Conservative Leader Ernie Eves conceded defeat Thursday night less than 90 minutes after the polls closed in Ontario.
He had insisted all along that a "silent majority" of voters would help his party form a third consecutive majority government. Instead, he watched as the Liberals jumped almost immediately to a commanding lead.
Almost a dozen Progressive Conservative cabinet ministers were on the way out within an hour of the closing of polls in Ontario Thursday.
Cabinet heavyweights Tony Clement (Health), Janet Ecker (Finance), David Young (Municipal Affairs) and Dianne Cunnningham (Education) all lost their seats.Also turfed were Helen Johns (Agriculture), Brenda Elliot (Family and Children's Services), Brian Coburn (Tourism), Dave Tsubouchi (Culture), Carl DeFaria (Citizenship) and Doug Galt (without portfolio) .
As late as Thursday morning, while voting in his riding, Mr. Eves voiced his confidence. While he did manage to retain his own seat, he will preside over a much-diminished caucus.
Several prominent Tories including Elizabeth Witmer (Education), John Baird (Energy), Jim Flaherty (Enterprise) and Bob Runciman (Public Safety) did retain their seats.
Conceding defeat to supporters in Orangeville, at his riding northwest of Toronto, Mr. Eves said that the Tories should be proud to have "changed the face of Ontario and Canadian politics forever."
"You've put this province and this country back on track," he told a mostly subdued crowd. "You have made a real difference."
It wasn't supposed to end this way. Tory strategists who remembered the late-campaign slide of the Liberals in 1999 seemed sure that a combination of divisive issues and negative campaigning could sweep their party back into power. They were hoping for the third consecutive victory that would cement the "Common Sense Revolution" brought in by Mike Harris in 1995.
That strong Tory victory by Mr. Harris brought back from the wilderness the party that held power for 42 straight years before faltering in 1985 and then falling to the sidelines during Liberal and then New Democratic majorities.
Mr. Eves finance minister for most of those years and premier for the past 18 months who won his party's leadership 18 months ago in part by portraying himself as a kinder and gentler version Mr. Harris, ultimately ran on a platform that included promises to ban teacher strikes and scoop the homeless from the streets. He also promised cuts to corporate tax and offered a property tax break for seniors and mortgage interest deductibility for new homeowners.
The Tories also came out swinging at Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty, calling him anti-senior, anti-student and anti-homeowner. They issued a press release calling him a "evil reptilian kitten-eater" and never tired of repeating their cutting slogan, "he's still not up to the job." As recently as Tuesday, Mr. Eves accused his Liberal counterpart of having a "sharp pointy head," a comment seemingly born out of frustration and one he later apologized for.