Thursday, September 6, 2012

Fateful by-elections in Ontario

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.
The fundamentals of Kitchener-Waterloo make this riding one that the Progressive Conservatives should win. Witmer won it by respectable margins in 2007 and 2011, and the provincial trends suggest that the Tories should have no problem holding the riding. The party is either steady or up in the polls while the Liberals are down.

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?
The by-election in Vaughan is much more clear cut. The Liberals have dominated in this riding, winning by more than 40 points in 2007 and 20 points last year. The fundamentals give the Liberals the edge despite their sagging poll numbers, and polls done specifically for the riding have given Liberal candidate Steven Del Duca a double-digit lead over the Tories' Tony Genco. A poll done in early August did give the PCs a one-point advantage, but this was before the candidates for the riding were nominated.

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%.
Lost in the hubbub over the Quebec election on Tuesday was a by-election in Manitoba, where Brian Pallister (newly minted leader of the Progressive Conservatives) was making his attempt to enter the Manitoba legislature in place of former leader Hugh McFadyen.

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.


  1. Gonna be a fun evening watching these two !!

  2. Fun fact: the Liberal candidate that Fantino beat in 2010 is now the PC candidate in this byelection.

    I wouldn't bet a cent on him...

  3. Eric, i know you're officially calling it a toss-up, but what's your gut tell you in K-W?

    1. I'll follow Paul Wells' law of Canadian politics: the least interesting thing is what will usually happen. So, PC win.

  4. I wonder if the by-elections will result in McGuinty and Hudak stepping down as leader of their respective parties.

    It looks to be that McGuinty will not receive his majority and the Tories will lose their riding to the NDP.

    1. I see that as incredibly unlikely.

      If McGuinty only holds Vaughan, the Liberals are no worse off than before, so nothing (practically) will have changed for them. If they get K-W too, we will hear no end of the victorious gloating.

      If Hudak fails to hold K-W, maybe the knives will be out -- but he can justifiably claim that the riding was more Witmer's than the PCs' (flimsy as that may be) in the first place. Even if the PCs fail to hold K-W but win Vaughan, Hudak can claim a victory, albeit a backhanded one.

      Maybe one of them might be on thin ice after tonight, but I can see no plausible scenario where BOTH McGuinty and Hudak would be stepping down. It would take a decisive NDP sweep of both by-elections to possibly prompt that, and even then it is unlikely that they would want to leave their respective parties leaderless in a minority Parliament.

  5. My sense of the KW byelection is that the Liberals will find it hardest to pick this up. The reports that the teachers and other public servants are abandoning the Liberals means they would have to replace that support just to stay at the same percentage as last time. I hear that many people are saying the Liberals don't deserve a majority - and they like the leverage that a minority gives them.

    Once voters have decided not to support a McGuinty majority, the next step is to decide on who will be their next Elizabeth Witmer. I keep hearing that much of her support was a personal one for a highly able, talented, experienced representative. Who is best able to deliver that calibre of leadership? Seems like Catherine Fife to most observers, who has won recognition provice-wide.

    Then, it is worth noting that Weiler has chosen not to defend Hudak as her leader, when challenged in the candidates' debate. Fife does not have that handicap.

    P.S., the KW Record, hardly an NDP rag, called out for ABM (anyone but McGuinty) vote.

    So, 35 Fife, 30 Weiler, 28 Davis, Others 7 and in Vaughan, Liberals by about 10 points.

  6. Well, well. 9:20 PM Elections Ontario site


    Lib 23

    NDP 16

    PC 25

    Lib 501

    NDP 152

    PC 361

  7. Vaughan 9:30 PM

    Lib 3017

    NDP 698

    PC 2132

    Lib 305

    NDP 533

    PC 423

    Looks like a major NDP swing here ?

  8. 10 PM Elections Ontario


    Lib 10915

    NDP 2513

    PC 7572

    Lib 3735

    NDP 6610

    PC 5060

    Looks to me like a NDP run away ??

  9. As expected, Liberal candidate Steven Del Duca won in Vaughan, a longtime Liberal seat in the community just north of Toronto.

    In the Kitchener-Waterloo riding, located about 90 minutes southwest of Toronto, NDP candidate Catherine Fife delivered a surprise win, beating PC Tracey Weiler, who placed second, and Liberal candidate Eric Davis who finished third.

    11:30 PM Courtesy CBC

  10. CBC Queen's Park reporter Mike Crawley said Thursday’s results are a blow for both Premier Dalton McGuinty and PC Leader Tim Hudak.

    "No matter how McGuinty tries to spin it, it is a disappointing result in a byelection he triggered," Crawley reported Thursday. "The Liberals thought they would win and it backfired."

    Losing Kitchener-Waterloo — a riding the PCs held for 22 years — will also "raise new questions" about Hudak's leadership, Crawley reported. The big winner on Thursday? NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, who secured a victory many would have thought impossible even two weeks ago.

    Courtesy CBC

  11. And the best thing the PC's can do now ??

    Dump Hudak !!

    He was rejected in both ridings.

  12. Toronto Star header. Says it all

    NDP win leaves McGuinty humbled, Hudak humiliated

  13. As it turns out, Forum's September poll was pretty close for Kitchener waterloo. Certainly caughr the Orange Crush phenomenon, though it missed just how badly the Liberals would do.


  14. It seems that the NDP has become the party of the middle class. Poll after poll both federally and in most provinces show the demographics earning $60K to $100K supporting New Democrats in the 40%+ range. This, more than anything else tells me the rise of the NDP is both real and sustainable.


    1. Good point. Similarly, the NDP has regularly polled with the most support in every age group except 65+ - so it's no longer just a party supported by youth...

    2. I think they've been the party of youth long enough that some 'youth' have started to grow up


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