Tuesday, May 1, 2012

High stakes in Kitchener-Waterloo

Within a year of the 2011 provincial election, the Ontario Liberals could regain their majority government and deal Tim Hudak's Progressive Conservatives a crippling blow. 

The resignation of Kitchener-Waterloo PC MPP Elizabeth Witmer gives Dalton McGuinty the opportunity to eke out the slimmest of majorities. If the Liberals can win the seat, it would put them and the PC and NDP opposition at 53 seats apiece, a tie broken by Liberal Speaker Dave Levac.

You can read the rest of the article at The Huffington Post Canada here.

The stakes could not be higher in a by-election. Kitchener-Waterloo has voted for Elizabeth Witmer for 22 years, so the important question is whether the riding is a Witmer riding or a Tory riding. Certainly, it has voted Conservative at the federal level but Dalton McGuinty did not win the last election by holding on to ridings that only vote Liberal at federally.

Is Kitchener-Waterloo at play? Most definitely. Both provincially and federally it as been a relatively close race. However, it is difficult to determine where the parties currently stand in Ontario.

The last Forum poll put the Progressive Conservatives in the lead with 34%, with the New Democrats trailing in second with 31% and the Liberals in third with 28%.

The last Nanos poll put the Liberals in the lead with 35% to 32% for the Tories and 27% for the NDP. The margin of error in the Nanos poll was 4.4%, and with Forum's MOE these two polls are not necessarily contradictory. Outside of an election as we are, this is perhaps not too unusual. But Forum has long shown a PC lead while Nanos has long shown a Liberal lead.

What we can certainly say is that the race is a very close one between the three parties. That makes Kitchener-Waterloo even more of a toss-up.

Prior to the two by-elections in British Columbia, I had applied the swing model to the two B.C. ridings using the latest poll numbers and came to some close results. Let's do the same with Kitchener-Waterloo using the numbers from Nanos and Forum, and applying the incumbency penalty for the resignation of Witmer.
The two polls make for some very different races. With the Liberals holding a narrow lead provincially, and with the resignation of the long-time MPP, the Tories and the Liberals are neck-and-neck with 37% for the PCs and 36% for the Liberals. The New Democrats, despite making gains in Nanos's polling, are still not a factor in the riding.

But with the Liberals trailing in third, the Progressive Conservatives only take a very small hit from their 2011 election result and win easily. The gains made by the NDP eat into the Liberal vote even more, putting the New Democrats closer to the Liberals than the Liberals are to the Tories.

These are two very plausible scenarios. If the race becomes one between the PCs and the Liberals - between opposition and a majority government - the election could be a very close one. If the sort of gains that Forum and Environics have attributed to the NDP are real, however, they could play the spoiler and help the PCs hold the seat. That, in the end, is just fine for the New Democrats, who need the legislature to remain in a minority situation.

Of course, without knowing the candidates this is only speculation. If the Liberals put forward a candidate of cabinet calibre, that could well put them over the top. The New Democrats could also nominate a great candidate and manage to unify the opposition vote or the progressive vote.

The riding remains, however, the Tories' to lose. They haven't had much luck in by-elections lately, with John Tory failing to win Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock in 2009 and Ottawa West-Nepean, held by John Baird at the federal level, sticking with the Liberals in 2010. But all the parties will pull out all of the stops in Kitchener-Waterloo.

UPDATE: Steve Paikin from TVO writes here that even if the Liberals win Kitchener-Waterloo, they won't have a real majority as the Speaker will not vote to create a law, only to continue to a second and third reading. However, the post also says that the Speaker would not vote no confidence in the government, ensuring that, if the Liberals win Kitchener-Waterloo, they cannot be defeated (as long as everyone shows up to vote). That is an important part of having a majority, so the implications for this by-election are still huge. But I am also not sure that this means in terms of a budget. If a Speaker cannot vote no confidence in a government, and so defeat the government, can he vote against a budget, which is always a confidence vote? And what role does precedent (always there to be broken) play here?