Monday, March 4, 2013

Three by-elections upcoming

Three provincial by-elections will be taking place within the next six months in Ontario and New Brunswick. The Liberals should easily hold on to one and lose the other, while the third race could be a tight three-way contest.

We'll start with the seemingly most foregone conclusion, the by-election in Kent that will be brought upon by the departure of Shawn Graham. The former leader of the New Brunswick Liberals won the riding in the 2010 election easily, with 56% of the vote to 26% for the Progressive Conservative candidate, Bruce Hickey.

The riding is reliably Liberal, having been held by the Graham family for almost 40 years. Brian Gallant, Graham's replacement as leader of the NB Liberals, has announced he will be running in order to get himself into the legislature.

The odds are very strong that Gallant will easily win. The early numbers show that Gallant was a popular choice for leader, as his party was tied with the governing PCs in the last survey from the Corporate Research Associates. That suggests that Gallant is capable of winning the riding by as large of a margin as Graham did in 2010.

Had Dominic Cardy, leader of the New Democrats in the province, put his name forward there might have been a race. Cardy made what should have been an easy romp for the Tories in Rothesay a close race. It doesn't seem like he will be running, so the only thing that could trip Gallant up is if either Cardy or the Tories put up a stellar, unbeatable candidate. That seems highly improbable, making Kent a Strong Liberal forecast.

The by-election in Windsor-Tecumseh is not quite as predictable as the one in Kent, but it looks like the Ontario New Democrats are in a very strong position to win the riding from the Liberals following the resignation of Finance Minister Dwight Duncan.

Duncan has won Windsor-Tecumseh and its predecessor ridings by large margins in the past, though that shrank to only 10 points in the 2011 election. With the Liberal vote having continued to plummet province-wide, and especially in southwestern Ontario, the New Democrats should be able to wrest the riding away.

In fact, the last month of polls show that the NDP could win by as many as 19 points or more. The only riding-specific poll released so far, by Forum Research, gave the New Democrats 42% of the vote to 32% for the Liberals on a generic ballot. The Tories finished third with 19% (the poll was conducted Feb. 7 and surveyed 403 residents of Windsor-Tecumseh).

The poll shows that a candidate like Sandra Pupatello, on the other hand, could retain the riding for the Liberals. Pupatello won't be running, but that doesn't mean the Liberals won't be able to find someone of similar calibre to carry the party banner. They will need to if they want to win the riding, because it seems to be their only chance. Unless they do, the New Democrats will win Windsor-Tecumseh.

The likely winner of the by-election in London West, however, is impossible to predict at this early stage.

Brought about by the resignation of former Energy Minister Chris Bentley, London West could be a real three-way race - even more so than Kitchener-Waterloo was pegged to be (though it turned out to be not so much of a close contest in the end).

Bentley won the riding for the Liberals over the last three elections, winning majorities twice and still winning by 16 points in the last election. Before Bentley, the riding voted PC during the Harris years. It is possible it could go that way again.

The Liberals have the advantage of incumbency, and with the candidates so far unknown it is difficult to handicap the race. They get a slight edge in the forecasting model, with a 42% chance of retaining the riding. The New Democrats are the next most likely to win at this stage, with a 33% chance. The swing in the region gives them the edge in three of the last four polls, with the Liberals being projected ahead in the fourth.

More significant could be the riding poll by Forum Research (Feb. 11, 724 surveyed) which gave the Progressive Conservatives 34% of the vote to 30% for the Liberals and 28% for the New Democrats. The model gives the Tories a 24% chance of winning.

When you consider that the Tories are favoured in the only poll in the riding, the New Democrats are favoured based on regional trends, and the Liberals have the incumbency advantage and a decent showing in one of the last four regional polls, this is a true toss-up. The OLP is slightly more likely to win than either the NDP or the PCs, but the difference is marginal. Until the candidates become known, we won't have a good idea of where London West will go - and even then we might not.

Future updates to these by-election forecasts will be posted to the By-Election Barometer section of the site, which can be accessed via the right-hand column. The By-Election Barometer has yet to make the wrong call in nine by-elections.


  1. A provincial poll will be released likely this week for New Brunswick.

  2. I wouldn't be as confident about the outcome in Kent. While Gallant is certainly favoured, there are a number of factors worth considering:

    1. Graham won by only 7 points in 2006, despite being a 3-term incumbent, party leader and winning the general election at the same time; this speaks to the strength of the PC candidate at that time and the weakness of the PC candidate in 2010;

    2. The 2010 result was a bit of an anomaly, it was Shawn Graham's best ever showing and was the result of appreciation of the pork he brought to the riding as premier. Since then he has been an absentee MLA and the electorate is wary of that and his conflict of interest finding. If Shawn Graham were the candidate, I'd put money that he would lose. Unclear how much of that would carry over to Gallant.

    3. Governments tend to win by-elections in rural seats in New Brunswick. In 2001, there were three by-elections in seats won by the Liberals in 1999 (when they took just 10 of 55 seats), all 3 went to the governing PCs, including Kent South which then contained about a third of the current Kent riding. Two of these three ridings returned to the Liberals in the next general election, having gone PC in the by-election as a matter of course - politics remains parochial in New Brunswick, particularly in rural New Brunswick and it pays to be on the government side of the house.

    1. Interesting, thanks for your thoughts. In the end, I can only look on from the outside.

      But I think that the wider trends tell us quite a bit. The PCs have been pretty stagnant in the polls since the election and were nearly toppled in Rothesay. That tells me there is good reason not to expect a strong performance in Kent.

      I understand that federal and provincial politics can be very different, but the trends at the federal level in the region, at the very least, do not help the PCs.

      And Gallant has so far improved the numbers for the Liberals considerably. We'll see with the next CRA poll if that holds, but it seems difficult to believe that the voters in Kent will go against the grain in both directions here. If voters in Rothesay were willing to consider Cardy, whose party did not have a single seat in the legislature, they should be doubly willing to consider Gallant, who is the leader of the opposition.

      But, I'm always ready to be surprised, particularly in Atlantic Canada. The small ridings make for some unpredictability.

      BTW, will the Tories run someone against Gallant? I did not see anything explicitly saying so and it is a bit of a convention not to block a leader's entry into the legislature (though that has gone by the wayside recently).

    2. The Tories said before this by-election that they weren't going to run a candidate against the Opposition Leader if one of their current MLAs stepped down in order to allow them to come into the legislature.

      Now, however, it seems ambivalent. I doubt they'll run a candidate though.

  3. Absolutely Gallant is favoured as I said in my first comment. My point was just that there are factors that make it less of a slam dunk than it appears on its face.

    The PCs had pledged when he was elected that they'd give him a pass to the legislature. They say that offer has now expired and they'll run a candidate. There is no tradition in New Brunswick of letting the leader enter unopposed.

    A complicating factor for the PCs in recruiting candidates is that under the proposed new boundaries for 2014, this riding will disappear so were their candidate to win they'd have to choose between running in the ultra-safe Liberal Kent North against a Liberal incumbent or against an incumbent senior PC minister in Kent South.

  4. There is a big difference between Rothesay and Kent. Rothesay is an upscale suburban Saint John riding - not the kind of place where people worry that if they don't elect a government MLA their roads won't be paved and the patronage tap will run dry. Kent is a poor rural riding - more the kind of place where people MIGHT think they need a government MLA to get their share of patronage.

    1. That's a good point DL has made. Its antiquated to a lot of us now, but pork politics could help turn Kent blue - after all, it is easier to produce said pork when you're in government.

      That being said, Kent is also a riding that, even if it wasn't represented by a Graham for the last 40 years, would be considered Liberal-friendly. Its heavily francophone, it is a small-farm rural riding, and it has a very strong tradition of Liberal politics stretching long before the Grahams came into the picture.

      If Gallant loses this riding, it would be a fairly exceptional case.

  5. The Ontario NDP is polling high, but I am curious as to why they are not nominating candidates across the province yet. Candidates with a strong local profile before an election can be an asset in close races.

    The PCs have already nominated most of their candidates, and whether they will win or not, they are ready for an election.

    With the current political climate in Ontario, I think an election could happen this spring.

    Horwath will not score political points by propping up the Wynne government, then critiquing the government saying the are not trustworthy. The NDP needs to do something with their newfound political surge in Southwestern Ontario.

    The Liberals too are ready to face the electorate. They have a fresh leader in her honeymoon phase. Why wait until things get stale? Her party still has the potential of winning another minority government.

    1. The NDP is in the process of nominating candidates. The party had its nomination meeting in Ottawa Centre just a few nights ago. I would expect that they have a full slate of nominees in place before the budget comes down.

    2. The result there was actually a bit of a surprise. I thought Alex Cullen, a former city councilor, would be a lock to win the nomination and give Naqvi some stiff competition.

    3. The local party must have decided that since Catherine Fife was a school board chair, there is some magic in the role. There's also the fact that Cullen is a former Liberal MPP, not the best fit with an NDP riding association, considering that the riding association is composed of the activist base of the party, and thus well to the left of both the provincial brass and the party's supporters.

    4. FWIW, Cullen's base was narrowly outside the riding, as he was a councillor in neighbouring Bay Ward (I think at times a small sliver of Bay was within Ottawa Centre, but overwhelmingly it isn't). Also, for better and for worse, he's a well-known and combative personality. Taken all together, a fresh successful face with a bit of name recognition, and deep with teacher union support (though not with the Catholics), must have seemed more appealing to rank and file NDPers.

  6. Cullen also lost his seat on city council last year and is widely viewed as an eccentric loose cannon.

  7. The PCs have a candidate in London West: Ali Chahbar. Mr. Chahbar also ran in London West during the 2011 general election.

    The NDP is also expected to re-nominate Jeff Buchanan as their candidate in London West, but I haven't heard when the nomination might take place.

    Still haven't heard who the Liberal candidate might be, or when the nomination will take place.

    1. It will be interesting to see if the Liberals are still capable of finding strong candidates in ridings they current don't hold or the incumbent retires.

      Some aspiring politicians may not want to risk being seen as a loser running in a riding which they might lose.

    2. Other aspiring politicians might take the chance of becoming part of the governing caucus so they can have some influence on the government's decisions.

    3. It's been in the media that the NDP in LW has at least 4 people running for the nomination. Their track record in by elections makes a win that much more possible.

    4. I wouldn't be so quick to say Jeff will win...

      Check out

      Lots of people running

  8. David Lewis used to say the NDP could win a national election if they would just let us run the seats on at a time, :-)

  9. Jimmy Bourque is the candidate for the PC's in Kent. He has lost to Betrand Leblanc in the last general provincial election (2010) which only saw 2 newly elected Liberals in the province, Bertrand being one of them. On a side note, let's not forget that Cardy still finished third in Rothesay's last by election with support from the National party. Cardy will not risk losing 2 elections in a row, still waiting for a date for a nomination or even the name for possible candidates.


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