POLITICS
10/07/2011 11:27 EDT | Updated 12/07/2011 05:12 EST

Ontario Election: Divide Between Rural And Urban Voters Key To Tory Loss And Liberal Minority

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Two things did not happen last night.

Dalton McGuinty did not win a majority government and Tim Hudak did not defeat the Ontario Liberals.

But both could have happened. Why didn’t they?

Several ridings were decided by only a few hundred votes. Had there been the smallest of swings or had turnout been higher, the Liberals could have managed a slim majority. In the end, they were only one seat short.

McGuinty’s majority was lost in southwestern Ontario. Last night, the Liberals held on to urban Ontario while the Tories took the rural parts of the province. Southwestern Ontario was one of the few regions in which the Liberals won a swathe of seats in the 2007 election. They lost those last night.

Province-wide trends pointed to the Liberals being able to hold those seats, but the Tories outperformed expectations in southwestern Ontario, while failing to gain much ground in the urban and suburban parts of the province,

The Liberals also suffered from the gains made by the New Democrats. Losses to the NDP in Toronto and northern Ontario, and to a lesser extent in London and Hamilton, also contributed to McGuinty's failure to secure a comfortable majority government.

Rural Ontario is where the Liberals lost their majority, while urban Ontario is where the Tories lost the election.

The key to the federal Conservative victory on May 2 was the party's breakthrough in Toronto and the outlying regions of the metropolis. But generally speaking, the federal Conservatives had more success than their provincial counterparts in every part of the province. While the Conservatives won 69 seats in southern Ontario, the Progressive Conservatives won only 35.

The majority of those seats the provincial Tories failed to win were in and around Toronto, eight in the city itself and 14 in the suburbs. Hudak's failure to break into Toronto cost him the election, as the PCs only needed to take nine of the 22 seats from the Liberals in order to win a plurality in the Ontario legislature. Winning 17 would have given the Tories a majority government.

But the Progressive Conservatives also had trouble getting elected in other parts of Ontario that opted for the federal Tories in May. Ottawa West-Nepean and Ottawa-Orléans, for example, were won by the Liberals last night. Both of those seats are occupied by Conservatives in the House of Commons. Parts of Kitchener and London also voted in Liberals in ridings won by the federal Conservatives, while smaller cities such as Peterborough, Niagara Falls and St. Catharines also opted for Dalton McGuinty after voting for Stephen Harper five months ago.

This election was Hudak's to lose, and in the final week of the campaign a majority government was McGuinty’s to lose. Both managed the feat, but the greatest loser last night might have been Ontario’s democracy. Less than half of eligible voters bothered to cast a ballot.

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

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