Tuesday, August 7, 2012

By-Election Blues

There are three by-elections coming up in Ontario, with another one is possible. The provincial by-elections are Kitchener-Waterloo and Vaughan. MPP Elizabeth Witmer (PCPO – Kitchener-Waterloo) resigned months ago to sit on the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board. Earlier this week long-time McGuinty ally, Greg Sorbara (OLP – Vaughan) announced his retirement. On the federal level Bev Oda (CPC – Durham, ON) retired on July 31 and MP Ted Opitz (CPC – Etobicoke Centre, ON) is awaiting a Supreme Court decision onwhether or not the 2011 election results are invalid, and a by-election is required due to irregularities.

By-elections are incredibly unpredictable. Turnout tends to be lower, and often surprising parties win. For example, Thomas Mulcair (NDP – Outremont, QC) won a by-election in 2007 to become the first NDP MP in Quebec in decades. By-elections are good times for upsets. They are also a good way to send governments a message by electing a member of the opposition.

These by-elections will have a significant impact on local news in coming months, and politics within Ontario. Before getting into specifics there are broad patterns in these by-elections. On both a provincial and federal level the Tories are poised to do well in these by-elections. What ridings the Tories don’t win are likely to go to the Liberals, and the NDP are likely to be shut out.

Kitchener-Waterloo was solid for Ms. Witmer, though in 2011 she won with only 7%. The Liberals have nipped at the Tories heels in the not-so-distant past. Provincially the Progressive Conservatives are polling higher than at the election (at least in June). The Ontario NDP should not be counted out yet though. The ONDP nominated CatharineFife, who is a school trustee in the area. When Fife ran in 2007 she won 17%, but the NDP are polling at 30% or so, therefore a win might be possible in a tight three-way race.

Vaughan was a sudden surprise. As a prominent cabinet minister Mr. Sorbara won the riding handily with over 50% of the vote in 2007 and 2011. However with the Sorbara name off the ballot and the chronically unpopular McGuinty government facing a by-election this could be a Tory pick-up. The federal Conservatives hold the riding as a matter of fact. This suburban riding north of Toronto is unlikely to bear any fruit for the ONDP.

In Durham Conservatives should find it relatively easy to hold on to this seat. In 2008 and 2011 Bev Oda won the riding with a majority (54%). Oda’s public embarrassments may hurt the next Conservative candidate, but probably not enough to swing the riding. Surprisingly the NDP came in second in this riding in 2011 with 21% of the vote, with the Liberals behind at 17%. Still, it’s a hell of a climb to get past the Tories in Durham as the rural character of the riding naturally favours the Harper Conservatives.

EtobicokeCentre may, or may not be, a by-election. It depends entirely on how the Supreme Court rules in regards to former-MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj case of alleged election-day irregularities. If there is a by-election in this Toronto riding I think it will be tough for a Conservative to hold onto this riding. A boon to Mr. Opitz will be a division among the NDP and Liberals. The Liberals are the most likely candidate to win, given that the riding was decided by 26 votes and the NDP was a distant third. With the NDP polling higher in Ontario  it might eat into the Liberal numbers and only ensure a Conservative win even if a by-election is called.

Outside of Ontario there is a by-election in Calgary Centre to replace Lee Richardson. There is little doubt who will win in said by election in deep blue Alberta, but there is a contentious race for who the Tory nominee will be.

By-elections are usually moments for the opposition to flex its muscles and beat up on the government. Sadly the placement of these by-elections give a solid chance to the government (both Harper Conservatives and McGuinty Liberals) a chance of winning, and not much hope for the NDP. When all is said and done there is likely to be more blue wins than losses. Don’t count out the possibility of an unexpected results, by-elections are famous for them.

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