Two New Democrats and one Progressive Conservative have taken seats at Queen's Park that were vacated by five Liberal MPPs, according to the unofficial results of last night's Ontario byelections.
The Liberals held on to two other seats Thursday night. Mitzie Hunter kept the Toronto-area riding of Scarborough-Guildwood in Liberal hands and John Fraser will succeed former Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty in Ottawa South.
But Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne's minority government is three seats smaller after the NDP won victories with Percy Hatfield in Windsor-Tecumseh and Peggy Sattler in London West, and Conservative Doug Holyday won Etobicoke-Lakeshore for its first win in Toronto since 1999.
Thursday's rare summertime byelections were billed by political analysts as the first public test of how Ontarians view Wynne's performance since she replaced McGuinty as leader.
Conservatives win close race in west Toronto
In a race that was appearing too close to call until around 11 p.m. ET, Holyday bested Liberal Peter Milczyn by about 1,600 votes.
'These were five Liberal cabinet ministers' seats; they weren't just ordinary seats that fell out of the sky somewhere.'—Etobicoke-Lakeshore PC candidate Doug Holyday
CBC reporter Jamie Strashin reported that Milczyn called to concede defeat to Holyday shortly before 11 p.m.
In Etobicoke with Holyday, Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak said his candidate's election sent "a strong message" that Ontarians feel they're on the wrong track, but are prepared "to turn the corner."
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath was cheered by supporters as she welcomed two new faces from her party to Queen's Park.
"It's important to note that as we go about our business getting back to work tomorrow, we’re going to have at least two fantastic new NDP MPPs joining us," she said.
Wynne also praised her two new Liberal caucus colleagues, Hunter and Fraser, as politicians who "are going to represent their communities and the people of Ontario with strength, vision and integrity, we are very lucky to have them on our team."
But Deputy Premier Deb Matthews conceded that the scandal surrounding the costly cancellation of two Ontario gas plants had taken its toll.
"I think people sent us a message loud and clear that they expect better," Matthews told CBC News on Thursday morning.
'Change in direction'
Holyday said it's important not to downplay the significance of the Progressive Conservatives winning one seat out of five.
"These were five Liberal cabinet ministers' seats; they weren't just ordinary seats that fell out of the sky somewhere," Holyday said. "They were well-established Liberal seats and for us to take one tells me we can take more, and we will."
CBC provincial affairs specialist Robert Fisher said before the polls closed that the Liberals would be managing their expectations and bracing for some defeats.
"From the very beginning, the Liberals knew this was going to be tough, and they expected some losses in the byelections tonight," Fisher said.
Wynne herself had characterized the contests as "tough local fights."
The byelections were an opportunity for Hudak to affirm himself as a man who could get results for the party following disappointing results in the 2011 general election.
"For Tim Hudak, this is a very important set of byelections," Fisher said. "He's been fighting this internecine warfare from within his own caucus — people not necessarily happy with the fact that in the last general election, he snatched defeat from the jaws of victory."
Fisher said the Conservatives have "never let him forget that."
Calling Ford Nation
Toronto's west end emerged as a particularly fierce battleground, with two prominent city councillors — Milczyn and Holyday — going head to head.
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford formerly held a council seat in Etobicoke (north of the provincial riding) and his brother Doug holds the same council seat now.
Rob Ford had praise for both Holyday and Milczyn, but waved off the suggestion that his influence had made a difference in the campaign.
"The Fords aren't taking any of this credit," he told CBC. "We just helped out a friend."
"Doug Holyday is the reason why they won," Ford added. "And Tim Hudak — they worked very hard, morning, noon and night."
The subject of the Fords, who have been embroiled in alleged drug-use controversies since spring, emerged during the race.
The mayor had also been canvassing with the Progressive Conservatives, raising questions about the city's often-rocky relationship with the governing Liberals. Both the Fords and the provincial Liberals have exchanged heated words during the campaign.
The contest was viewed as a test of the Fords' power to sway voters in the area. It will also add to speculation whether Doug Ford will run for the Progressive Conservatives in the next general election, which he has openly discussed doing.