Wynne acknowledges election is lost, urges voters to ensure NDP or PC minority
Some polls suggest the Liberals could lose official party status with fewer than 8 seats
An emotional Kathleen Wynne on Saturday acknowledged that she will no longer be premier after the June 7 election and encouraged voters to elect Liberal candidates to prevent the NDP or PCs from securing a majority.
The 11th-hour move comes as Wynne and her Liberals try to save the party from electoral decimation next Thursday.
"Even though I won't be leading this province as premier, I care deeply about how it will be led," the Liberal leader said during a campaign stop in Toronto.
"People want change, but by and large they're confident about where Ontario stands and where Ontario is headed. For this reason — I heard this over and over again — many voters are worried about handing a blank cheque to either Doug Ford or the NDP," she continued.
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She added that voters don't trust Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford and are concerned that an NDP government "will approach the responsibility of running Ontario's economy with a plan that is risky and unrealistic."
The only way to keep the province's next government on a "short leash," Wynne said, is to send as many Liberals to the Ontario Legislature as possible.
"The more Liberal MPPs we send to Queens Park on June 7, the less likely it becomes that either Doug Ford or the NDP will be able to form a majority government," Wynne said.
The Liberal leader has, until today, been defiant in the face of daunting poll numbers that suggest the Grits could lose official party status after the vote. In Ontario, parties need at least eight seats in the legislature to be formally recognized.
Public support for Wynne's Liberals has plummeted since the campaign started on May 9, and CBC's Poll Tracker indicates that even long-time strongholds like St. Paul's in Toronto and St. Catharines could be lost.
According to Wynne, a "confluence of things" led her to make her statement on Saturday. A senior campaign official said she started thinking about the move after her hope for a bump in polling following the last debate didn't materialize and it became clear the Liberals couldn't win.
Wynne conceded that some Liberal supporters may see the move as an early capitulation.
"I know there are Liberals who believe in us and believe in what we've been doing and some are going to be mad. Some are going to be sad," she said.
As for her Liberal candidates, Wynne said she will continue to work to get as many elected as possible.
"I would never want to do anything that would undermine any of my candidates, any of those races. I have thought long and hard about this, believe me," she explained.
Asked by a reporter if, in hindsight, she should have resigned as leader of the party long before the election to give her Liberals a better chance, Wynne said she genuinely believed she could turn the numbers around.
"I did, and we did," she said, referring to her team. "We absolutely did."
Wynne playing 'dangerous game,' Horwath says
In an email statement, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Wynne has "abandoned the fight against Doug Ford cuts.
"And her request today for a minority government is a demand that she be allowed to continue to hold the power at Queen's Park — something voters have already rejected," she said.
"But she is playing a dangerous game. Liberal votes won't result in a minority — they'll result in a Doug Ford majority. And we can't afford Ford."
Horwath, who is currently running neck-and-neck with Ford, also said during an afternoon campaign stop in Peterborough, Ont., that "it's pretty rich" that a premier who has lost the confidence of a majority of voters is telling them how to cast their ballot.
"People have decided that her advice and her way of doing things is not what we need right now," she said.
Ford, meanwhile, had little to say about Wynne's announcement, noting only that the election is about change and people are fed up with the Liberals.
Asked if he was surprised by Wynne's decision, Ford said his team is focused on getting its message out.
'I found out via social media,' Liberal candidate says
Tamara Small, a political science professor at University of Guelph, said Wynne made a strategic — and "very unusual" — move in predicting her own government's defeat.
"It's a realization that the Kathleen Wynne brand might be more detrimental than the Liberal party brand," she said.
"They're hoping they can salvage [the party] ... it's about saying to people: don't abandon us. We will fix this."
By taking the blame, Wynne could be saving some of her key candidates who otherwise might have been tarnished by public opinion of her, Small said.
Rino Bortolin, the Liberal candidate in Windsor West, said Wynne's move will help him in a tight race against the NDP in his riding. He's heard from residents in the area that they support him, but don't want a Wynne-led government.
"They wanted my representation, but they had reservations about supporting this government or supporting this premier. What this does is is it allows them to walk into the ballot box and vote for the person that they feel best represents their interests," he said in a phone interview.
"The peoples' reservations about supporting a government or a premier that they may not have had confidence in? Today they were heard and they were listened to and they now have an option to support the best possible candidate."
Meanwhile, Michael Couteau, the Liberal candidate in Don Valley East — one of the few ridings where the Grits have a real chance at securing a seat — told CBC Toronto that Wynne's statement was "shocking and it was also sad.
"I think we'll look back and her legacy will be remembered as one where she did a lot to help build the province up," he said.
According to Couteau, Wynne's team held a morning conference call to inform candidates of her plan. He wasn't on it, he adds.
"I found out via social media, a tweet," he said.
With files from Mike Crawley and The Canadian Press