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NDP takes a beating

Globe and Mail Update

The New Democratic Party has fallen so far behind the Conservatives and Liberals that they seem resigned to losing official party status.

Far from the second-place finish New Democratic Party Leader Howard Hampton had mused about, the NDP has taken only seven of 103 ridings, one fewer tham they needed to secure official party status.

“It looks as if we will not have official party status, but frankly that's never bothered me before, it's never slowed me down,” Mr. Hampton told supporters in his riding.

“It doesn't mean we somehow lose our ability to raise our voices and raise the issues that are important to people. We'll continue to do that.”

Mr. Hampton handily won his northern riding of Kenora-Rainey River. Also among the NDP MPPs elected was Mr. Hampton's wife, Shelley Martel, in the riding of Nickel Belt. The party held nine seats at dissolution but, despite having picked up an extra 2.6 per cent of the vote, will return to Queen's Park somewhat diminished.

“Tonight Ontario voters have spoken and they have spoken for change loud and clear. Ontarians have given Mr. McGuinty and the Liberals a mandate to govern, and we accept their judgment,” Mr. Hampton said. “The voters have also said they need New Democrats in the legislature; not enough, but they said they need them in the legislature.”

Trailing badly in the polls and struggling for public attention, the NDP resorted to a series of gimmicks to get noticed. Waving a hole-y block of Swiss cheese at one stop and using an old-fashioned dunking stool at another, Mr. Hampton was fairly successful at getting his events into the media.

Mr. Hampton quite early identified hydro privatization as a key issue in Ontario politics, seizing it and making it a focus of his party. Later the NDP expanded the goal of keeping electricity publicly-held into the broader and more vague slogan PublicPower, which became a sort of catch-phrase for greater democratic involvement and government accountability.

In the latter days of the campaign Mr. Hampton mused that the people of Ontario would be best served by a minority government and, a few days later, speculated that the NDP could leapfrog into Official Opposition status.

The NDP went from majority government to third party in 1995 and then lost even more seats in 1999 as some of their supporters switched to the Liberals in a vain attempt to dethrone the Tories under then-leader Mike Harris.

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