Sipping Greek wine from plastic cups, Ontario Premier David Peterson and the newly elected Liberal member for Toronto’s York East riding, Christine Hart, linked arms and celebrated their victory together. In the minority government’s first electoral test since coming to power last June, Hart captured a seat that had been Conservative since 1951 in a provincial byelection. The victory in the Tory bastion buoyed the Liberals, who placed third in the riding in last May’s polls and had worked hard to elect Hart. Peterson, his wife, Shelley, and several ministers campaigned vigorously for Hart, a 35year-old lawyer who ran largely on her government’s record. Said the premier’s spokesman, George Hutchison, of the win: “We would like to think it’s a reflection of public opinion on our efforts.”
In a close three-way race, Hart captured 9,355 votes compared with 8,037 for Tory Gina Brannan and 7,874 for New Democratic Party candidate Gordon Crann, a former alderman. The Liberals now hold 49 seats in the provincial legislature, governing with the support of 25 New Democrats. The Tories have 51 seats. The defeat of Brannan, a lawyer and former political aide to three Tory ministers, was a setback for Larry Grossman, who was elected Conservative leader last November with a promise to deliver ethnic and urban votes. Conceded Grossman: “Our party has a little work to do yet.”
The byelection victory came at a crucial time—just days before the first formal Liberal throne speech. The government has prepared a long-range policy assessment likely to spark controversy. A senior policy adviser to Peterson said the plan would prepare the province to address major demographic, economic and social changes into the next century. According to a study produced by the ministry of community and social services, Ontario faces the challenge of adapting to a “postindustrial society” with an aging population and rapid growth in service and information industries. To deal with the changes, the government is expected to introduce ambitious new policies for education, health care and small business. Said an aide to Peterson: “This government will be the early bird catching the worm.”
The Liberals clearly intend to be around to carry out their policies, and there has been widespread speculation that Peterson will call an election to capitalize on his popularity and seek a clear majority. But under an accord reached with the NDP last spring when the two parties combined to defeat Ontario’s 42-year-old Conservative dynasty, he is committed to delay any ballot until at least June, 1987. “No, I’m not planning on calling an election,” Peterson insisted at Hart’s victory party. “But if someone else wants to call one, there’s no particular problem.”
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