The results of the 2011 Ontario Provincial Election were really no surprise to anyone because no one really knew what was going to happen.
In Guelph, Liz Sandals handily strode to a third consecutive victory with 19,734 votes, a loss of barely 450 over her total vote load in 2007. But that wasn't the real story in Guelph; the more interesting number was 802, as in the number of votes that separated PC Greg Schirk and NDP James Gordon. Schirk won 11,950 votes to Gordon's 11,148. For Schirk it was a marginal 308 vote loss over what Bob Senechal brought in for the PCs in 2007, but for Gordon it meant a 63 per cent improvement over Karan Mann-Bowers, who ran for the NDP in the last election. Sadly for local Greens, Steve Dyck was only able to collect 3,234 votes, or barely a third of the votes of Ben Polley's third place finish in 2007.
So what do we make of Sandals' easy hat trick? Beating her nearest competition nearly 7,800 votes due to strategic voting may be overstating the influence of that constituency. It's more likely that Guelph voters are satisfied with Sandals representation because the opposition's idea that there's a great ground swell in the riding/city of people unsatisfied with her time as MPP certainly wasn't represented in the polls yesterday.
Perhaps the real surprise of the election is that Premier Dalton McGuinty came so close to his third majority; a single seat separated him from a minority-proof 54, despite the fact that he was elected for an historic third term with a minority government. Trailing the polls for more or less the last year until a week after the writ was dropped, a McGuinty victory was an uncertain prospect.
In context though, the McGuinty Liberals still lost 18 seats from their second election in 2007. That's not a number easy to sneeze, but I doubt the Liberals today are really caring. On the other side of the aisle, a seven seat addition to the NDP caucus will bolster Andrea Horwath's influence in Queen's Park, while Tim Hudak, who despite winning an handsome 12 seat addition to his party or a total of 37, may have some explaining to do. The last few days of his campaign were ugly, and some in his party may be wondering how, despite the poll numbers, the PCs were only able to wound, and not topple, the McGuinty Liberals. Respectfully, this was Hudak's first election, and that fact alone may reflect the result as many weren't yet sold on Hudak, or reserved voting for him until he's had more experience.
One thing that's hard to deny is that there's a new kind of regionalism in effect in Ontario.
Looking at the electoral map, Ontario is like a centaur: a big orange torso, with blue bottoms highlighted by red spots. The NDP runs the north and several urban centres, the PCs hold rural Ontario and towns and cities just beyond the borders of the GTA, and the Liberals represent the urbane areas of Ontario, particularly Toronto and the GTA. If the McGuinty government is to survive till 2015, the Premier will have to make small moves to make places outside Toronto feel like their part of the process; he'll have to reach out more and fight the most damning condemnation of his government: that it's a Toronto-down organization.
But will a minority McGuinty government in Ontario be under the same kind of attack recent minority governments federally were? Unsure. For one thing, there's that one seat margin that kept McGuinty from majority status, a much closer margin than either Paul Martin or Stephen Harper enjoyed. With so many close races, not to mention an exceedingly low voter turnout, a redo, impromptu election sometime in the next couple of years might work in McGuinty's favour. Then there's the Hudak factor. There are some grumblings about how much the PC leader didn't help the cause with comparisons to the increasing unpopular Rob Ford and commitment to potentially xenophobic and homophobic policies on the campaign trail. In an election where everything seemed in his favour to win, the reasons for Hudak's fortunes are multiple choice.
Either way, it's a new day, (almost) the same as old day in Ontario. Where will go to next?