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The most baffling miscalculations made by each of Ontario’s parties

Political parties invest great amounts of time and energy into preparing for election campaigns – far more, generally, than the media covering them. For all that we’re constantly questioning their strategic decisions, an awful lot of thought and research goes into most of them, and even if they don’t pan out there’s usually a good explanation behind them.

Still, this election has contained its share of mysteries when it comes to what the parties were thinking. Here’s a quick look at what was, to these eyes, the most baffling miscalculation by each party.

The Liberals’ debate prep

Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne takes part in the Ontario provincial leaders debate in Toronto, Tuesday June 3, 2014. (Mark Blinch/Canadian Press)

Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne takes part in the Ontario provincial leaders debate in Toronto, Tuesday June 3, 2014. (Mark Blinch/Canadian Press)

Yes, it was bad luck for Kathleen Wynne that the very first topic in her first leaders’ debate – before she’d had a chance to let her nerves settle – was the gas-plants scandal. But that still doesn’t explain why she didn’t have a better plan for the inevitable questions on that subject than to repeatedly apologize while uncomfortably staring straight ahead as the other leaders berated her, then make an awkward and unsuccessful attempt to change the channel to Tim Hudak’s math problems.

Ms. Wynne was being prepped for the debate dating back to last year, so it’s not as though no thought went into this. One theory offered by some Liberal insiders is that, somewhat in keeping with the way their party has made both political and policy decisions since Ms. Wynne took over, there were a lot of people in the room during those sessions – and enough conflicting advice that she didn’t have a clear idea of what she was supposed to do.

Another explanation also floating around is that while they expected Mr. Hudak to be tough on her, the Liberals failed to adjust to the aggressive persona Andrea Horwath had taken on by the time the debate happened. Instead, by this account, Ms. Wynne was prepared for the folksier version of the NDP Leader from the 2011 campaign, and left flummoxed by the attack from both sides.

Or maybe the prep just didn’t take as it should have, with Ms. Wynne’s nervousness getting the better of her. Whatever happened, if the Liberals lose on Thursday, they’ll have cause to look back on the debate with some regret.

The Tories’ hard sell of 100,000 job cuts

Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak shares a laugh with workers at Automatic Coating Limited in Toronto on Tuesday, May 6, 2014.  (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak shares a laugh with workers at Automatic Coating Limited in Toronto on Tuesday, May 6, 2014. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

The more obvious choice for a Progressive Conservative mystery in this campaign might be how Mr. Hudak’s policy advisers managed to badly botch the math behind his pledge to create a million new jobs, causing him no shortage of embarrassment. Chalk that one up to sloppiness, albeit of the fairly remarkable variety. What’s even more confusing is how the Tories rolled out their plan to cut 100,000 jobs from the broader public sector.

When they announced that pledge, a few days in, it seemed obviously intended as something to seize the electorate’s attention and become the talk of the campaign. If it wasn’t, then surely Mr. Hudak would have soft-sold it as relying largely on attrition rather than giving the impression that it involved firing a lot of people.

But by the accounts of many within their party, the Tories were genuinely caught off guard by how much the proposed cuts overshadowed other policies they rolled out in the days that followed, and the extent to which it gave their opponents something to rally against. So in subsequent the weeks, Mr. Hudak did start talking more about attrition – but only after the other parties had reasonably been able to characterize his proposal as mass layoffs.

Prior to the debate, several PC sources have said, there was starting to be a degree of finger-pointing within their party about both the million-jobs math and the jobs-cuts roll-out. A better mood set in because of the perceived momentum swing in their favour, which seemingly had much to do with the focus shifting to Liberal scandals. But there will again be plenty of second-guessing if the motivated centre-left keeps them from office.

The NDP’s slow start

Andrea Horwath speaks at a campaign stop in Toronto on May 7. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Andrea Horwath speaks at a campaign stop in Toronto on May 7. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Frankly, almost the entire NDP campaign has been baffling. While there have been occasional signs of what could have worked – Ms. Horwath is a more confident performer than she was in 2011, and when anyone has actually seen them their ads have been pretty good – it remains unclear why the New Democrats forced an election for which they lacked both a policy agenda and enough money to compete with the other parties.

What is especially confusing, though, is why Ms. Horwath was so unprepared for the campaign’s first week. In the run-up to the May 2 provincial budget, neither of the other parties could be certain how the New Democrats would respond. But in retrospect, considering that their rejection of that left-leaning budget clearly had little to do with its contents, the New Democrats should have known well before it was presented what they were going to do. And if they had bluffed publicly about weighing their options while making preparations behind the scenes, they might have run the smoothest campaign out of the gate.

Instead, the New Democrats looked more surprised than anyone by the government falling. It took them the longest to get their logistics sorted out, and more important they lacked a compelling explanation for why they had decided to bring the Liberals down. This was probably the time to make the strongest possible argument about Liberal corruption, as Ms. Horwath tried to do much later; instead she stumbled through a less-than-compelling case about liking Ms. Wynne’s promises but not trusting her to deliver on them.

As a result, Ms. Horwath squandered the spotlight that was on her in those first days. Before long, with the other leaders campaigning more strongly, the narrative of a two-way race had taken hold – one the New Democrats were never able to shake in the weeks that followed.

analysisandrea horwathkathleen wynnetim hudak
Filed under: Ontario Election

One last horse-race number from Ontario’s election campaign

As you probably know if you spent much time around here during Ontario’s election campaign, we put a fair amount of time and effort into trying to understand the perspectives of voters.

The idea of the Listening Post project that Innovative Research Group did for us was to get beyond the usual horse-race polling that tends to dominate coverage, and get a better grasp on why people would vote the way they did. So we opted not to report the horse-race numbers from this research at all – because that really wasn’t the point, and we didn’t want those numbers to overshadow the more in-depth stuff, and because the idea was to produce information that would hold up regardless of who won.

That said, as we continue to roll out a bit more of the numbers-behind-the-numbers this week, we can have a little extra confidence in this research. Because if we had reported the horse-race figures that Innovative Research showed us the day before the election, that company would be getting to do a little crowing about now.

Here, for the record, are the final decided-voter numbers based on a weighted sample of 526 Listening Post respondents who participated in an online panel between June 8 and June 10.  Other than some modest upward movement by the NDP in the campaign’s final days, these were fairly consistent with what Innovative Research saw (often with larger samples) through the campaign’s final weeks – a strong Liberal lead over a PC Party with a lower share of the popular vote than most other polls were suggesting.

Decided-voter numbers

Based on a weighted sample of 526 Listening Post respondents.

SOURCE: Innovative Research Group

And here, in case you don’t have such things committed to memory, is what popular vote turned out to be once the ballots had been counted on June 12.

Popular vote

Again, the horse race really wasn’t the point here. But if nothing else, it’s nice to know that when it came to voting intentions, the people who were helping us get a better read on the electorate were apparently pretty reflective of that electorate at large.

polls
Filed under: Ontario Election

Hudak bet Liberals wouldn’t bother to vote. Here’s how he was wrong

This morning, I wrote broadly about how some very incorrect assumptions led Tim Hudak’s Progressive Conservative astray. It’s perhaps worth a closer look at a few numbers that tell the story.

Mr. Hudak’s strategy revolved largely around the premise that in battleground ridings, particularly in the Greater Toronto, turnout among PC voters would be higher than among likely Liberals. If it failed, members of his campaign team predicted, it would be because the NDP collapsed and failed to split the centre-left vote.

What didn’t seem to concern most Tories was the prospect of Liberal supporters being as motivated as their own – let alone more motivated.

And yet, if one compares this election’s results in those battlegrounds to the results from 2011, it appears that’s exactly what happened. Increases in Liberal votes surpassed increases in PC votes (if the PC votes went up at all) in virtually any riding it’s worth looking at, and not significantly at the expense of the New Democrats.

Here, for example, is the difference in 2011 and 2014 vote totals in Richmond Hill - the sort of bellwether GTA riding the Tories probably needed to take in order to win government.

Election results in Richmond Hill

That one, like a bunch of others, was at least kind of a wash – which is better for the Tories than what can be said about Mississauga-Erindale, where the Tories thought they had a chance of taking out an incumbent (Harinder Takhar) who didn’t even decide to seek re-election until the campaign had started.

Election results in Mississauga-Erindale

Not only did this phenomenon prevent the Tories from taking Liberal seats; it also accounted for them losing ones they’d long held. The most dramatic example, where the Tories seemed to also suffer for supporters deserting them for other parties, might be Durham – a riding that was vacated by veteran PC MPP John O’Toole when he retired:

Election results in Durham

And venturing over to the province’s southwest, where the Liberals were supposed to be losing seats rather than gaining them, here’s what happened to incumbent PC MPP Rob Leone in Cambridge:

Election results in Cambridge

I could go on, but you probably get the general drift.

As a side note, while still nowhere near winning anywhere, the Green Party experienced more growth than one might have expected. Whether that’s a tribute to Green Leader Mike Schreiner or just a reflection of none-of-the-above sentiments is probably best left to another day.

For now, we’re still sorting through why the Liberals did better than most anyone expected and the Tories much worse. An important caveat with the turnout story is that it’s probably not a completely straightforward one. For instance, the Tories may have motivated more of their base than previously, while losing some of their more moderate supporters to the other parties.

Still, looking at the above numbers, it’s hard not to think that the Tories vastly overestimated their motivation skills, and vastly underestimated how much Ms. Wynne – with a big assist from Mr. Hudak – could motivate Liberals.

analysistim hudak
Filed under: Ontario Election

Hudak to resign as PC leader: ‘We did not receive the results we wanted’

Ontario PC leader Tim Hudak, right, announced will be stepping down as party leader after being defeated.

Ontario PC leader Tim Hudak, right, announced he will be stepping down as party leader after being defeated, at his headquarters in Grimsby, Ont. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Tim Hudak won his riding of Niagara West-Glanbrook, and will stay on as MPP.

tim hudak
Filed under: Ontario Election

Two surprising results for Toronto in Ontario election

Toronto saw a couple surprising losses in the Ontario election, with a long-time NDP MPP getting turfed and another politician in a key west-end riding also being voted out of office.

Reaction was swift, and for some, sad.

As in the tweet above, some on social media were quick to assign blame. Liberal candidate Han Dong won by a margin of 6,917 votes.

In Etobicoke-Lakeshore, former deputy mayor Doug Holyday found himself without a seat less than a year after he won it for the PCs in a by-election.

Mr. Milczyn won by 6,201 votes.

Like Mr. Marchese, Mr. Holyday has had a long political career.

analysis
Filed under: Ontario Election

Who won in five key ridings

The polls have closed in Ontario’s 41st general election. Here are some key races that were crucial to deciding the outcome.

Etobicoke-Lakeshore

Doug Holyday (centre)   stands with wife Franca and PC leader Tim Hudak  after winning   the Ontario by-election as Doug Ford watches,  on Thursday August 1, 2013.  (Chris Young for The Globe and Mail)

Doug Holyday (centre) stands with wife Franca and PC leader Tim Hudak after winning the Ontario by-election as Doug Ford watches, on Thursday August 1, 2013. (Chris Young for The Globe and Mail)

Liberal candidate Peter Milczyn won the riding, deafeating PC candidate and former Toronto deputy mayor Doug Holyday.

Holyday won the riding by a tight margin in a 2013 by-election, beating out his former city hall colleague, Peter Milczyn.

Etobicoke-Lakeshore was the only Tory riding in Toronto. Mr. Milczyn’s victory returns the riding to the Liberals, who controlled it for 10 years before Mr. Holyday’s win.

This time however, Mr. Holyday didn’t have Etobicoke natives Rob and Doug Ford campaigning for him. The Toronto mayor is still in rehab.

Etobicoke-Lakeshore, 2013 by-election

Brampton-Springdale

Liberal candidate Harinder Malhi, right, campaigns door-door with members of the SEIU healthcare union in the riding of Brampton-Springle, Tuesday June 10, 2014.  (J.P. Moczulski for The Globe and Mail)

Liberal candidate Harinder Malhi, right, campaigns door-door with members of the SEIU healthcare union in the riding of Brampton-Sprindale, Tuesday June 10, 2014. (J.P. Moczulski for The Globe and Mail)

Harinder Malhi has won the riding, keeping it in Liberal hands.

The Liberals narrowly managed to hold on to this riding in 2011, when PC candidate Pam Hundal lost by fewer than 3,000 votes to high-profile incumbent Linda Jeffrey. Ms. Jeffrey gave up her seat in March, however, to run in Brampton’s mayoral race and was replaced by Malhi in this election.

NDP candidate Gurpreet Dhillon had hoped to sweep up the riding in the same orange wave that won Bramalea-Gore-Malton for the party in 2011. The NDP gathered just 15 per cent of the vote in the last election.

Brampton-Springdale, 2011 election

Peterborough

Jeff Leal , Minister of Rural Affairs, speaks to the media following the swearing in of Kathleen Wynne was sworn in as Ontario's first female premier, on Feb. 11, 2013. (Peter Power/ The Globe and Mail)

Jeff Leal, Minister of Rural Affairs, speaks to the media following the swearing in of Kathleen Wynne on Feb. 11, 2013. (Peter Power/ The Globe and Mail)

Peterborough has remained one of Ontario’s bellwether ridings, re-electing Liberal Jeff Leal.

Peterborough has voted for the party that won the most seats in that election since the late 1970s.

Leal, who was minister of rural affairs, was up against PC candidate Scott Stewart and NDP’s Sheila Wood.

Ottawa West-Nepean, 2011 elections

Niagara Falls

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, left, and local candidate Wayne Gates, right, speaks to supporters at the Italia Ice Cream shop during a campaign stop in Niagara Falls, Ont., on Thursday, June 5, 2014. Nathan Denette

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, left, and local candidate Wayne Gates, right, speaks to supporters at the Italia Ice Cream shop during a campaign stop in Niagara Falls, Ont., on Thursday, June 5, 2014. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

It looks like NDP MP Wayne Gates will head back to Queen’s Park, landing far ahead in the polls from his opponents with about 50 per cent of the vote, now that most polls have returned results.

PC candidate Bart Maves has secured only 30 per cent so far, a larger gap than when he lost to Mr. Gates by about 1,000 votes in a by-election earlier this year.

Candidates from all three major parties spent plenty of time trying to woo voters in the riding during their campaigns.

Niagara Falls, 2014 by-election

Ottawa West-Nepean

Liberal Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli takes questions from the media following Ontario auditor general Jim McCarter's press conference at Queen's Park in Toronto about the cancellation of the Mississauga power plant, on Monday, April 15, 2013.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/Matthew Sherwood

Liberal Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli takes questions from the media on Monday, April 15, 2013. (Matthew Sherwood/The Canadian Press)

Liberal cabinet minister Bob Chiarelli has managed to keep his seat in Ottawa West-Nepean.

There was speculation that Chiarelli was in danger of losing his seat as the PCs tried to squeeze their way into the Liberal stronghold in the Ottawa region.

In 2011, he won by just 2 per cent of the vote against PC candidate Randall Denley, who was competing for the seat again in this election.

Ottawa West-Nepean, 2011 election

analysis
Filed under: Ontario Election
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