How Kathleen Wynne has upset the apple cart by admitting defeat in the 2018 Ontario election

“No one in the Tory or NDP campaign could have predicted this is what Kathleen Wynne would do five days before the election.”

Political analyst Jim Warren says the people running to lead Ontario couldn’t have predicted how this year’s general election has gone, and no one can truly predict how it will end.

But it’s worth knowing why Kathleen Wynne did what she did, and what it could mean for each of the three main parties. On June 2, with five days left to go until Ontario’s 42nd general election, the province’s incumbent premier announced she knew she’d been defeated.

In a speech that day she said she was “pretty sure” Ontario would elect a new government, but urged voters to avoid electing a majority PC or NDP government by electing as many Liberal candidates as possible.

While the move was radical, it was only the most recent anomaly in an election defined by them, Warren said.

“It’s a campaign made from a Hollywood script and you really don’t know what’s going to happen.”

“From the time that Patrick Brown resigned to Doug Ford’s victory to now Kathleen Wynne’s concession, it’s a campaign of firsts,” he said. “It’s a campaign made from a Hollywood script and you really don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Wynne made the admission after weeks spent trailing behind NDP and Progressive Conservative leaders Andrea Horwath and Doug Ford in polls.

The burn of rising hydro prices and a privatized hydro utility, coupled with the fact that Ontario has had a Liberal government for 15 years, had many voters ready to part ways with Wynne, and she knew it. So she fell on her sword for the Liberal candidates who are still running tight races; candidates who, Warren says, voters might not otherwise elect due to an aversion to Wynne.

“She did it because she had no other choice or alternative,” Warren says. “This is literally throwing the baby out the window of the burning house, and hoping someone catches the baby.”

“This is literally throwing the baby out the window of the burning house, and hoping someone catches the baby.”

Beyond trying to salvage her party and ensure it’s not wiped off of the map by a new majority government on Friday morning, Warren says he doesn’t see any other strategic reason for a candidate to admit defeat before the end of the election.

It’s almost unprecedented — in 2001, B.C. Premier Ujjal Dosanjh and the NDP knew they wouldn’t win another term, so they consolidated their campaign to a few competitive ridings — and it’s not, Warren says, something campaign strategists should ever plan for. 


 

“It’s not something you want to do in any strategic sense and they’re only doing it because it’s the nuclear option,” Warren says, adding he believes the party chose to upset the apple cart “because they knew that the idea of doing nothing was the worst possible outcome they could face.”

“This is something for the sake of something,” he says. “This isn’t anything strategic, this isn’t anything that should be done on purpose.”

While Warren can’t say whether Wynne’s surrender will push voters toward the NDP or the PCs, he pointed to wording in her speech that hints at how those parties might approach the end of their campaigns. If there was anything about her announcement that was strategic, it might have been this.

In referring to her opponents when she pleaded with voters not to elect a majority government, she referred to Doug Ford, not the Progressive Conservatives, and to the NDP, not to Andrea Horwath.

“They’re only doing it because it’s the nuclear option.”

“She didn’t mention Andrea’s name because Andrea is very popular, and she didn’t mention the Tories because they’re popular,” Warren says.

“When it comes to the Progressive Conservatives, people dislike Doug Ford, but they want to vote Conservative. With the NDP, people really like Andrea Horwath, but they dislike the NDP or their policies or their candidates.”

This act of separating the more popular component of a party-leader duo from the less popular one is something the New Democrats and the Progressive Conservatives appear to have used to their advantage in the last few weeks.


Ford, Warren observes, has attended fewer events, turned down media interviews and generally kept a lower profile.


“Because the Tory party is popular, but their leader isn’t, they focus on the team,” he said. “So it’s about the team and not about Doug Ford.”

The New Democrats, on the other hand, continue to thrust ‘Steeltown Scrapper’ Horwath, into the focus of voters and media.

“They continue to keep Andrea in focus, they have Andrea on television, they have Andrea being happy,” Warren said. “‘Don’t worry about our candidates, don’t worry about our policy platforms, just focus on Andrea.'”

In an election that has changed in such unpredictable ways, where the benchmark of success appears to be appealing to voters as the least-worst option, Warren says it’s hard for anyone to know how election day will end. Opinion polls can only be so accurate when there are voters who will not know until election day who they are voting for.

“There’s just so much uncertainty, there’s been so much change, there’s been so much new precedent set in this campaign, that you really don’t know what’s going to happen on Thursday when people go to the ballot box.”