Two by-elections are taking place in Ontario today. Dalton McGuinty's Liberals can cobble together a pseudo-majority government if they win both, and it would go a long way towards ensuring the survival of the Ontario government until the end of McGuinty's four-year mandate. The Liberals have a very good chance at winning one of the two by-elections, but the other is truly too close to call.
That by-election is the one in Kitchener-Waterloo. Formerly a safe Progressive Conservative seat under Elizabeth Witmer, Kitchener-Waterloo has transformed into a three-way race where each of the major parties has led in a poll.
But Tracey Weiler will have a tough fight on her hands. The first poll by Forum Research shortly after Witmer's resignation gave the Liberals a seven-point lead. A few months later, Forum gave Weiler a four-point lead and suggested that the New Democrats were making gains. Their last poll, taken only two days ago, put Catherine Fife of the NDP ahead by 16 points!
That doesn't mean Liberal candidate Eric Davis is out of the running. Another poll, this time by Oracle, taken at the end of August put the Liberals and Tories in a tie, with the NDP only four points behind.
Taking the fundamentals of the riding into consideration as well as the riding specific polling, ThreeHundredEight can only forecast that this riding is a toss-up between the Progressive Conservatives (25% to 46%), the Liberals (25% to 38%), and the New Democrats (14% to 39%).
The winner in Kitchener-Waterloo will be the party that gets its voters to the polls. But with the high stakes, this should be a high turnout by-election. Will voters go with the party they have in the past? Will they give McGuinty a majority? Or will they try out the NDP?
This makes Vaughan a Strong Liberal riding, and one that the Liberals should hold. But Vaughan can swing - it went over to the federal Conservatives in 2010 in a close by-election and then voted strongly for Julian Fantino in 2011. So an upset could always happen, but Vaughan should stay Liberal. The forecast is for the party to take between 40% and 58% of the vote, with the Tories taking between 28% and 39% and the New Democrats between 9% and 15%.
As expected, Palliser easily won the by-election in Fort Whyte with 55.2% of the vote, a small drop of seven points from the 2012 election. He won by 23.6 points, virtually identical to the average margin of 24 points expected by the forecast model.
What was unexpected was the strong performance of the Liberals. Bob Axworthy was a decent candidate for the Liberals and put up a hard fight, while the governing New Democrats held back. As a result, the Liberals made a gain of 23.7 points and finished with 31.6%, a great result for a party that had 7.5% support province-wide in the last election (and 7.9% in Fort Whyte). The New Democrats accordingly dropped 18.4 points to only 11.4%, but considering the circumstances I would not take this as a knock against the government.
What the results do show is that the Liberals are not quite dead yet. If they are seen as the best alternative to the Progressive Conservatives in a riding, Manitobans will vote for them. Will the Liberals be this competitive in Fort Whyte in 2015? Probably not, but they need the little bit of good news more than the New Democrats, safely ensconced in Year 13 of their reign and with a majority government, do.