Friday, January 18, 2013

What fate awaits the OLP under Wynne or Pupatello?

Barring a big surprise next weekend, either Kathleen Wynne or Sandra Pupatello will be the new leader of the Ontario Liberal Party and premier of the province. How might they do in the next election?

I wrote about this for The Huffington Post Canada today, and I invite you to take a look. In the article, I spell out how I think it could play out. Here, let's take a look at what the numbers show - or at least what can be done with them.

The most recent data about who Ontarians like for the leader comes from a December 17 poll from Forum Research. It asked who Ontarians thought would make the best leader of the Ontario Liberal Party. Gerard Kennedy placed first with 36%, followed by Wynne at 23% and Pupatello at 20%. No other candidate hit double-digits. The poll also broke the numbers down by voting intentions, giving us an idea of what supporters of other parties think of the race.

Let's run a hypothetical exercise using those numbers to determine the potential support Wynne and Pupatello could draw from other parties. Forum did not disclose how many respondents said "I don't know" or "None of the above", but from the sample sizes we can estimate that number.

Kathleen Wynne was the favourite choice of 10% of NDP voters (20% of NDP voters who expressed an opinion, but 10% of the entire pool of NDP supporters) and 6% of Tories. She was also the favourite of 16% of Green voters and 10% of voters who said they intended to support an other party. In a best case scenario where Wynne is able to draw all of those voters over to the Liberals, and using the current Ontario poll averages as a base, we get the following outcome:


Liberals - 33.5%, 46 seats
Progressive Conservatives - 32.1%, 35 seats
New Democrats - 27.4%, 26 seats
Greens - 6.2%, 0 seats
Others - 0.8%, 0 seats

Wynne draws away a good deal of support from the New Democrats - and even a few Tories. It keeps the Liberals in power, but makes reliance on another party for survival all the more important. Taking votes from the Greens also helps the Wynne Liberals quite a bit.

Pupatello is not so fortunate. Her numbers among PC voters are the same - she takes 6% of their supporters - but she only attracts 8% of New Democrats and 3% of Greens. That makes it a bit more difficult for her to put the Liberals over the top, which she does by a hair:


Liberals - 32.2%, 44 seats
Progressive Conservatives - 32.1%, 36 seats
New Democrats - 27.7%, 27 seats
Greens - 7.2%, 0 seats
Others - 0.8%, 0 seats

One of the problems here is that the PC vote is pretty much locked in - only 28% said they thought one of the Liberal candidates would be a good option to lead that party, compared to 49% of New Democrats and 60% of Liberals. It was almost as if the vast majority of Tories would not even consider the question. That bars the door to Pupatello somewhat, as her appeal among New Democrats is more limited.

Nevertheless, in both of these scenarios the Liberals survive. That is a far cry from where they are in the polls right now. But what if things take a turn for the worst? Who could salvage things best?

This is a bit trickier to determine, and requires an even bigger assumption to be made. For the sake of the exercise, let us assume that if Wynne wins, the OLP supporters who said they preferred Pupatello decide to vote for another party, and if Pupatello wins, the Wynne OLP voters jump ship. These can be portioned out according to how PC, NDP, and Green voters considered the race, the assumption being that OLP voters who like a certain candidate probably agree more with the supporters of other parties who also like that candidate. It is a crude way to go about it, but I think it is the best we can do under the circumstances.

Contrary to province-wide opinion, Pupatello was the second choice among Liberal voters behind Kennedy, rather than Wynne. That means that a Wynne victory pushes 16% of OLP supporters to other parties. 52% of them go to the New Democrats, 39% of them to the Tories, and 4% apiece to the Greens and other parties. That results in:


Progressive Conservatives - 35.8%, 57 seats
New Democrats - 32.7%, 37 seats
Liberals - 22.8%, 13 seats
Greens - 7.6%, 0 seats
Others - 1.1%, 0 seats

The Tories win a majority government while the NDP is vaulted to Official Opposition status. The Liberals are reduced to a rump. This is not an unthinkable scenario, as if Wynne comes out of the gate and trips those left-of-centre OLP voters could easily move over to the NDP. This happened federally as Liberal supporters saw that the NDP became the more viable anti-Conservative option. And coming from the centre-left of the party, Wynne pushes more voters over to Tim Hudak as well.


Progressive Conservatives - 35.2%, 55 seats
New Democrats - 32.1%, 36 seats
Liberals - 23.7%, 16 seats
Greens - 8.0%, 0 seats
Others - 1.1%, 0 seats

If Pupatello wins and she falls flat on her face, the 13% of OLP voters who consider themselves Wynne supporters abandon the party. 48% go to the NDP, 31% go to the PCs, 16% go to the Greens, and 5% to the other parties. That still delivers the PCs a majority, but only just, and the rump the Liberals are reduced to is somewhat larger. This is also a plausible scenario, as Pupatello is probably less likely to lose centrist and centre-right OLP supporters than Wynne would, which might make her seem like a more viable anti-Hudak option than a Wynne-led party that is collapsing.

This exercise shows the risks and rewards that come with a Wynne or Pupatello leadership. Wynne can probably attract more support from the left, putting them ahead of the Tories, who are relatively solid. She potentially has more upside. But by pushing the party to the left, she might make the choice to jump over to the NDP easier than under Pupatello, meaning a Wynne collapse could be worse for the Liberals than a collapse under Pupatello.

All of this assumes the status quo, however. If Hudak's campaign falls apart, Pupatello might be better placed to scoop up those disillusioned PC voters than Wynne. If Andrea Horwath's campaign collapses, disappointed NDP voters may be more willing to cast their ballot for the Wynne Liberals than they would a Pupatello-led party.

But what about Kennedy? Polls show he is more widely liked than either Pupatello or Wynne, even if the OLP itself is not all that keen on him. If he does pull off an upset next weekend, what could happen then?


Kennedy scored very well among NDP voters in the Forum poll. He pulls 23% of NDP votes to the OLP. He also draws 9% of Tories and 18% of Greens.

Liberals - 38.6%, 60 seats
Progressive Conservatives - 31.0%, 29 seats
New Democrats - 23.4%, 18 seats
Greens - 6.1%, 0 seats
Others - 0.9%, 0 seats

His upside among PC voters is still rather limited, but he completely erases the gains the New Democrats have made since the last election. He gives the Liberals a majority government. These might be fairy-tale numbers due to Kennedy's name recognition alone (Hudak and Horwath are also well-known at this point, dulling his potential upside), but it is hard to argue that Kennedy wouldn't stand the better chance in a snap election than Pupatello or Wynne. If you have to spend the first two weeks of a campaign introducing yourself, you will be two weeks behind the other leaders.

Of course, this exercise is highly hypothetical and makes plenty of assumptions that may or may not be warranted. But the results do make a lot of intuitive sense. Unless Wynne or Pupatello can find some support across the aisle, we will probably find out sooner rather than later how they will do.


  1. So the obvious choice then is Kennedy ?

  2. You assume of course that people will vote for the Liberals. I think they are toast if we have an early election and totally fried if left in power for the next year.

    1. I think it is a safe assumption that some people will vote for the Liberals, yes.

    2. Anon 11:28

      NUTS !! The province will not go PC, most can't stand Hudak. It won't go NDP because Horvath just isn't selling.

      So look for another tight Lib majority/minority

    3. I suppose anythings possible but I consider a Liberal majority to be HIGHLY unlikely. Are the Liberals really likely to hold onto every single one of their seats and then win an additional one Peter?

      I don't think you have the ability to look beyond your narrow partisan lens on almost any story on here. The disgust at the Ontario Liberal Party outisde of Toronto and Ottawa is palpable.

      The Liberals will surely be in tough to hang onto seats like Niagara Falls, St. Catharines, the last couple of rural seats they have and the pair of Northern Ontario seats.

      A Liberal minority is a possiblity as Eric has outlined, and could result in a highly unstable parliament especially if Pupatello is the Premier(Wynne and Horwath would probably be a better working coalition or quid pro quo).

      As for the talk of Hudak collpasing....he already did last election!!! The PC's are pretty much at their floor and probably have nowhere to go but up in the next campaign, likewise Horwath may only need to make small gains to become a player with over 20 seats.

  3. Actually the analysis is quite astute. The Liberals are idiots not to choose Kennedy who occupies the optimum real estate in Canadian poitics, the left wing of the Liberal Party. This is where the Liberal vote optimizes nothwithstanding the Blue Liberal desire for a wannabe spot with the high rollers. The best factor for NDP survival and growth is Liberal stupidity.

    George Orwell.

  4. How many think there is a possible Flora MacDonald syndrome both in the Liberal leadership andin the posible general election?

    We love her but don't think small town rural Ontario is ready for a Lesbian leader.

  5. Wynne is much much easier to attack in the election than Pupatello is. Your estimates for Wynne's seat totals are off by about a dozen.

    1. It certainly is possible that Wynne would do worse than the 23% that this exercise gave her (though I consider that unlikely), there is no way that the Liberals would win only one seat at 23%.

    2. I was more pointing to your "Wynne Victory" scenario

    3. I think Pupatello has more weaknesses overall then Wynne. But Wynne can't win anything outside of south western Ontario because 1: She's Gay, and that will be a problem for those in rural Ontario. But there are less seats in rural Ontario, Pupatello has a bad image where it counts.

      But all of this is ignoring the fact that Liberals shouldn't be deciding the next Premier. It should be Ontarians.

    4. It's 2013 and being gay should not have any weight at all. We just need the best person for the task and that is Kathleen Wynne

  6. @Anonymous - the reason the OLP doesn't like Kennedy is because they know him. He seems very charismatic but its all surface and in all likelihood he would run the province into the ground.

    In general though I think that this isn't as accurate as it would appear. The poll was taken a month ago and in different circumstances from what would actually happen. If pre-election polls were accurate Hudak would have won a majority last time around. A lot can change over the course of a general election.

    Just something to consider.

  7. In late 2010 and early 2011 the PCs were polling in between 38-44%. However in 2012, they have been polling between 32-38%. The PC base is strong, but under Hudak, I find it hard to believe the party could grow in support. They are exactly where they were in the last election. The only thing they have going for them is a weaker Liberal party, and a NDP that is strong, but not strong enough to overtake the PCs. This would allow them to win a majority with as little as 35% support.

    I do applaud Hudak and the PCs for good grassroots organization and their ability to get media attention. The PCs have already nominated candidates in most of the ridings during this prorogation and Hudak is on the news often talking about his policies.

    Horwath and NDP do not seem ready for an election, nor are they talking about any policy. It's puzzling do to the fact that they are polling at their highest levels in their post-Rae era, and are just slightly trailing the PCs in most polls. It's almost as if Horwath is aiming to be leader of the official opposition than as premier. Let's hope she steps it up in the next few months before the NDP enthusiasm fizzles.

    Still a good chance for the Liberals to squeak in a minority government under Wynne or Pupatello. I am sure that will be the plan. Surprisingly, the Liberals still have the best grassroots organization in the province. Popular local MPPs might still be able to hold off ridings that might seem vulnerable. I do agree with earlier posters that it would be difficult for the party to win ridings they currently do not have. Realistically, they could be competitive in Perth-Wellington with John Wilkinson or Parkdale-High Park with Gerard Kennedy.

  8. Ontario tends to have two political seasons, elections and otherwise. All the polling inbetween elections can reveal little of voting intentions and party strength. Obviously the PCs gain inbetween but then people wake up and listen to the nonsense they spew and remember the Harris years, a good number jump to the Liberals. The more Moderate Liberals jump to the NDP or Greens, giving them a small but insignificant boost.

    Thus I think we're stuck with the Mcguinty Liberals, with a closed legislature until 2014 and the possibility of them gaining a majority. And no chance of them doing a 360 on any policy of importance (like the HST, worker's rights and the deficit). Pretty poor choices and outcomes.

    1. I don't think the Liberals can hold out that long to bring back the legislature. At some point supply bills and mundane legislation needs to be passed to keep the wheels of goverment in motion. I could be wrong on this but during the prorogations announcment many analysts were saying this.

      Also other wildcard possibility...what if Pupatello wins the leadership and loses a byelection? I don't think it's likely myself since Duncan will almost certainly give up his seat for her and she'll win in her home toen but it would be pretty wild if it happened.

    2. Windsor has traditionally a battle between the Liberals and NDP. I might be wrong, but I believe no Conservative has ever won a provincial or federal seat in Windsor.

      Windsor Tecumseh and Windsor West are safe NDP seats in the federal level. If Pupatello contests win a by-election in Windsor Tecumseh, I think she could lose, as the Ontario NDP have been notably strong in by-elections. If she contests the riding in a general election, I think she would win the riding as the cash-strapped NDP would allocate their resources to other ridings they could win easier.

    3. Andrew McNally and Anon Jan. 21 10:04:

      The Legislature must sit once a year. This is a requirement of the Constitution Act 1867 and well as long held convention (s. 86 Constitution Act, 1867). In other words there must be a legislative session in 2013.

      As for legislation there is no requirement for a government or legislature to pass legislation. Budgets do need to be passed but, through the use of Royal Warrants that continue the current spending plans or cycles a budget is probably needed only once every 19 months. Although unusual it is not uncommon. Usually the extension through warrants is of a shorter duration (two or three months) and often due to some reason, such as; an election, national crisis, death etc...

      Although technically possible it would be a grave misuse of the powers of the Crown for Warrants to extend the budget cycle ad infinitum.

  9. Darrel Bricker and other are putting forward the idea of two pots, a small pot of up to 40%composed of Tories. There is a bigger pot of 50% but it is composed of Liberals, NDP and Greens. In the big pot any party can grow but only at the expense of the other parties in the big pot.

    George Orwell

  10. Interesting analysis, Eric. I'm personally skeptical, if only because I'm skeptical of the data itself - I think Kennedy only gets more support only because he has greater name recognition than Wynne or Pupatello. Even Rae had at one point more support than Dion or Ignatieff, if only because he was more well known than either of them (for better or for worse).

    I'm a pragmatist, and a Wynne supporter, so my personal inclination is that the OLP is destined for the Opposition benches next time out - if only because of how much crap we've had to trudge through for the last decade, especially the last year and a bit. It would be extremely hard to stay on as government - the issue is whether or not we can stay relevant. I think Wynne has enough appeal and abilities to keep the OLP as the dominant, erm, "non-Tory party."

  11. The Liberal Party cannot sustain too many more losses at the Ontario, Quebec, and national level before it goes the way of the British Liberal Party, hanging around but not as a go

    vernment or potential government par

    George Orwell

  12. What happened to my comments? I tried to leave a few comments here a few days ago, but they seem to have been deleted (or rather, never posted). Could you please see if they're still around somewhere in the spam filter, Eric?

    I'm using Pale Moon browser (Firefox-derived).

    1. I see no comments from Esn in the spam filter...

    2. Hmm. I'm having to use Internet Explorer now to use comments because Pale Moon doesn't seem to be working - as soon as I press "publish", the message box goes blank again and there is no notice saying "your comment will be posted after a moderator has looked at it".

      I guess it might be a bug in the browser...


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