Tuesday, September 11, 2012

By-Election Tea Leaves

Were political commentators and pundits wise they would stop trying to predict the course of future events. They cannot help themselves though, it remains an irresistible part of following politics. No matter how many black eyes pundits get (see Alberta PC upset, or strong Quebec Liberal finish) they will go on predicting.

A few days ago there were two by-elections in Ontario. I have mentioned the details of these by-elections in previous posts so I will move straight to the results. In the riding of Vaughan the Liberal candidate Steven Del Duca was able to keep the riding in the government’s hands. The support for the three major parties within Vaughan was roughly the same as the last provincial election.

Most attention has focused on Kitchern-Waterloo where a retiring PC MPP raised hopes for a win by the Liberals. In a complete upset ONDP candidate Catherine Fife won the race with nearly 40% of the vote.  The result was bad for both Premier Dalton McGuinty (OLP – Ottawa South) and Leader of the Opposition Tim Hudak (PCPO – Niagara West-Glanbrook). McGuinty failed to achieve the majority he so desperately sought and Hudak lost a seat. The only happy leader in Ontario after those by-elections was Andrea Horwath (ONDP – Hamilton Centre).

The results of the by-elections were followed by speculation that this was a major blow to Tim Hudak’s leadership and that hisdays may be numbered. No definitive proof has been revealed to that point. Moving to a leadership convention would definitely weaken the PCs and their hopes to unseat the Liberals from power.

An article in the Toronto Star by Thomas Walkom suggests that the Liberals may be suffering a similar fate to their federal cousins. The NDP may be encroaching more and more on their support be moving the centre and moderating their positions. Voters understand that when they elected ONDP MPPs they are moving towards making Andrea Horwath and not Tom Mulcair or the late Jack Layton their premier, but feelings about the NDP are changing in Ontario as a result of the new federal dynamic. Hudak’s PCs may be too right-wing for the sensibilities of Ontario (or at least Kitchener-Waterloo), and the public is growing weary of Mr. McGuinty’s government. Therefore, as Walkom suggests,they are turning to the new liberals, the NDP.

But as guru of Queen’s Park, Steve Paikin, reminds us,one by-election does not make a trend. The Liberals won Vaughan handily, despite it being a swing seat that the Tories hold federally, and have held it before provincially. Likewise the NDP only pulled 11% in Vaughan, hardly a strong indication that they are truly the government-in-waiting.

In a minority government situation politicians, pundits, journalists and political geeks are trying to find concrete ways to measure what will happen next, particularly with how unstable the whole thing is. The by-elections last week may be a flash in the pan, or portends of future things to come. It depends entirely on how the narrative is constructed. If we see a Premier Horwath in 2014 observers will point to the victory in Kitchener-Waterloo as an important stepping stone. If McGuinty’s Liberals regain their majority by that time the by-election that seems so important now will seem a distant memory.

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