Liberals make big gains in Ontario

Justin Trudeau's Liberals take previously Conservative strongholds

TORONTO – The Liberal juggernaut roared through Canada’s largest province Monday night, rolling over Conservative cabinet ministers and NDP incumbents alike and increasing the number of the party’s seats in Ontario more than six-fold.

The Liberals, who held only 13 seats in the province when the election was called, were leading or elected in 79 of Ontario’s newly expanded total of 121 seats, compared with 34 for the Conservatives and eight for the New Democrats.

“They have received a clear mandate to govern from the people of Canada,” Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne, who unlike her provincial counterparts took an active role in the federal campaign, said in a statement.

“I look forward to working in co-operation with our new federal partner on behalf of the people of Ontario.”

The Liberals opened up early and substantial leads in Ontario’s big cities and outside the urban centres as well, especially in the suburban 905 area around Toronto that helped propel Stephen Harper’s Conservatives to a majority in 2011.

Justin Trudeau’s Liberals took the lead in previously Conservative-held ridings including Whitby, Burlington, Markham and Ajax, where Immigration Minister Chris Alexander was defeated by Liberal Mark Holland, a former MP. They took all five seats in Brampton, an area that was key to the Conservatives victory in the last election.

The Liberals, with about 44 per cent of the popular vote in Ontario, were also leading in NDP-held ridings including Thunder Bay-Rainy River and Toronto-Danforth, once held by the party’s revered former leader, Jack Layton.

Olivia Chow, Layton’s widow, also went down to defeat in downtown Toronto to Liberal incumbent Adam Vaughan, while Finance Minister Joe Oliver lost his Toronto riding of Eglinton-Lawrence to Liberal Marco Mendicino.

The Conservatives, with about 36 per cent of the Ontario vote, were holding ridings mainly outside the urban centres in central, southwest and southeastern parts of Ontario, but they lost several key seats. Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford came third in the northern riding of Kenora, losing to Liberal Bob Nault, while former Ontario NDP leader Howard Hampton came second.

The New Democrats, taking less than 17 per cent of the popular vote in Ontario, were leading in four northern ridings, two in Hamilton and one each in London and Windsor, but lost several seats to the Liberals, including one in Niagara.

Rob Leone, an associate professor of political science at the University of Western Ontario, said the Conservatives could never overcome the fact that 70 per cent of voters across the country wanted change, and Trudeau’s message resonated more with them than Tom Mulcair’s.

“What we saw was a complete collapse of the NDP, not just in Ontario but even in Quebec,” said Leone. “I don’t think that’s something anyone could have predicted 70 or 80 days ago.”

The question of whether Wynne’s considerable political baggage was helping or hurting her federal Liberal cousins as she campaigned with Trudeau was apparently answered as voters painted large swaths of Ontario red.

Wynne frequently battled Stephen Harper over a lack of federal co-operation on a host of issues while urging voters to abandon the divisive Conservatives for Trudeau’s positive vision.

Ontario voters unhappy with Wynne’s policies to mandate payroll deductions for a new pension plan and privatize Hydro One — along with three different police investigations into her Liberal government — evidently didn’t take out their frustrations on Trudeau’s Liberals.

Once the federal Liberals form government, Wynne will likely face pressure to drop her idea of a new Ontario pension plan, which she maintained all along was needed because Harper refused to enhance the Canada Pension Plan.

Trudeau has promised to meet with the provinces within months of forming government to discuss improvements to the CPP, but has said he would need the agreement of a majority of provinces before he could take such action.