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                What If No Party Wins A Majority

                    In Ontario's June Election?

 

By Randall White

Kathleen Wynne’s slightly more diverse and near gender balanced cabinet shuffle on January 17 may or may not win her Liberals a few more seats in the June 7 Ontario election.

Whatever happens, Campaign Research’s monthly tracking survey is currently reporting better electoral prospects for the government than some other polls. Its latest numbers for a general election are Progressive Conservatives 35%, Liberals 34%, NDP 23%, and Greens 6%.  

At the same time, even these particular results just draw attention to the unhappy precedent of Christy Clark in BC last spring. If they persist into the actual vote Ontario will have some kind of minority government after June 7.

In a legislature with 17 new seats, the latest Campaign Research numbers just suggest that either Patrick Brown’s PCs or Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals could hold the most seats. And Andrea Horwath’s New Democrats would enjoy some kind of balance of power. 

At the moment, no one can know exactly if this is where voters ultimately land less than five months from now. But there are a few interesting precedents in Ontario political history. 

The most recent case is the Dalton McGuinty “major minority” government handed down by the 2011 election. Here the Liberals took 53 seats with less than 38% of the popular vote. The PCs had 37 seats with more than 35%. And the NDP won 17 seats with 23%. 

This finally led Premier McGuinty to pass the torch to a new leader, Kathleen Wynne.     

Ontario’s next most recent minority government election was as long ago as 1985. At that time, Frank Miller’s governing PCs did not exactly lose. They won 52 seats with 37% of the popular vote. 

But David Peterson’s Liberals won 48 seats with almost 38% of the vote. Bob Rae’s New Democrats took 25 seats with not quite 24%. And in 1985 the Ontario Progressive Conservatives had been in office for 42 consecutive years. 

Premier Miller’s minority government was soon toppled in the legislature. Then the Peterson Liberals (who did have the largest share of the popular vote) assumed office, on the strength of a two-year written Accord with the Rae New Democrats.

One might reasonably wonder why the 1985 Liberal-NDP Accord didn’t happen somewhat earlier in the PC dynasty’s long reign. 

In the 1975 and 1977 Ontario elections, William Davis’ governing PCs managed no better than minority governments. Yet in both cases the Davis PCs won not just the largest number of seats but also the largest share of the popular vote (51 seats with 36% of the vote in 1975 and 58 seats with almost 40% in 1977). 

In both cases as well, the Liberals and NDP were too close to each other in seats and vote shares to suggest an obvious alternative premier to lead a still one-party government as in 1985. 

(In 1975 New Democrats won 38 seats with 29% of the popular vote. Liberals had 35 seats with 34%. In 1977 Liberals had 34 seats and 31%, and New Democrats 33 seats with 28%.)

Ontario Liberals were also still arguably far enough to the right of New Democrats in the 1970s to make any outright Liberal-NDP coalition government unthinkable.

Further back again, in 1943 Ontario’s founding Progressive Conservatives under George Drew borrowed creatively from the platform of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation ancestors of today’s NDP. And they won a minority government that gave birth to the subsequent 42-year PC dynasty. 

Still further back, the 1919 provincial election, in which women generally voted for the first time, gave birth to a “Farmer-Labour” coalition government. It only lasted until 1923. But it arguably marks the modern beginnings of both the present-day Liberals and New Democrats. 

Some Liberal-NDP working agreement for minority government survival, formal or informal, may also be the most sensible option, if the people of Ontario ultimately do deliver a more centre-left hung parliament on June 7, 2018. (And if all the different real-world personalities involved can finally just get along.) 

If Patrick Brown’s PCs take the most seats—and the largest share of the popular vote—but still fall short of a majority, some PC-NDP working agreement seems much less likely, from both sides of the equation. 

As matters stand, an Ontario Conservative-Liberal alliance, in the spirit of what happened after the 2010 election in the United Kingdom, looks equally far-fetched. 

In the PC minority case the future may turn around whether Mr. Brown can manage to copy the playbook William Davis used to navigate his minority governments from 1975 to the 1981 election, when the aging PC dynasty finally won a majority again. 

One wonders, from another related angle, just how much Patrick Brown learned from Stephen Harper’s federal minority governments, 2006–2011, during Brown's years on the backbenches in Ottawa.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Randall White

Randall White is a former senior policy advisor with the Ontario Ministry of Finance, and a former economist with the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. He is the author of Ontario 1610-1985: A Political and Economic History and Ontario Since 1985. He writes frequently about Ontario politics.
Posted date : January 31, 2018

View all of Randall White's columns
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