Premier Dalton McGuinty’s major minority failed to evolve into a minor majority after voters in Kitchener-Waterloo rebuffed his party’s overtures Thursday.
At deadline, Liberal candidate Steven Del Duca was the winner in Vaughan, well ahead of nearest competitor Tory Tony Genco. and the NDP had declared victory in Kitchener-Waterloo.
The Liberals will stand pat with 53 seats, one seat shy of a majority.
New Democrats, after their stunning victory in Kitchener-Waterloo, will see their caucus increase by one seat to 18.
"What a proud moment for the NDP," party president Neethan Shan said to a roaring crowd at a Waterloo banquet hall late Thursday.
"What a proud moment for Ontario."PC Leader Tim Hudak not only failed to make gains in Vaughan, which returned to the Liberal fold, but also lost Kitchener-Waterloo which had been held by the Tories, dropping to 36 seats.
McGuinty, dependent on the support of opposition members to get his bills through the legislature, had made a strong pitch for a majority government.
“It is my preference and my deepest desire that we win this riding,” McGuinty said on the eve of the Kitchener-Waterloo vote.
The Liberals appointed former Tory MPP Elizabeth Witmer, who had held Kitchener-Waterloo for more than two decades, to chair the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) in a move viewed as an attempt to secure the longed-for majority.
But there were strong signals that the Liberals’ recent skirmishes with public unions, including legislation which would impose wage freezes on teachers, had an impact on the byelections.
Teachers and other unionized workers have shown up in large numbers in the past to support Liberal candidates, but many took a pass this time around.
The Working Families Coalition, a group of public and private unions which have targeted the Tories repeatedly at election time, hadn’t even updated its website for the byelections.
The NDP were bolstered in the riding by an all-out effort by the education unions who have been at war with the Liberals over a wage freeze.
The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation, along with CUPE Ontario education workers, aggressively pitched into the NDP Catherine Fife's campaign.
Hudak’s loss was significant in that it’s likely to raise questions about his leadership.
”I think the bigger issue here is if the Liberals win a majority they go back to their old game plan,” Hudak said when asked early Thursday about the implications of losing Kitchener-Waterloo.
In a sign that he was aware the NDP were very competitive in that riding, Hudak added that “when it comes to the NDP I think despite the rhetoric, if you think that the union bosses in Ontario (need) even more power, if you want to spend more money, then vote NDP.”
Hudak called Kitchener-Waterloo a “Witmer” seat rather than a Tory seat.
At the time that Witmer stepped down, one Tory source called it a betrayal but she is considered a well-respected member of the party, one who once ran for the leadership of the provincial Tories.
Greg Sorbara, a key figure in both the Dalton McGuinty government and the Ontario Liberal Party, announced his decision to vacate his Vaughan seat last month to spend more time with his family and to plan the party’s next general election campaign.
Sorbara said the uncertainty of a minority government meant the party had to be ready at any time for another election.