a "bizarre self-survival mode."
"People deserve to know the character of the folks that are running in the election," Horwath responded later. "Making accusations against me is not the way that you take responsibility for your behaviours and your actions. You have to step up and show leadership by acknowledging."
Del Duca and Horwath have sniped at each other numerous other times during the campaign.
On Wednesday, Horwath's pitch to on-the-fence, left-leaning, and anti-Ford voters was about the same as it's been all campaign long. As Official Opposition, New Democrats are best positioned to unseat the PCs, and it's the Liberals who are partly to blame for Ontario's health-care and affordability issues, the NDP leader said.
"This time — this time — the way to make sure Doug Ford is not in the premier's chair after tomorrow night, is that we all come together behind the NDP," Horwath said.
"The only way to stop the Ford conservatives is to vote Liberal," Del Duca has said on numerous occasions.
Historically in Ontario, a gap opens up between Liberal and NDP support on election day. Robert Martin, an analyst for Mainstreet Research, wrote about this trend for iPolitics at the onset of the election.
"The data indicate that, while the Liberal party and NDP each has its core supporters, in every election, a large number of swing voters decides between the two, and they don’t make their final decision until close to election day," Martin wrote.
A chart of the popular-vote share and vote difference between the Liberals and New Democrats in Ontario since 1971 (Robert Martin/Mainstreet Research)
In Ontario's 11 general elections since 1981, only once has the province's two preferred left-leaning options finished within a 10-per cent margin of votes of one another.
The exception was in 1990, the election that brought the NDP to power for the first and only time in Ontario. In this election, the PCs' received just 23.5 per cent of votes, and their second-worst seat share in their history, helping the Bob Rae-led party to a shocking upset.
Mainstreet Research is part owner of iPolitics and QP Briefing.