Eastern Ontario provincial by-elections .. probably not too big a deal?

Mar 5th, 2010 | By | Category: In Brief
New MPP Bob Chiarelli (centre) is flanked by Ontario Premier Dalton Mcguinty (right) and Glengarry, Prescott, and Russell MPP Jean-Marc Lalonde. Photograph by: David Gonczol , The Ottawa Citizen.

New MPP Bob Chiarelli (centre) is flanked by Ontario Premier Dalton Mcguinty (right) and Glengarry, Prescott, and Russell MPP Jean-Marc Lalonde. Photograph by: David Gonczol , The Ottawa Citizen.

Much ink is currently being spilled — and even wasted, some would say — on the March 4, 2010 Canadian federal budget. But if you live in Canada’s most populous province, and count yourself among the small but wiry band seriously interested in its regional government and politics, you may have found the two March 4 provincial by-elections at least equally interesting.

Perhaps especially in Ontario provincial politics, by-elections are not quite as significant as some commentators desperate for something to comment on sometimes pretend. The excellent Graham Murray, editor and publisher of the authoritative Inside Queen’s Park newsletter, has calculated that the seats involved in more than two-thirds of the 46 Ontario provincial by-elections held from 1977 to February 4, 2010 did not change hands.

In their broadest brush strokes the two Eastern Ontario by-elections held this March 4 have just added two more cases in point to Mr. Murray’s larger trend. This past February 9 I averred there was no chance at all that the longstanding Ontario Tory seat now known as Leeds-Grenville would go to the Liberals, to say nothing of the New Democrats (or the Green Party). And while the very well seasoned Ontario Tory Bob Runciman has gone on to the still unreformed Senate of Canada, his carefully meditated successor Steve Clark has in fact tidily held Leeds-Grenville for what is still formally known as the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario.

Similarly, Wilfrid Laurier political science professor David Docherty had earlier urged that the rather different seat of Ottawa West-Nepean did have some serious “potential to be a barometer of how the [Dalton McGuinty Liberal] government’s doing.” And, joining this fraternity, on February 9 I suggested myself that if Ontario Tory Beth Graham finally “manages to take the seat for the Hudak Conservatives more than a few observers will be saying ah yes indeed: the McGuinty Liberals really are in more longer-term trouble than I have thought so far. And they may be right.” In the end, however, on March 4 the seat was held for the Liberals by former Ottawa mayor Bob Chiarelli.

At the same time, those who really like to examine the entrails of by-election birds in depth do have a few narrower numbers with which to chide the McGuinty government — or at least say that Premier Dalton ought not to be getting too complacent about his administration’s current place in the regional political firmament. In the 2007 Ontario general election, eg, Bob Runciman had managed to win a mere 56.24% of the Leeds-Grenville vote for the Ontario Tories. In the March 4, 2010 by-election precipitated by Mr. Runciman’s departure for the Senate in Ottawa, his Conservative successor Steve Clark managed to come up with a striking 66.6% of the vote.

Ontario Tory Beth Graham, on the campaign trail in Ottawa West-Nepean. She didn’t win, but she did better than the Conservatives did last time.

Ontario Tory Beth Graham, on the campaign trail in Ottawa West-Nepean. She didn’t win, but she did better than the Conservatives did last time.

Similarly, in the 2007 Ontario general election Premier Dalton’s former municipal affairs and housing minister Jim Watson (who has resigned to run for mayor of Ottawa) won Ottawa West-Nepean with 50.64% of the vote. All (former Ottawa mayor)  Bob Chiarelli could manage in the March 4, 2010 by-election was 43.5%. Meanwhile, 2010 Conservative Beth Graham won an impressive enough 39.0%, up from only 31.80% for the Tory candidate in 2007. Already, it could be said, the mainstream media is probably making more of this than it ought to. (See, eg: “McGuinty Liberals win narrow victory in Ottawa by-election” and  “Chiarelli wins, but not in a walk … Ex-mayor beats Tory by about five points.”) The McGuinty government, it would seem, is not really in any very deep trouble — yet, at any rate. Still, it is no doubt worth remembering: In times like these, no democratic politician anywhere can be altogether secure. If you want to stay in office, you will have to work harder to keep the people’s trust. That is what Premier Dalton seems to say he likes. And that is, no doubt again, the way it ought to be.

Tags: ,


Leave Comment