Robert Martin is the founder of LeanTossup, which is an election model predictor that has seen recognition for its election predictions, especially towards the 2019 Canadian Election.
Please summarize what happened during the election?
To be honest, not much . After defeating a very unpopular Liberal government in 2018 Doug Ford won an even larger majority in 2022. Despite the Liberals moving on from their unpopular leader they functionally made no real gains at all, and still do not have official party status in the Ontario legislature (Doug Ford changed this after the 2018 election to ensure the Liberals would not get party status with their previous low seat count, and somehow the Liberals have still not gotten above the 12 seat threshold). The NDP, despite claiming they were the best positioned to take on Doug Ford, ended up losing many seats to Doug Ford, and barely holding on in others (Niagara Centre, Oshawa).
What were the main factors for the PC’s to gain seats after a difficult four years in administration?
I think there are a few reasons. Although Doug Ford was not very popular he somehow found himself against other leaders who were not very popular as well. In terms of the last four years, you really need to separate those into two periods, before COVID and during/after COVID. Before COVID the Ford government picked unnecessary fights with different groups like the City of Toronto, Ontario residents who rely on French services, children with Autism and teacher’s unions (yes, those all really happened before 2020). However, the government made a pivot, and removed their chief of staff Dean French in June 2019. That was only months before COVID, and during that period there was no time to pick unpopular political fights. Since March 2020 the government was focused completely on COVID, and worked with the popular Trudeau led Federal government. While in many cases the Provincial government did drag their feet a little on COVID lockdowns during different high case load times (usually around Christmas and Easter) they eventually did the lockdowns that were required. I feel like, for many people, there was a sense that Ford did well enough during COVID, which was the most pressing need at the time, that they were ok with electing him again. Our polling showed he was somewhat in trouble in early spring, but once the province of Ontario completely removed the mask mandate in March he went back up to around 40% of the vote and he would end there on Thursday night
Why does Ford seem to win over the voters that the Federal party appears to be struggling to sway?
It’s an interesting question. I think some people believe that there are legions and legions of Trudeau/Ford voters, and while there are many, it’s important to remember the size of this group. Federally, the Conservatives have strength in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) even though they do not win many seats in it. They still get in the mid to high 30s to 40s in many of those ridings. However, the Federal Liberals are able to just get high enough across the board to sweep the overwhelming majority of them. Doug Ford, however, is able to get around 40-50% of the vote in each, so it’s basically about 10-15% of those GTA ridings that are crossover voters. While obviously that is enough to have a large electoral impact, it’s still roughly only one in ten voters or so (more in a few seats, less in others).
I think one of the reasons Ford is able to do this is because he does not come off as your typical Conservative politician. He is not Margaret Thatcher, or George Bush. He doesn’t talk about rugged individualism or the risks of the welfare state. He also doesn’t talk about culturally conservative issues at all. Unlike in the US, there is no talk about transgender students in sports, or Critical Race Theory. Unlike with some Conservative parties there is no demonization of immigrants. As a matter of fact, some of Doug Ford’s largest seat wins came in ridings that are majority/near majority Chinese/Asian and he also gained ridings with heavy Indian populations from the NDP as well. While the Federal Conservatives will always be tied to Alberta and the more far right members of their party, Doug Ford is almost a border line Liberal to many people. He cares much more about building highways or subways than basically any culturally conservative issue at all.
How will this result affect the Federal Conservative’s leadership election?
There will be calls for candidates to mimic Doug Ford’s appeals to voters, saying that if they were to moderate like him they could win a majority government. That is wrong, mostly because by moderating like Doug Ford they have virtually no chance to win the Federal Leadership. To win the leadership they have to appeal to a much more right wing base, of which policy mostly designed around building a highway to connect two Toronto suburbs to each other would not go over well with Conservative activists in rural western provinces. Or even with rural Ontario activists.
The NDP were expecting losses, do you think they would be disappointed with the result?
They have to be. The most basic function of a political party is to win seats and win government, not to make friends and have fun. This isn’t youth soccer. The NDP failed to win in 2018, but kept Horwath in the hope that she could improve. That did not happen, and she, correctly in my opinion, resigned on Thursday night.
What were the reasons why they lost support this time out?
They didn’t offer anything for voters to actually vote for. In my opinion, I believe they thought they won this election on election night in 2018. They believed that Ford would do unpopular things, and that the province of Ontario would embrace them as the anti-Ford alternative, and they would win a majority government, and the Liberals could do nothing to stop them. What actually happened was the Liberals gained back some level of support from the NDP which was obvious as many people voted for the NDP in 2018 as a strategic vote to stop Ford in 2018, so the Liberals were always going to gain some of that back. However, in many NDP seats, the NDP lost vote share to the Conservatives, as I think people thought Ford did pretty good in office, and did not feel like Horwath was making a compelling argument to win their vote. So they either voted for Ford or stayed home
Who do you see taking over the leadership of the Ontario NDP?
I’m not sure to be honest. There are a lot of different paths they could take. They could try to find someone who would be the strongest electorally, or they could try to find someone very left wing to give support to all of their policies. To be honest, unless they pick a very good leader, I don’t see them being much of a factor in the next election.
Why did the Liberal party not live up to expectation, coming into the night expecting extensive gains, but still failing to get official party status?
That’s a really interesting question. Some of their failed gains are quite embarrassing. Two specifically in Toronto in Eglinton Lawrence and Toronto – St. Pauls. Those are seats that border seats they won in 2018, and they only lost them barely in 2018. The fact that they couldn’t win either of those seats is a huge indictment of how the party did in the election. We can obviously talk about failed gains in Liberal friendly territory in some close GTA seats, but failing to take seats that were at your front door is unacceptable. It really shows that Del Duca ran a lacklustre campaign and failed to make a compelling case to vote for the Liberal party.
What lessons do they need to learn from this campaign, to build on and improve?
I think in many ways they made the same mistake as the NDP. I think they thought that at some point people would view them as the party to take on Ford, and they would suddenly gain a ton of voters, but that never happened. They need to build a platform and actually do the work to convince people to support them in the next election, not rely on strategic votes. Additionally, Del Duca barely attacked Ford, much the same way as Horwath. I think many of them just assumed that all of Ontario hated Ford the same way their voters did, and that just by standing there and saying they were the one party to take on Ford would gain all of those voters. But it turns out many of those Ford voters were quite sticky, and at the end decided to stick with Ford and his promises, rather than the lacklustre offerings of the Liberals or the NDP.
Who do you see as a successor as leader of the Ontario Liberals?
Again, hard to say. With only eight MPPs, it could be any one of them. I think there is a chance that some Federal Ontario MP steps down and runs for it, or maybe some other candidate that lost. However, that would likely require one of the current eight MPPs to stand down and let the new leader run in their seat in a by-election. While that might happen, all of the MPPs are quite young, there is no obvious retirement target.
The Greens held their one seat, but their leader gained a lot of personal support, how would you define this result for the Greens?
This is actually a good result for the Greens. They came close to winning their best target riding of Parry Sound-Muskoka, and have made gains in many others. Many people thought their leader had the best debate. If they can follow up with that for a few more elections, and identify target seats and really focus on those over the next four years, they could win 1 or more new seats in 2026.
With the Ontario Greens having one Provincial, and one Federal riding in Ontario, do you think there may be a breakthrough in the near future, like there was in Australia recently, going forward?
The Australian Green breakout mostly was a function of a breakout in Queensland, and that was mostly due to the electoral system. The only reason the Greens have a federal riding in Ontario is because the Federal Liberal Candidate had to withdraw and they couldn’t find a replacement in it. The Green candidate ran a strong campaign in 2019, and they ran again, so they were able to win. In Canada, since we still use First past the post, it’s much harder to see a large scale breakout. However, if there was a minority government in 2026, and the Greens had the two or three seats that the Liberals and NDP needed to have more votes than the PCs to form government, then that would put them in a very good spot.
How do you see this result impacted the future of the province?
I don’t see a ton of impact, to be honest. I partly think this is one of the reasons why voter turnout was so low. This election was really about nothing. No candidate, outside of the Greens basically, was proposing anything radically different from the status quo. The majority of policy arguments were about specific numbers of spending, rather than whole programs.
Do you see this result having any bearings on Federal results going forward, when Trudeau calls the next election, when this province is one of the most important Provinces to make gains?
I don’t really. The 2018 Ontario election didn’t impact the 2019 and 2021 Federal elections, and I can’t really think of a reason why this would be different. In many ways Ford has been very close with Trudeau on policy, appearing with him and supporting many of the measures he brought in during the pandemic. The concept of voting for the opposite party at the local level is mostly contained to the US and the UK. Sometimes in the UK voters will vote against the party in power at the local level in elections, and in the US voters almost always cast out the party in power during Midterm elections two years after the Presidential election. There is no real trend for that in Canada. In Canada we view our Federal and Provincial parties as mostly distinct. Some might argue that the Liberals have lost power in a lot of provincial governments since the Liberals won Federally in 2015, which is true. However, many of those losses also coincide with those provincial governments being in power for a decade or more. The Liberals lost Ontario in 2018 after being in power since 2003. They lost Quebec in 2018 after being in power since 2003 with just a 2 year gap from 2012 to 2014. They lost Nova Scotia in 2021 after being in power since 2009. They lost PEI in 2019 after being in power since 2003. They lost British Columbia in 2017 after being in power since 2001. In Canada, we throw governments out, not elect new ones. Trudeau could lose in the next federal election, but the Liberals doing poorly in Ontario in 2022 should not have an effect on it.