Tuesday, July 2, 2013

By-Election Pentathlon

Premier Kathleen Wynne (OLP - Don Valley West) is expected to call a series of by-election for August 1st tomorrow. The by-election are exclusively in Liberal-held seats, and all the resigning MPPs were cabinet ministers in the McGuinty government, including Dalton McGuinty (OLP – Ottawa South) himself. Normally this would be viewed as a crisis for the Wynne government. The resignation of so many prominent MPPs, totalling over a tenth of her caucus, would be seen as a real blow. With the exception of perhaps one it is seen as mostly tired, senior hands resigning and retiring from public life. In this post I want to do a sort of breakdown on each contest.

London West was former Energy Minister Christ Bentley’s seat. He resigned months ago over the gas plant scandal. As a result all three parties have had time to get read. The NDP is running Peggy Sattler a school board trustee, the PCs are running Ali Chahbar, a local lawyer. Rumour has it that the Liberals are enticing former OSSTF president Ken Coran to run for them in London West. In October 2011 Bentley won London West with 45% of the vote, with the PCs winning 29% and the NDP 22%. This could be a three-way race, though the Liberals are favourites. The federal Conservatives hold London West, but it seems unlikely the PCs will match their success. The ONDP underperformed the federal NDP in 2011 by about 6,000 votes. If they were able to recapture some of those number they could win the riding.

Windsor-Tecumseh was Dwight Duncan’s seat. He was a long-time finance minister and staunch McGuinty ally. Windsor is a deep orange seat federally and fairly strong red provincially. This by-election offers a chance for the NDP to correct that. Duncan only beat his NDP challenger by 10% in 2011. The NDP is running Percy Hatfield, a city councillor. This, in my opinion, is a must-win for the NDP. Their base is strong there and they have a good candidate. Of the five seats this is the easiest pick-up for them.

Not long ago Dalton McGuinty announced he was retiring from public life entirely and leaving the legislature. Ottawa South went Liberal with 48% in 2011. The PCs were 12 points behind. Whether the PCs Matt Young, a businessman, can close that gap is anyone’s guess. Ottawa South was one of the few ridings the federal Liberals managed to hold on to, and perhaps with McGuinty gone their numbers will actually improve.

The final two by-elections were unexpected and somewhat sudden. Laurel Broten, a prominent Liberal cabinet minister holding many posts, resigned her seat for Etobicoke-Lakeshore. Broten won Etobicoke-Lakeshore with a majority a few short months after Michael Ignatieff, then leader of the federal Liberals, lost his own seat. Toronto is supposed to be Kathleen Wynne’s base and has remained a Liberal stronghold, aside from the creeping NDP insurrection. Peter Milczyn, a Toronto city councillor, is seeking the Liberal nomination for the seat. This seems like a likely Liberal hold at this point.

Finally, Margarett Best resigned due to health reasons as MPP for Scarborough-Guildwood. This could be another tight three-way race. The NDP have shown growing strength in Scarborough both federally and provincially. It is easy to imagine volunteers flooding into the area from neighbouring ridings and boosting support. At the same time the seat was nearly won by the federal Conservatives in the last election. As with Etobicoke-Lakeshore this is a Toronto seat, and Kathleen Wynne should be able to maintain her base and win.

By-elections are awful to predict for two reasons. One, turnout is dismally low and so anything can happen, and two, the peculiarities of the local campaign make any broad generalizations impossible. What happens in Scarborough-Guildwood will have very little to do with what happens in Windsor-Tecumseh. However, I am inclined to be foolish and make a prediction or two. I believe the NDP will win in Windsor-Tecumseh, and had a good chance of winning either Scarborough-Guildwood (depending on the candidate) and London West. The Progressive Conservatives’ best hopes are probably also London West, and I suppose Etobicoke-Lakeshore and Scarborough-Guildwood, especially if strong NDP efforts split votes. The most likely outcome to my mind is four wins for the Liberals and one for the NDP.

This is a big opportunity for Kathleen Wynne. Wynne inherited Dalton McGuinty’s caucus. With this she can start building her own Liberal Party. The men and woman who may win will do so under her banner and will be loyal to her. It would boost Liberal morale and chasten the NDP and PCs thinking of an election. Regardless, as always, it should be fun to watch.

No comments: