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The Liberals Deserved Their Embarrassing Defeat

The province-wide shellacking sustained by the Ontario Liberals on June 7 represents a necessary cathartic exercise in democracy.

Well, that was a fitting end to the Dalton McGuinty - Kathleen Wynne era.

The province-wide shellacking sustained by the Ontario Liberals on June 7 — they only won seven seats, thereby losing official party status — represents a necessary cathartic exercise in democracy.

The party that in 2003 and 2007 won seats in all regions, and commanded a substantial majority in the legislature, has found itself virtually gutted, and rightly so.

They've ignored the voices and concerns of rural and northern voters for years. One example of this is the now infamous Green Energy Act, a bill that stripped local decision making from important planning decisions and forced communities to accept unwanted for-profit electricity projects. Even after the Liberal's staunch defence of the Green Energy Act, which helped see them reduced to a minority in 2011, the Liberals doubled down.

Ultimately, the opposition majority in the legislature, representing rural and northern ridings, along with the Auditor General and pressure from community groups and industry associations, helped spare these new targets.

During the 2011 campaign, the Ontario Liberals began their decline to third place in some northern and rural ridings including Kenora—Rainy River and Haldimand—Norfolk, ridings they came second in 2007, and Sarnia—Lambton, a riding they won in 2007.

Even after backing down, the 2014 campaign that gave Wynne her majority also saw the party fall to third place in some rural ridings where they had been competitive in recent campaigns.

The Liberals knew the palpable anger and resentment out there was building, because riding results were showing parts of the province becoming increasingly out of reach to them.

The anger and vitriol directed at the Liberals that has surprised so many pundits over the last year as it has crept into urban and suburban areas is actually nothing new. The only thing that is new is how common these anti-Liberal viewpoints became, and that they enjoy the same geographic distribution as McGuinty's 2003 and 2007 majorities, as evidenced by the outcome of the most recent election campaign.

In the 2018 campaign, many of the urban and suburban voters who had tolerated the Ontario Liberals finally joined the chorus and delivered the fatal blows necessary to rid us all of them.

The Ontario Liberals will have a steep path to salvation, but may be able to become relevant again if they rebuild from the ground up.

They can and should be clear that they're open-minded to the needs of Ontarians, while they carve out a place in this new reality for themselves. Whatever becomes of them should be based on real, on the ground, outreach, and not just what their echo chamber tells them. Look where the sage advice of Wynne's inner circle of senior staff and outside consultants led them this time.

Outposts in Ottawa, Toronto and Thunder Bay provide some hope, but their loss of party status badly complicates things, because, without the resources that come with being a recognized party, it will be difficult to present themselves as being effective in the legislature.

As for Ford and the Conservatives, they will do well to remember it's not enough to not be Wynne and the Liberals anymore. Now is the time for the Conservatives to demonstrate they got the message from voters who wanted change, to be heard and for the government to address the issues that matter to them.

In these early days, perhaps the best thing Ford and his new government can do to bring people together will be to focus on making good on the commitments he and his caucus mates made to voters, as quickly as is practical.

Early areas of opportunity would be to balance steps that will help all Ontarians with those that will help specific areas of the province. Things such as reducing hydro bills and dealing with the Green Energy Act are opportunities for early wins.

Ford has a real chance to do some good and show his supporters they were right to trust him while demonstrating to his distractors he isn't all of the divisive things Wynne and New Democratic Party leader Andrea Horwath said he was.

Ultimately, the proof will be in what the Conservatives choose to do with the time they've been given.

John Laforet has worked with organizations opposed to Green Energy Act projects.

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