Ontario election: Liberals wiped out in 10-seat region
NDP winners of London West, London North Centre and London Fanshawe, Peggy Sattler, Terence Kernahan and Teresa Armstrong at NDP party in London, Ont. Photograph taken on Thursday June 7, 2018. (Mike Hensen/The London Free Press)
The Berlin wall turned to rubble and the world wide web was born.
About 140,000 current Londoners weren’t born yet.
That was the last year, 1990, that the provincial Liberals didn’t get at least one seat in the London region.
They lost their last outpost in the London region to the NDP Thursday.
Provincewide, they were swept aside in an onslaught of Progressive Conservative power that withstood tough challenges from the NDP in ridings outside of London.
By night’s end, the PCs held the same seven seats among the 10 regional ridings, that they held in the last legislature. The NDP were running second all seven, mostly rural ridings.
The NDP took three ridings, all in London.
A few hours before the results came in, Liberal campaign co-chair and 15-year London MPP and cabinet minister Deb Matthews expressed disappointment of an expected loss across the province.
“Obviously, we wish we had results different than we know we are going to get,” she said on the phone from campaign headquarters in Toronto.
This was the third campaign Matthews had co-chaired for the provincial Liberals.
She had great success in 1987, when her brother-in-law, David Peterson’s Liberals won their first majority in 50 years, and disappointment in 1985 when Mike Harris’s Tories won after several Liberal miscues.
Win or lose, “You put your heart and soul into it. I’ve given everything I had,” Matthews said.
“People wanted a change.”
The change, in this region at least, simply didn’t extend to the NDP.
Despite polls showing close races between the PCs and NDP in Sarnia-Lambton and Chatham-Kent-Leaminginton, PC incumbents won both races there.
In fact, the PCs were on their way to win by even bigger margins in those ridings than in the last election.
Some political scientists had predicted potential gains by the NDP in the 519 area code because voters were feeling left behind by the economic growth in the rest of the province.
But it always was going to be difficult to change the face of the London region, said Kings University College political scientist Jacquetta Newman.
“When the campaign started, I predicted that unless you were a Liberal, all the incumbents were going to be safe,” she said.
The progressive vote in the ridings outside of London often are split among Liberals and NDP, allowing the Conservatives to win, she said.
This year, some Liberals might simply have stayed at home rather than vote NDP, Newman said.
“The NDP surge we were all expecting just didn’t happen,” Sarnia mayor and former provincial Liberal candidate Mike Bradley said.
The NDP ran a strong campaign in Sarnia-Lambton, and PC Leader Doug Ford didn’t seem popular, Sarnia mayor Mike Bradley said.
But PC incumbent and election winner Bob Bailey has been an effective constituency worker, Bradley said.
“There isn’t an envelope opening that Bob’s not at.”
Ford and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath made several swings through the London region.
Ford repeatedly raised the spectre of Bob Rae’s NDP government in the early 1990s, saying things would be worse under Horwath.
Horwath countered with claims Ford’s spending cuts would hurt ordinary families.
With the win, Ford needs to extend a hand to the other two parties, Bradley said.
“This has been the most disrespectful election as far as mud being thrown I’ve ever seen, by all three parties,” he said.
It will be painful for Liberal and NDP supporters waking up Friday morning, Newman said.
“But four or five years from now, it’s probably going to look worse,” she said.
Decimated now, the Liberals will have four years to rebuild. That means they’ll be strong enough to split the progressive vote in ridings like some of the urban/rural ones in the London region, she said.
“This may be the NDP’s hurrah of the past 25 years,” Newman said.
As in the election, the wild card could be Ford.
“A lot will depend on Ford’s behaviour.”
For now, all but one of the region’s seven PCs can look forward to a unfamiliar, but friendly situation – power.
Only Oxford’s Ernie Hardeman has sat with a PC government.
“It’s very rewarding to be in a majority government where you can actually implement things rather than just criticize,” Hardeman said.
Chatham-Kent-Leamington PC Rick Nicholls said he had a feeling that “if ever we have a good chance at forming government, this was the election.”