Toronto·Analysis

Ontario delivers Liberal election win, waits to be rewarded

Prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau's road to Ottawa was, as it turned out, paved exactly where it had to be — through vote-rich Ontario. Robert Fisher crunches the numbers.

Liberals won 80 of the 121 seats up for grabs in the province

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne joins Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau in a campaign rally in Toronto. (@Kathleen_Wynne/Twitter)

Prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau's road to Ottawa was, as it turned out, paved exactly where it had to be — through vote-rich Ontario.

The Liberals won 80 of the 121 seats up for grabs in the province, picking up a number of Conservative and NDP ridings, as their own polling had shown they would.

The strength of the Liberal victory was clear in the 54 ridings in the GTA. They took all but five seats.

Clearly, Trudeau  gets the credit for bringing his party back — a third-to-first ending that hadn't happened since the 1920s, and Ontario played a big role.

While Trudeau was able to build momentum into the critical final part of the campaign, some of that credit should go to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.

Wynne had Trudeau at her side for some of the 2014 provincial election, correctly gauging that the Trudeau effect would help her and that ultimately it would work for him in the federal election.

Wynne, a big dreamer, saw the same thing in the much younger Trudeau. She was clearly taken with his passion and his compassion.

And as easy as that decision seems on the morning after a huge election win, it is important to keep in mind that when Wynne made her decision to back Trudeau, there were many in his own party who were privately not convinced he had what it would take to run a federal campaign and win.

Some believed the road to victory was a two-step process: get through this election and then to the following one.

Quid pro quo

Wynne felt otherwise and stuck her neck out, against the advice of many, saying Trudeau was the guy to defeat Stephen Harper, who had become her nemesis.

On the other side of this quid pro quo — 'you campaign for me and, I'll campaign for you' — was some concern among federal Liberals that Wynne might not be the asset that she initially seemed.

The sex ed curriculum issue bubbled up and had some Liberal candidates, especially in the GTA, worried that it might affect their chances.

Meanwhile in rural Ontario, Wynne's plan to sell off a large chunk of Hydro One had the Liberals on the defensive and insisting it was a provincial and not a federal issue.

With all that, the Trudeau Liberals quietly decided to put some distance between themselves and Wynne.

But the premier soldiered on, hitting the campaign trail in a number of ridings, dispatching her popular press secretary and loyalist Zita Astravas to Trudeau's national tour.

All the while, she encouraged her cabinet and caucus to get out there, too, for Trudeau and his candidates.

Wynne became a real target for the federal Tories again late in the campaign, when they tried to paint her — and by association Trudeau — as a poor manager of the economy who shouldn't be trusted.

But the Tory complaints, as it turns out, were ignored by Ontario voters and were seen by many as a sign of Conservative desperation in trying to hold the seats they had won in the 2011 federal election.

Will there be a honeymoon?

So, Trudeau owes Wynne and the repayment should be obvious and quick.

But it's not clear how long a post-election honeymoon between the provincial and federal Liberals might last. They each have their competing interests.

And there's the difficult history of Liberal prime ministers and Liberal Ontario premiers. You can go back to Mackenzie King and Mitch Hepburn. But more recently, there was the nasty, sometimes very personal, fight between Paul Martin and Dalton McGuinty.

There appears to be, however, something different, something perhaps even special, about the Wynne-Trudeau relationship. It may be that both were underestimated, even by many in their parties.

Time will tell how this connection shows itself in the weeks and months ahead as Wynne defends her provincial interests, and Trudeau his federal turf with an eye on the whole country and not just Ontario.

Some of their interests will obviously intersect and, some will not. But that's politics and both the prime minister-designate and premier seem prepared to deal with that in the spirit of respect, something never demonstrated by Stephen Harper toward Kathleen Wynne.

About the Author

Robert Fisher

Provincial Affairs Specialist

A commentator with decades of experience covering Queen's Park, Robert Fisher writes about politics for CBC.ca. He is an award-winning broadcast journalist with more than 30 years of experience in public and private radio and television.

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