It is now less than a year until the next Ontario election on June 2, 2022. And the latest polling suggests some unsettling prospects for the near political future in Canada’s most populous province.
According to a Léger survey conducted May 21–23, if an election were held then, 34% of the people of Ontario would vote PC, 26% Liberal, 25% NDP, and 9% Green.
A Mainstreet Research poll conducted May 15–16 had similar results for “decided and leaning voters”: PC 33%, NDP 28%, Liberal 27%, Green 6%.
A Campaign Research survey conducted as long ago as May 2–8 gave the PCs as much as 36% of the current decided vote, with Liberals at 28%, NDP 25%, and Greens 7%.
Philippe J. Fournier’s 338Canada seat projections for Ontario, as of May 19, summarize the implications of these kinds of numbers where the rubber hits the road.
If late May 2021 conditions still prevailed on June 2, 2022, 338Canada projects, the Ontario PCs would win 54 seats, New Democrats 35, Liberals 34, and the Greens 1.
The present Legislative Assembly at Queen’s Park has 124 seats, which makes 63 a bare majority. On the May 19 seat projections, the 54-seat Ford Nation PCs would win a minority government.
One immediate question in this toxic partisan age is would either the New Democrats or the Liberals ever vote to keep a Ford minority government in office for any length of time?
In the abstract there is a 1970s historical precedent for the lengthy survival of Ontario PC minority governments with similar seat allocations at Queen’s Park.
In 1975, in a 125-seat Legislature, the Bill Davis PCs won only 51 seats. The NDP took 38 and Liberals 36. The resulting PC minority government tried to regain its majority with a fresh election in 1977. But PCs did only slightly better with 58 seats. Liberals had 34 and NDP 33.
In both these cases Liberals and New Democrats together had well beyond the bare majority of 63 seats — 74 in 1975, and 67 even in 1977. But Bill Davis’s PC minority government survived until 1981, when it won its majority back at last.
At the same time, it seems arguable that the 2020s are not like the 1970s. And in many ways Doug Ford is no Bill Davis, in personality or policy preferences.
The Davis minority governments of 1975 and 1977 were in any case a sign that the long Ontario PC dynasty which began in 1943 would not last forever.
Bill Davis’s successor as party leader, Frank Miller, did not exactly lose the 1985 election. His PCs won 52 seats. The Liberals took 48 and New Democrats 25.
But this led to an innovative Liberal-NDP Accord. And that led to the prompt defeat of Frank Miller’s PCs in the Legislature, and the installation of a Liberal government under David Peterson for the next two years, committed in writing to certain policies favoured by Bob Rae’s NDP.
Could the 1985 Liberal-NDP Accord be any kind of precedent for some new Liberal-NDP (or NDP-Liberal) governing agreement in 2022?
Assuming the 2022 final results are close to Fournier’s 338Canada seat projections as of May 19, (PCs 54 seats, NDP 35, Liberals 34, Greens 1), some 2022 NDP-Liberal Accord would not be at all as easy as in 1985.
In 1985 the Liberals had almost twice as many seats as the New Democrats (48 to 25). And they had a slightly greater share of the province-wide popular vote than the PCs. It was easy enough to see the Peterson Liberals as the government, supported in the Legislature by the NDP.
With the New Democrats and Liberals splitting the opposition vote almost equally, as they are in the polling right now, the diplomacy of any progressive alliance against the Ford PCs seems much more challenging.
Not to worry. As CBC polling analyst Éric Grenier has urged, with Ontario’s current electoral system “it appears the PCs could still cobble together a majority government.” (Both Bob Rae in 1990 and Dalton McGuinty in 2011 won majority governments with as little as 38% of the popular vote.)
Yet a week is a long time in politics, and just under a year is even longer. If the people of Ontario become determined to not re-elect Doug Ford in 2022 (as they were to not re-elect Bob Rae in 1995), it is also possible that voters will increasingly favour either the New Democrats or the Liberals as the winning progressive alternative.
Whatever may finally happen on June 2, 2022, the time between then and now could prove fascinating for serious fans and students of Ontario government and politics.
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.