STEPHEN HARPER, Canada’s prime minister, is normally a cautious man. But surrounded by the party faithful at a barbeque in Toronto in August, he mused publicly that with a Conservative majority government in Ottawa and a right-leaning mayor in Toronto, it was time to “complete the hat trick” by electing a conservative government in Ontario, Canada’s most populous province. It was not to be. On October 6th the Liberals, led by Dalton McGuinty (pictured) won their third consecutive government—albeit a minority, with 53 of the 107 seats in the provincial legislature. The Progressive Conservatives, who had gone into the campaign with a strong lead in the polls, won 37 seats, while the leftist New Democratic Party took 17. At least part of the blame for the right’s poor showing can be laid directly at Mr Harper’s door.
Mr McGuinty looked vulnerable after two terms in power. He had backtracked on earlier promises not to raise taxes, had presided over a C$1 billion ($970m) boondoggle to digitalise the health records of Ontario’s 13m residents and was pushing a necessary but unpopular move to green energy that meant higher electricity rates ahead.
Sensing blood, Mr Harper unleashed his cabinet, including Jim Flaherty, the finance minister, to publicly support Tim Hudak, who was running in his first provincial campaign as Progressive Conservative leader. Mr Harper’s chief of staff hosted a fundraiser for his local provincial candidate. Yet many of the Ontario regions that switched allegiance to Conservative from Liberal in the federal election in May, helping Mr Harper to his majority, stayed loyal to the provincial Liberals in October.