The Ontario Liberal Party is a centrist provincial political party in the province of Ontario, Canada. It has formed the Government of Ontario since the provincial election of 2003. The party is ideologically aligned with the Liberal Party of Canada but the two parties are organizationally independent and have separate, though overlapping, memberships. The party is currently led by Dalton McGuinty who has been its leader since 1996.
The modern Liberals were founded by George Brown, who sought to rebuild the Reform Party after its collapse in 1854. In 1857, Brown brought together the Reformers and the radical "Clear Grits" of southwestern Ontario to create a new party in Upper Canada with a platform of democratic reform and annexation of the northwest. The party adopted a position in favour of uniting Upper and Lower Canada into the United Province of Canada, a concept that eventually led to Canadian confederation.
While the Tories became a narrow, sectarian Protestant party with a base in the Orange Order, the Liberals under Mowat attempted to bring together Catholics and Protestants, rural and urban interests under moderate, pragmatic leadership.
Debates over the party's policy on liquor divided the membership, forced the resignation of at least one leader, and drove away many reform minded Liberals who supported the federal party under William Lyon Mackenzie King but found the provincial party too narrow and conservative to support. The party was so disorganized that it was led for seven years (and through two provincial elections) by an interim leader, W.E.N. Sinclair, as there was not enough money or a sufficient level of organization, and too many divisions within the party to hold a leadership convention. By 1930, the Liberals were reduced to a small, rural, largely Protestant and prohibitionist rump with a base in south western Ontario.
In government, Hepburn's Liberals warred with organized labour led by the Congress of Industrial Organizations, who were trying to unionize the auto sector. Later, he battled with the federal Liberal government of William Lyon Mackenzie King, which, Hepburn argued, was insufficiently supportive of the war effort. The battle between Hepburn and King split the Ontario Liberal Party and led to Hepburn's ouster as leader. It also contributed to the party's defeat in the 1943 election, which was followed by the party's long stint in opposition. The Liberals declined to a right wing, rural rump. The "Progressive Conservatives" under George Drew established a dynasty which was to rule Ontario for the next 42 years.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the Liberals were almost shut out of Metropolitan Toronto and other urban areas and, in 1975, fell to third place behind the dynamic Ontario New Democratic Party (NDP) under Stephen Lewis. With the NDP in ascendency in the late 1960s and 1970s, it appeared that the Liberals could disappear altogether.
The Liberals remained more popular than the Tories among Catholic and francophone voters, due to its support for extending Separate school funding to include Grades 11-13. The Tories opposed this extension until 1985, when they suddenly reversed their position. This reversal angered traditional Conservative voters, and may have contributed to their defeat in the 1985 election.
Peterson was able to form a minority government from 1985 to 1987 due to an accord signed with the NDP. Under this accord, the NDP exchanged its support in the Legislature for the implementation of several NDP policies. As the result of the 1987 election held once the accord expired, Peterson won a strong majority government with 95 seats, its most ever.
Peterson's government ruled in a time of economic plenty where occasional instances of fiscal imprudence were not much remarked on. Peterson was a close ally of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney on the Meech Lake Accord, but opposed Mulroney on the issue of free trade.
The majority Liberal government of 1987 to 1990 was less innovative than the previous minority government. The Liberals' increasing conservatism caused many centre-left voters to look at the NDP and its leader Bob Rae, and consider the social democratic party as an alternative to the Liberals. The NDP's co-operation with the Liberals between 1985 to 1987 helped the party appear more moderate and acceptable to voters.
The Liberals went into the 1990 election with apparently strong support in the public opinion polls.This support quickly evaporated, however. On the campaign trail, the media reported that the Liberals were met by voters who were angry at going to the polls just three years into the government's mandate. Another negative factor was Peteron's association with Mulroney and the failed 'Meech Lake accord' attempt at constitutional reform, about which the public felt strongly. The campaign was also poorly run: a mid-campaign proposal to cut the provincial sales tax was a particularly bad blunder. The party had also underestimated the impact of the Patti Starr fundraising scandal, as well as allegations surrounding the Liberal government's links with land developers.
Peterson's government lost to Bob Rae's NDP, who promised a return to the activist form of government Peterson had abandoned. The Liberals suffered their worst defeat ever, falling from 95 seats to 36; the 59-seat loss surpassed the 48-seat loss in 1943 that began the Tories' long rule over the province. Peterson himself was heavily defeated in his own riding by the NDP challenger.
In the 1999 election, the governing Conservatives were reelected on the basis of strong economic growth and a negative campaign tightly focused on portraying McGuinty as "not up to the job". A poor performance in the leader's debate and a weak overall campaign hamstrung the new leader, but he was able to rally his party in the final weeks of the campaign. The Ontario Liberals garnered 40% of the vote, at the time their second-highest total in 50 years.
McGuinty's second term as opposition leader was more successful than his first. With the Liberals consolidated as the primary opposition to Harris's Progressive Conservatives, McGuinty was able to present his party as the "government in waiting". He hired a more skilled group of advisors and drafted former cabinet minister Greg Sorbara as party president. McGuinty also rebuilt the party's fundraising operation, launching the Ontario Liberal Fund. He personally rebuilt the party's platform to one that emphasized lowering class sizes, hiring more nurses, increasing environmental protections and "holding the line" on taxes in the buildup to the 2003 election. McGuinty also made a serious effort to improve his debating skills, and received coaching from Democratic Party trainers in the United States.
The new government called the Legislature back in session in late 2003, and passed a series of bills relating to its election promises. The government brought in auto insurance reforms (including a price cap), fixed election dates, rolled-back a series of corporate and personal tax cuts which had been scheduled for 2004, passed legislation which enshrined publicly-funded Medicare into provincial law, hired more meat and water inspectors, opened up the provincially-owned electricity companies to Freedom of Information laws and enacted a ban on partisan government advertising.
The McGuinty government also benefited from a scandal involving the previous government's management of Ontario Power Generation and Hydro One, which broke in the winter of 2003-04. It was revealed that a number of key figures associated with Mike Harris's "Common Sense Revolution" had received lucrative, untendered multi-million dollar consulting contracts from these institutions. Among the figures named in the scandal were Tom Long, former Harris campaign chairman, Leslie Noble, former Harris campaign manager and Paul Rhodes, former Harris communications director.
On May 18, 2004, Provincial Finance Minister Greg Sorbara released the McGuinty government's first budget. The centrepiece was a controversial new Health Premium of $300 to $900, staggered according to income. This violated a key Liberal campaign pledge not to raise taxes, and gave the government an early reputation for breaking promises. The Liberals defended the premium by pointing to the previous government's hidden deficit of $5.6 billion dollars, and McGuinty claimed he needed to break his campaign pledge on taxation to fulfill his promises on other fronts. Deserved or not, however, the government's early reputation for breaking promises has created a lasting public relations difficulty.
The Ontario Health Premium also became a major issue in the early days of the 2004 federal election, called a week after the Ontario budget. Most believe that the controversy seriously hampered Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin's bid for re-election.
Also controversial were the elimination of coverage for health services not covered by the Canada Health Act including eye examinations and physical therapy. Other elements included a four-year plan to tackle the deficit left behind by the Conservatives, free immunization for children, investments in education and investments to lower waiting times for cancer care, cardiac care, joint replacement and MRI and CT scans.
Soon after the federal election, McGuinty hosted a federal-provincial summit on health-care funding which resulted in a new agreement for a national health accord. This accord allowed the premiers and territorial leaders to draw more money from Ottawa for health services, and requires the federal government to take provincial concerns such as hospital waiting-lists into account. McGuinty's performance at the summit was generally applauded by the Canadian media.
The McGuinty government brought forward a number of regulatory initiatives in the fall of 2004. These included legislation allowing bring-your-own-wine in restaurants, banning junk food in public schools to promote healthier choices, outlawing smoking in public places and requiring students to stay in school until age 18. Following a series of high-profile maulings, the government also moved to ban pit bulls.
During early 2005, McGuinty called the Legislature back for a rare winter session to debate and pass several high-profile bills. The government legislated a Greenbelt around Toronto. The size of Prince Edward Island, the Greenbelt protects a broad swath of land from development and preserves forests and farmland. In response to court decisions, the Liberals updated the definition of marriage to include homosexual couples.
McGuinty also launched a PR campaign to narrow the politically charged $23 billion gap between what Ontario contributes to the federal government and what is returned to Ontario in services. This came as a sharp turn after more than a year of cooperating with the federal government, but McGuinty pointed to the special deals worked out by the federal government with Newfoundland and Nova Scotia as compromising the nature of equalization. In particular, McGuinty noted that immigrants in Ontario receive $800 in support from the federal government, while those in Quebec receive $3800.
In the 2003 campaign, the Liberals denounced public-private partnerships (also known as "3P" deals) for infrastructure projects such as the building of hospitals. Following the campaign, however, the McGuinty government allowed "3P" hospital construction deals arranged by the previous government to continue.
The Ontario Liberals won their second majority in a row on October 10, 2007, winning 71 of the province's 107 seats. Winning two majorities back to back is a feat that had not occurred for the party in exactly 70 years. .
|Year of election||# of seats won||# of seats available||# of votes||% of popular vote|
|Leader||Years in office|
|1||Sir George Brown||1857-1867|
|4||Sir Oliver Mowat||1872-1896|
|5||Arthur S. Hardy||1896-1899|
|6||George William Ross||1899-1907|
|7||George P. Graham||1907|
|8||Alexander Grant MacKay||1907-1911|
|9||Newton Wesley Rowell||1911-1917|
|15||Gordon Daniel Conant||1942-1943 (interim)|
|17||Mitchell Hepburn||1944-1945 (second time)|
|20||Farquhar Oliver||1954-1958 (second time)|
|26||Robert Nixon||1990-1991 (interim)|
|27||Murray Elston||1991 (interim)|
|28||Jim Bradley||1991-1992 (interim)|