Near Thanksgiving of 1984, Premier Bill Davis announced that he would be stepping down. Davis, in office since 1971, had rung up a string of electoral victories by pursuing a moderate agenda and relying on the legendary skill of the Big Blue Machine team of Tory advisors. Davis remained popular when he decided to retire, and the opposition leaders were pleased to see him go.
The subsequent leadership race saw the PC party divide into two rough camps. The moderate and mainly urban wing was represented by second place finisher Larry Grossman. The more strongly conservative rural faction backed eventual victor Frank Miller. These divisions within the party were reinforced by the controversy over the separate schools question. Bill Davis had pushed through full funding for Ontario's Catholic school system. This decision was supported by both other parties, but the Tory base had strong misgivings. After the convention the party factions failed to reconcile; especially important was that a number of the mainly moderate members of the Big Blue Machine were pushed aside.
Despite these problems, the PCs remained far ahead in the polls, and when Miller called an election just six weeks after becoming premier, he was some twenty percentage points ahead of the Liberals in the polls. Over the campaign the Tory lead began to shrink as the Liberals waged a highly effective campaign. The Tory popularity was also hurt by Miller's refusal to participate in a leaders debate. Partway into the campaign, the separate schools question re-emerged when the Anglican prelate of Toronto, Archbishop Lewis Garnsworthy, held a news conference on the issue where he compared Bill Davis to Adolf Hitler. Garnsworthy was much criticized for his remarks, but the issue was revived, alienating the conservative base, some of whom chose to stay home on election day.
The election held May 2, 1985 ended in a stalemate. The PCs emerged with a much reduced caucus of 52 seats, but still held the most seats in the legislature. The Liberals won 48 seats, but won slightly more of the popular vote. The NDP thus held the balance of power with 25 seats. As the party with the most seats the PCs remained as the government. This would not last long, however.
The NDP was also disappointed by the election result. It had been nearly tied with the Liberals for popular support for several years, and had hoped to surpass them. Rae and the NDP had little interest in supporting a continuation of PC rule, and reached an agreement with the Liberals, known as "The Accord". Rae and Peterson signed a deal that would see a number of NDP priorities put into law in exchange for an NDP motion of non-confidence in Miller's government, and the NDP's support of the Liberals. The NDP agreed to support a Liberal minority government for two years, and the Liberals agreed to not call an election during that same time.
|Party||Leader||1981||Elected||% change||Popular vote|
|%||change||Progressive Conservative||Frank Miller||70||52||-25.7%||37.0%||-7.4%||Liberal||David Peterson||34||48||align="right"||37.9%||+4.2%||New Democratic||Bob Rae||21||25||align="right"||23.8%||+2.7%||Libertarian||Scott Bell||-||0.4%||Green||-||0.1%||Communist||Gordon Massie||-||0.1%||Freedom||none (Robert Metz, President)||-||0.1%||Others||-||0.7%||-0.1%|
The Revolutionary Workers League fielded one candidate.
|Party||Candidate||Votes||%|| style="width: 40px"||Liberal||(x)Jim Bradley||20,605||57.94||Progressive Conservative||Elaine Herzog||9,029||25.39||New Democratic Party||Michael Cormier||5,624||15.81||Communist||Eric Blair||305||0.86|
|Total valid votes||35,563||100.00|
|Rejected, unmarked and declined ballots||201|
David Ramsay, elected as a New Democrat, joined the Liberal Party on October 6, 1986. Tony Lupusella, also elected as a New Democrat, joined the Liberal Party on December 17, 1986. After Lupusella's defection, the Liberals held as many seats in the legislative assembly as the Progressive Conservatives, at 51, (if the Speaker of the Legislature is included as a Liberal).