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EDITORIAL: This could really hurt

Voters can be a punishing lot. In Ontario, the provincial Liberals were pummelled in the election and reduced to what is referred to as a rump of its former self.

Many will have ideas about the reasons, and whether they deserved it. But the problems for the party that had formed government in that province over the last 15 years doesn’t end there.

With just seven members elected in Thursday’s election that saw a massive win for Doug Ford and the Progressive Conservatives, the Liberals fall short of the eight seats needed to gain official party status in the Ontario legislature. That has raised the prospect of whether the incoming government would consider changing the legislation to lower that threshold – which apparently is a possibility and has been done in the past.

Doubtless, this now third-place party will find it has a lot on its plate as it looks to rebuild support and credibility following the catastrophic loss and sudden disenchantment among voters. That the Liberals would lose the election was expected and forecast in polls leading up to voting day.

Outgoing premier Kathleen Wynn inherited a government struggling with billion-dollar scandals, but under her leadership more fuel was added to the fire. The Liberals came to power in 2003 under Dalton McGuinty, and when he stepped down in 2013, Wynn gained the leadership. She led the party to a majority in 2014, despite the party already being bogged down by scandals at eHealth Ontario, air ambulance service Ornge and a price tag of up to $1.1 billion to cancel two gas plants.

But there’s nothing that stings voters like pocketbook issues. Her popularity dipped and anger rose among the public over rising hydro-electric prices. The Liberal platform that promised increases in social spending – and adding billions more to a deficit and massive provincial debt – also added to voter angst.

Match that with Ford’s pledge to reduce taxes and cut gas and hydro prices and a substantial number of voters will take a chance.

So, the Liberals have perhaps gained some working experience, as political parties should from a huge loss.

But losing official party status goes beyond simply crossing to the other side of the house.

It would mean losing out on funding through the legislative assembly’s internal economy board for such needs as research and staff salaries.

It also means Liberal members must operate as independents, being excluded from debates unless called upon by the house speaker. Independents are also not entitled to reply to ministerial statements, receive copies of government notices of motion or amendments to bills and other such documents.

That sounds like suddenly becoming severely disadvantaged in going about providing opposition. And while the NDP, the official opposition now, could well do a stellar job, the addition of seven Liberal members to that task – along with the wider variety in viewpoint – would be better.

The Liberals have been punished, as only voters can do. But denying them the opportunity of an effective voice in the legislature would simply hamper the interests of the province’s citizens.

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