POLITICS
06/14/2014 10:53 EDT | Updated 06/14/2014 10:59 EDT

Kathleen Wynne's Victory Could Significantly Impact Trudeau, Harper

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Few expected the Liberals would be able to pull a majority government out of this week's provincial election in Ontario, but Kathleen Wynne managed the feat.

The repercussions at the federal level could be significant.

Despite the tradition that Ontarians tend to prefer governments of different hues in Toronto and Ottawa, there are no federal Liberals disappointed Wynne's party captured 39 per cent of the vote. In the 2011 federal election, the Liberals under Michael Ignatieff got just 25 per cent support.

The election also marks the fourth consecutive provincial victory of the Liberal brand, following the elections in 2013 in British Columbia and Nova Scotia and Philippe Couillard's win in Quebec this past April.

But Tim Hudak's defeat might have more federal consequences.

His Progressive Conservatives took just 31 per cent of the vote, their lowest share in decades. The party lost ground in every region of the province, but most worryingly for federal Conservatives is that Hudak's troops took a big hit in the 905 area code, dropping four points to just 32 per cent. That put them nine points behind Wynne's Liberals.

Worse, Hudak did not lose votes to a centrist Liberal Party that might overlap with the federal Conservatives, but rather one that had moved sharply to the left. Ontarians preferred this move to the one taken to the right by the PCs, which will leave little wiggle room for Stephen Harper's party as Trudeau Liberals provide a more appetizing centrist option than Ignatieff did in 2011.

While Tories found themselves pushed aside by the Liberals in the Greater Toronto Area, they were also displaced to some degree by New Democrats in the southwest. There, the PCs dropped six points since the last election to 34 per cent, with the NDP gaining seven to reach 30 per cent.

New Democrats banked on a breakthrough in the southwest to propel them forward in the rest of the province. That did not happen, but their strategy nevertheless allowed them to hold on to the footholds gained in recent byelections and expand in Windsor.

The results are a bit of mixed bag for Thomas Mulcair. The NDP did manage to increase its vote share to 24 per cent, but that was up only marginally from the 23 per cent of 2011. That tally was also below the 26 per cent the federal New Democrats captured in Ontario during the last federal election.

But the NDP upped their support in the context of stiff competition from Liberals for the left-of-centre vote. The party's performance suggests the NDP has enough of a base to withstand Liberal pressure, and can even steal some votes from the Tories in the process.

Andrea Horwath pulled the party more toward the centre. As Mulcair is doing something similar, there is reason for the NDP to hope the strategy can pay dividends. Nevertheless, the New Democrats will not form government federally with the support of only one-in-four Ontarians.

A Liberal majority will also have an influence on the federal landscape — largely because Ontario will fall off the radar. With Rob Ford unlikely to be re-elected in the fall, and the government in Queen's Park no longer in danger of being defeated in the legislature, all attention will turn to the upcoming 2015 federal election. There will be little to gain for Harper to go to war with the Ontario Liberal government, considering Tory opposition in the province has proven so unpopular. Justin Trudeau, on the other hand, will gain a helpful ally with a mandate of her own.

Conservatives may try to comfort themselves with the thought that scandal has proven not enough to overcome the benefits of incumbency, but the parallels between the 2014 Ontario election and the 2015 federal election are not all favourable to the prime minister. One factor behind this week’s Liberal win was the likability of Wynne versus the inability of Hudak to connect on a personal level with voters.

The parallels between Harper and Trudeau in these terms, at least, are quite clear.

Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers every week. Grenier is the author of ThreeHundredEight.com, covering Canadian politics, polls and electoral projections.

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