The political fate of party leaders hangs in the balance as Ontarians head to the polls

As Ontarians head to the polls today, the election will determine not only the province’s next premier, but the political fate of all party leaders.

Steven Del Duca, for example, has said that regardless of the results of tonight’s election, he will remain Liberal leader. But despite his intentions, it will likely be his party’s performance – and his own constituency battle – that could very well determine whether he remains at the helm.

Meanwhile, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, who led the New Democrats in four elections, was vague this week when asked if she would fight to continue to lead, even if her party forms again. the official opposition.

CBC News spoke to political analysts for their observations on what’s at stake for key party leaders in this election.

Doug Ford

Polls indicate PC leader Doug Ford is likely to win a majority government in Thursday’s election. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

An outright loss for Doug Ford would certainly be a politically devastating – albeit unlikely – outcome for the Progressive Conservative leader. But the prospect of leading a minority government would also be a blow.

It’s an all-or-nothing election for Doug Ford,” said Andrew Steele, vice president of StrategyCorp and senior campaigner for the federal and Ontario Liberal parties.

“Whether [Ford was] below the majority threshold, it is almost impossible for any of the opposition parties to support it. The gulf between the opposition parties and the conservatives is immense. »

But this scenario seems doubtful, as the polls indicate a majority victory for the Progressive Conservatives. And for Ford — who many political observers say has gone from political liability to political asset — any majority, no matter how small, will likely be seen as a major victory.

“There was a time when it was [thought] this government won’t even last four years.… It was enough, enough depressing within the party,” said Jaskaran Sandhu, a political organizer and strategist with State Strategy.

“I think he would view his re-election with a majority as vindication that Ontarians like what he’s offering,” said Peter Graefe, associate professor of political science at McMaster University in Hamilton.

Ford has emerged from a low number of polls to establish a coalition of support that is not just made up of liberal voters and traditional conservatives, but now also includes union endorsements, said Ginny Roth, a former strategist from PC Ontario who now works in government relations. for Crestview Strategy.

“I think the world is going to be his political oyster to some degree,” she said. If he wins, he will have “a lot of political capital to spend”.

“He’s going to be in a pretty strong political position, I think, when the votes come in Thursday night,” she said.

As for the size of any majority, Roth said she doesn’t think it will really make much of a difference; even if the party loses a few seats, a majority is the clear dividing line.

“I think in practice when the legislature comes back and legislates a new term, the total number of seats of a majority, I think, doesn’t matter that much,” he said. she stated.

Andrea Horwath

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath wonders if she’ll stay if she doesn’t become premier of Ontario. (Michael Charles Cole/CBC)

With Horwath herself wary of her political future after the election, it seems that unless the leader of the NDP is the next premier, her political fate could be sealed.

“While it strengthens the position of the NDP as the Official Opposition, the [feeling of the] joining that party will likely be: “Well, she had a chance to go from that job to prime minister and she didn’t make it,” Graefe said. “Do we have another ace in the hole? Is there anyone else who might connect better with the people of Ontario?”

But Roth said Horwath could justify staying on if the party significantly increases its seat count.

“I don’t think that’s happening, and…I think she probably knows,” she said. “I think she’s probably prepared that on election night she’ll make it easier for everyone and hand over to someone else.”

Steven Del Duca

Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca is running for his first election. Would this be his last? (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

While not expected to become Ontario’s next premier, Del Duca could rack up a string of other small political victories to proclaim the evening a success of some sort.

But the key for the Liberal leader is winning his own riding of Vaughan–Woodbridge, where polls suggest he’s in a tight race.

“I think it’s a win for him if he wins his own seat,” Roth said.

Yet a loss could also be politically fatal.

“If he loses his [riding]unless [the Liberals] have done spectacularly, he is gone, I think,” Graefe said.

Also of great political importance to Del Duca is regaining official party status for the Liberals, who were reduced to just seven seats after the 2018 election and are expected to gain five seats in tonight’s race.

That in itself would be enough for Del Duca to stay on as a leader, Steele said.

“I think as long as he’s got party status, he’s got enough to credibly say, ‘I got us out of a pile of mud so we’re okay,'” he said.

“The NDP was getting several million dollars a year as a recognized political party that the Liberals didn’t have. The resource gap was huge this time around. If that’s eliminated, it’s a big win.”

Roth said winning back official party status is “the absolute lowest bar he will want to cross.”

Although she thinks it is doable, the big open question for her is whether Del Duca can win her own seat and whether the Liberals can form the Official Opposition.

“If he does those two things, he has a very strong case to make to party members for him to get a second chance,” she said.

“If he can’t do any of those things – if he can’t win more seats than the NDP, and if he can’t win his own seat – I think that’s a pretty tough argument to make. to party members for a second chance.”

Sandhu said he sees a few potential scenarios for Del Duca’s political future.

“If Del Duca finishes third, he’s out. If Del Duca finishes just behind the NPD…and he loses his main seat, I think he’s out.”

But if he takes over as head of the official opposition, then he will remain party leader, he said.

Sandhu said one of the challenges with replacing Del Duca is that it can be difficult to find someone to challenge him.

“Del Duca will continue to fundraise compared to the majority of people in the party. He probably has a better ground game than the majority of people in the party across the province,” he said. “So unless an outsider comes along and tries to take over the leadership of Ontario…what’s the alternative?”

Michael Schreiner

Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner was the first ever person to win a seat in the Ontario Legislative Assembly for his party. He won in the riding of Guelph in 2018. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

A big win for the Green Party would be another seat at Queen’s Park.

Still, observers agree that for Michael Schreiner, the very first Green Party member to be elected to the Ontario Legislative Assembly, retaining his seat is a big victory.

“I think it’s a really good argument to make that his next challenge in any election will be to show Ontarians that the Green Party is more than him,” Roth said.

“The fact that he’s had some success, I think, gives him a strong argument to stay and try to nurture the party, develop some of the issues.”

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