Last night we saw what we thought was previously impossible - Dalton McGuinty won a third term, just one seat short of a majority government.
There are, however, consequences to last night's results that will probably drive the narrative for the next few years in this province, and of course in this country. They're important, so make note now.
Consequence #1: Continued Liberal Decline
Yes, the Liberal Party is still in decline. While McGuinty went against the odds and won government, utilizing a popular brand alongside sharp organization and communication skills, he still lost 19 seats - the majority of them rural seats.
And therein lies the cavaet for this election, alongside the horrible voter turnout - the Ontario Liberals, much like the federal Liberals, have had their rural vote drift away from them, even as they start solidifying their urban vote. That right there is a warning sign that unless the Ontario Liberals start to refocus their initiatives on rural areas, they will continue to see that vote shift increasingly between the Conservatives and New Democrats. Rural Ontario's and rural Canada's polarization is the first sign of the decay of a Liberal Party, whether or not we end up winning the battle (think to Paul Martin in 2004).
Liberals tend to forget that we often built our majorities in the past on winning swaths of rural Ontario, often by playing up initiatives to attract them. However, the focus in recent years has been on defending Fortress Toronto and Montreal, and trying to ensure that our last bastions of support don't fall. And while yes, this might end up saving our asses during an election - as it did during 2008 or now, here in Ontario 2011 - it is not the long-term trend we want.
Consequence #2: The Orange Crush Is Not Unstoppable
Andrea Horwath's New Democrats did well tonight. They managed to get nearly 23% support (not too far below the 25.6% they got during the federal election), and picked up seven seats. That's excellent - but a far cry from the "Orange Crush" experienced during the federal election, and ended up being more of an "Orange Bump."
This should prove beyond a doubt that the New Democratic Party, while on an upswing in this country, is not going to blanket the entire thing in orange. They are entirely vulnerable, and last night they were proven to be - it may just surprise you but by all accounts, the NDP faced a slight decline in their urban vote in this election, relative to their entire increase province wide.
What that means is the NDP may have increased their support, but it increased more outside of the GTA than it did inside of it. This can be shown in their inability to gain such low-hanging fruit like York South-West or Ottawa Centre, fighting for their lives in Trinity-Spadina, and unable to avoid a trench battle in Davenport - all ridings they swept during May 2011 by mid-to-high margins.
This all tells you that the NDP are able to be beaten back if we have the right ideas and the right candidates. Liberals are far from doomed in this country, we're just facing a bad spell; the NDP take advantage of it, but we can deflate their tires if we get our heads back in the game.
Consequence #3: Liberals Can Win A Majority - Cons and Dips Be Damned
One of the main things to take away from last night is how close McGuinty was to getting a majority - I'm sure under 5,000 votes, placed in the right ridings, would have given him at least 55 ridings (what he needs for an effective majority).
It goes to show that the Liberals are able to win majorities without merging with the New Democrats. Federally, our issue is the loss of our base in Quebec, our shut-out in Western Canada, and our marginalization to urban areas in Ontario; if we're able to reverse two of those three, we can win a majority government, or at least a minority, without merging our organization with the New Democratic Party.
This is why I always found the reason some coalition supporters use - that the Conservatives can't be stopped without a merger - to be silly. Of course they can be stopped, it just requires we get our heads of the sand and start marginalization the other two parties as they've marginalized us.
How easy is it to say that the Harper government only cares about Western farmers, and the NDP are beholden to separatist interests? Why can't the Liberals go after urban voters in the West, rural Ontario, and federalists in Quebec, to build our majority? Those are the areas we were kicked out of.
McGuinty has shown that, if we're on the ball about what we're doing, we can win what we need to. Again, he missed the mark on rural voters, and that cost him his majority; but why can't we avoid the same mistake?
All I'm saying is that if the Ontario Liberals can manage to come that close to a majority by hitting the right notes, there's no reason that the Liberal Party of Canada can't do the same if we put effort back into this party.