Could strategic voting by Liberal and NDP voters have stopped a PC majority?

Ontario premier-elect Doug Ford speaks to the media after winning the Ontario Provincial election in Toronto, on June 8, 2018.

The only certainty about the Ontario provincial elections was that it was going to be the end of 15 years of Liberal Party rule over the province. And while the Progressive Conservatives had their voters better spread throughout the province, there was a chance that the NDP could win enough seats to prevent the PC’s from a majority. However, that didn’t happen on election day.

The PCs have 76 seats in Queen’s Park, a majority of 14, while the NDP won 40 seats, the Liberals 7 and the Greens broke through with a single seat. But across the province, and particularly in the GTHA, strategic voting in specific ridings could have led to a minority PC government. According to the final tally, there were 20 ridings where the new government won by single digit percentages. The gap between the winning PC candidate and the runner up could have been closed if the progressive vote had been consolidated if voters voted strategically.

It appears that while there was a consolidation of the anti-Ford vote in certain ridings, there were enough splits in the vote between the NDP and Liberals to allow the PCs to beat them both. The phenomenon was particularly prominent in the GTHA, where the PCs won seven ridings by single digit margins.

One of the closest races was in Brampton West, where the PCs Amarjot Sandhu beat the NDP’s Jagroop Singh by 490 votes, a margin of just 1.3 per cent. If even a small percentage of the 7,013 votes for the Liberals’ Vic Dhillon had gone to Singh, it could have resulted in an NDP victory. The other ridings in the GTHA where vote splits let to a PC victory were:

  • Mississauga-Malton (PCs beat the NDP by 2,362 votes, a margin of 6.2 per cent. The Liberals got 7,812 votes)
  • Brampton South (PCs beat the NDP by 2,733 votes, a margin of 7.2 per cent. The Liberals got 7,212 votes)
  • Mississauga-Lakeshore (PCs beat the Liberals by 3,884 votes, a margin of 7.3 per cent. The NDP got 9,765 votes)
  • Oakville (PCs beat the Liberals by 4,476 votes, a margin of 7.9 per cent. The NDP got 9,277 votes)
  • Ajax (PCs beat the NDP by 3,948 votes, a margin of 8 per cent. The Liberals got 12,607 votes)
  • Flamborough-Glanbrook (PCs beat the NDP by 4,824 votes, a margin of 9.3 per cent. The Liberals got 7,967 votes)

In Mississauga, where the combined anti-PC vote was greater than the PCs vote share. The NDP and Liberals earned a combined 51.5 per cent of the vote in Mississauga-Streetsville, 52.9 per cent in Misssissauga-Erin Mills, 52.9 per cent in Mississauga East-Cooksville and 53 per cent in Mississauga Centre.

The PC victories in Mississauga-Lakeshore and Oakville were particularly embarrassing for the Liberals, ridings that were previously represented by Liberal cabinet ministers Charles Sousa and Kevin Flynn, respectively.

The split in the progressive vote repeated itself in Toronto proper, where four ridings were lost by margins fewer than 10 per cent of the vote. These ridings were:

  • Eglinton-Lawrence (PCs beat the Liberals by 752 votes, a margin of 1.5 per cent. The NDP got 9,153 votes)
  • Scarborough-Rouge Park (PCs beat the NDP by 963 votes, a margin of 2.3 per cent. The Liberals got 8,785 votes)
  • Scarborough Centre (PCs beat the NDP by 1,990 votes, a margin of 5.1 per cent. The Liberals got 8,684 votes)
  • Etobicoke-Lakeshore (PCs beat the NDP 3,201 votes, a margin of 5.6 per cent. The Liberals got 14,046 votes)
  • Etobicoke Centre (PCs beat the Liberals by 4,724 votes, a margin of 8.3 per cent. The NDP got 10,311 votes)

Vote splits led to close PC victories in four ridings in southwestern Ontario, all at the expense of the NDP.

  • Brantford-Brant (PCs beat the NDP by 621 votes, a margin of 1.1 per cent. The Liberals got 5,439 votes)
  • Kitchener-Conestoga (PCs beat the NDP by 686 votes, a margin of 1.6 per cent. The Liberals got 6,035 votes)
  • Kitchener South-Hespeler (PCs beat the NDP by 769 votes, a margin of 1.8 per cent. The Liberals got 6,335 votes)
  • Cambridge (PCs beat the NDP by 2,154 votes, a margin of 4.5 per cent. The Liberals got 11,191 votes)

In Eastern Ontario, there were three ridings that the PCs won despite receiving strong performances by the NDP and Liberal candidates. The PCs beat the NDP in Peterborough-Kawartha by a margin of 2,194 votes. In Glengarry-Prescott-Russell, the party beat the Liberals by 4,523 votes. And in Ottawa West-Nepean, the PCs beat the NDP by a mere 176 votes. In all three ridings, the vote share for the third place party was more than enough to overtake the PC candidate.

Sault Ste. Marie was probably one of the biggest disappointments for the NDP on election night. The party lost to the PCs by 414 votes while the Liberals peeled away 3,199 votes that could have gone to the NDP.

There were, however, numerous ridings where low levels of support for the Liberal candidate indicated a consolidation of the anti-PC vote under the NDP banner. In Essex, Taras Natyshak won 48.5 per cent of the vote compared to the PC’s Chris Lewis, who won 42.3 per cent of the vote. The Liberal candidate, Kate Festeryga, won just 5.7 per cent of the vote. The same took place in London West, where the NDP candidate got 55.3 per cent of the vote compared to 29 per cent for the PC candidate, Andrew Lawton, who had made controversial remarks in the past about Islam, women, race and the LGBT community. The Liberal candidate got just 9.9 per cent of the vote. A more even vote split between NDP and Liberal voters could have resulted in more seat gains for the PCs.

There are other similar instances of overwhelming support for the NDP over the Liberals, particularly in the GTHA proper, with Brampton East, Brampton Centre, Parkdale-High Park, Davenport, Toronto-Danforth, Scarborough Southwest and Oshawa.

Had strategic voting been more effective, the PCs would probably have still formed government, albeit a minority government. The PCs would have been reduced to 56 seats. The NDP would have picked up 15 seats, giving them at 55 seats. And the Liberals wouldn’t have to fight to maintain official party status, as they would have won 12 seats. But, either due to the lack of coordination or the refusal of progressive voters to swallow the bitter pill of voting for the other left party, splits in the anti-PC vote allowed the PCs to pick up nearly two dozen additional seats.