The pundits call it the "status quo election," so close were the results last night to the standings at the end of the last provincial parliament.
But the nearly identical seat totals coming out of an anti-climactic campaign belie the upheaval in store for all three poltiical parties in the months and years ahead.
The Liberals, ecstatic at scoring their first back-to-back majorties in seven decades, will not be immune from the political storms headed our way. The Ontario economy -- already sputtering in the manufacturing southwest and the resource-oriented north -- will likely slow further in the face of a soaring dollar. Dalton McGuinty will not have the budget surplus of his first term to distract voters from the puny accomplishments of his caretaker style of government.
The PCs, who could have been basking in the glow of victory today were it not for their proposal to fund more religious schools, will find themselves in an internal debate about where lies future success. The urbane John Tory failed to make any inroads into urban Ontario. With the exception of Elizabeth Witmer's in Kitchener, all of the Conservative seats came from rural Ontario. Many PCs will ask whether they should play to their rural strengths rather than pretend to be an effete Liberal lite.
But at least the PCs held on to their legislative strength even after running a campaign so disastrous that at times it threatened to implode from the inside as candidates publicly repudiated the religious schools policy. In winning as many seats as they did, there are likely Conservatives feeling relieved that the result wasn't worse.
The party that should be feeling the most disappointed today is the NDP. With the most experienced leader running against a lacklustre Liberal premier and a besieged John Tory, it failed to improve its fortunes. This is the third straight election in which it finds itself in survival mode, with fewer than a dozen MPPs in a 107-seat parliament.
Where the party excels is finding excuses for its poor performance. The media wouldn't cover its issues, they'll explain, and John Tory's ridiculous religious schools issues sucked up all the attention. Then they'll point to their modest gains in popular vote -- by 2 points to 17.
"I've heard the rumblings," Howard Hampton told the province last night from the stage in his home riding before most networks cut away mid-speech. "But I'm not going anywhere. I still have lots of work to do."
If Hampton unwisely tries to stay on, he'll be able to count on loyalists like party president Sandra Clifford to help keep critics at bay. But this would be not be in the interests of a party that has sunk so low that it's unable to dream of anything better. The most compelling argument that can be made in favour of Hampton is that no one else wants the job.
Hardly an inspiring route to a better tomorrow. Howard Hampton, a good man unlucky to take over in the bitter aftermath of the Rae years, has had his chance. Now it's time for someone else. Let the search begin.