Toronto and its surrounding regions once again provided the Liberals a path to victory Monday, suggesting Justin Trudeau’s campaign strategy of using Ontario Premier Doug Ford to warn of Conservative doom and gloom resonated with voters.
The so-called 905 area ringing the city is home to several ridings that were considered up for grabs — and a key path to forming government — but in the end, only two seats in the region were set to change hands from the 2015 election, when the Liberals nearly swept the Greater Toronto Area.
Lisa Raitt, a former Conservative cabinet minister, was defeated in Milton by Adam van Koeverden, a former Olympian, for the Liberals. In Aurora-Oak Ridges-Richmond Hill, Leona Alleslev won for the Conservatives in the same seat she captured for the Liberals in 2015, before she crossed the floor.
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The Liberals also swept the city of Toronto, holding off challenges from the NDP, who had hoped to regain four ridings they lost in 2015. The party suffered losses nationally, dropping from a majority to a minority, but their seat count in Ontario was virtually unchanged from the 76 seats they held at dissolution.
Trudeau made the province’s premier a central focus of his re-election campaign and that paid off, said Cristine de Clercy, an associate political science professor at Western University.
“It offered frustrated Ontario voters a way to punish Mr. Ford for the unpopularity of his policies before the next provincial election,” she said. “So certainly that opportunity, it seems like some voters took full advantage of it.”
Trudeau attempted to tie Ford to Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer like an anchor to sink Tory prospects in the province, capitalizing in particular on education turmoil. Ontario is in difficult contract talks with the major teacher and education worker unions and support staff were mere hours away from a strike during the campaign.
The Liberal leader expressed concerns about Ford’s changes to education, including increasing class sizes — though he insisted he was wading in as a concerned parent.
Scheer and Ford themselves took massive pains to avoid helping voters make that connection. Scheer nearly managed to make it through the campaign without even saying Ford’s name, and the Tories dispatched Alberta Premier Jason Kenney to stump for Conservative votes in Ontario, including on Ford’s own turf. Ford kept an extremely low profile, making few public appearances and avoiding questions from reporters except on two occasions in northern Ontario.
Ford’s Progressive Conservatives won a majority government last summer on the strength of a campaign replete with populist promises but also an electorate eager for change following 15 years of Liberal governments.
Since then, however, Ford’s popularity has tanked, thanks in part to a wide range of cuts in his first budget and a variety of patronage scandals.
Trudeau was trying to entice voters who helped elect Ford in 2018 and may now be regretting that choice — polling suggests that may be 10 to 15 per cent of last year’s Tory voters — and scare left-leaning voters into coalescing around the Liberals.
“The NDP wasn’t able to stop Doug Ford,” Trudeau said.
The NDP was set to finish this election down two seats in Ontario. Not only did New Democrats not secure their hoped-for Toronto seats of Parkdale-High Park, Davenport, Toronto Danforth and Beaches-East York, they lost two seats in the Windsor area, where they won in 2015.
They also failed to make in-roads into the GTA, even in Brampton East, the seat formerly held provincially by Jagmeet Singh before he was the federal NDP leader.
Jag Nijjar, a businessman, said Brampton has long been an immigrant destination and people like the Liberal record in that regard.
“Immigration is an important part of our economy. (People here) recognize maybe not what Trudeau, but Trudeau’s dad, did and there’s still a lot of favour towards both of them.”
Several Ontario Liberals who went down in defeat in the provincial election last year won federal seats, including former provincial health minister Helena Jaczek, who defeated former federal Liberal health minister Jane Philpott running as an independent in Markham-Stouffville. Marie-France Lalonde, one of the few Ontario Liberals to hang onto their seats in 2018, made the jump to federal politics and was rewarded with a win in Orleans.
Han Dong also won in Don Valley North and Yvan Baker won in Etobicoke Centre.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 21, 2019.
— With files from Nicole Thompson and Colin Perkel
Allison Jones, The Canadian Press