Ontario mini-election on August 1 could be (a little?) more serious than we think

Jul 5th, 2013 | By | Category: In Brief

Premier Wynne in flight.

[UPDATED JULY 6, 7, 13 — for byelection results see “August 1 Ontario byelections : a bit of a surprise — Libs 2, NDP 2, Cons 1.” ]. A mere four weeks from yesterday — on Thursday, August 1, 2013 — Canada’s most populous province of Ontario will be holding a kind of mini-election. As Martin Regg Cohn at the Toronto Star has put it, “Kathleen Wynne … unelected as premier since winning the Liberal leadership last January, is about to be roadtested in five byelections.”

The five byelections are all, as explained in another Toronto Star report (by  Paul Moloney), “in what have been safe Liberal seats” — made vacant by resigning Liberal MPPs  Chris Bentley, Dwight Duncan, Dalton McGuinty, Laurel Broten, and Margarett Best.

Mitzie Hunter, former CEO of CivicAction Alliance in Toronto, and now Liberal candidate in Scarborough-Guildwood byelection in Ontario, August 1, 2013.

(It is interesting in itself, you might say, that as many as five of the 53 Liberals who won seats in the 40th Ontario general election held as recently as October 6, 2011, have resigned from the legislature only one year and nine months after the election. [The total number is actually six, counting Greg Sorbara last year, when Dalton McGuinty was still premier.] On the other hand, someone might also say, this only shows how real the transition from Premier McGuinty’s old Liberal government to Premier Wynne’s new and revised Liberal government has become.)

Premier Wynne did not have to call all five byelections as early as this August 1. The timing of the resignations involved meant that only Mr. Bentley’s and Mr. Duncan’s ridings (London West and Windsor-Tecumseh) had to go to the polls as early as this. According to the CBC, holding all five byelections “just before the August long weekend” was  “a decision that opposition parties say has been made to maximize the government’s chances of holding onto the vacant seats.”

Percy Hatfield, NDP candidate for the upcoming provincial byelection in the riding of Windsor-Tecumseh was busy Wednesday, July 3, 2013, hitting the streets. (DAN JANISSE/The Windsor Star.)

That may be true enough. (And if it is, that only shows Ms Wynne has one of the required instincts of an effective political leader.) But in politics almost all prospective good things are accompanied by prospective bad things too. Calling all five byelections for the same day does set  up a kind of mini-election roadtest for the new premier. If the Liberals were to lose all five seats they won on October 6, 2011, that could seriously undermine the new Wynne government’s credibility, and place considerable pressure on the premier to call a real province-wide general election sooner rather than later. (Just as Tim Hudak’s Conservatives are prescribing.)

Doug Holyday (right) and Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, STEVE RUSSELL / TORONTO STAR.

The smart money at the moment would seem to rank the prospect of the new Wynne Liberals’ actually losing all five seats pretty low. But — right now at least — virtually no one among the usual pundit suspects appears to think that the Liberals will win all five seats either. Almost everyone believes that Percy Hatfield will take Windsor-Tecumseh for the NDP. London West is increasingly seen as big trouble for the Liberals. And some believe that the sudden appearance of the Ford Nation Deputy Mayor of Toronto, Doug Holyday, on the Conservative side in the Toronto riding of Etobicoke-Lakeshore could put that seat into play as well. So …

1. Etobicoke-Lakeshore

* Results from last election: Lib: 50.8 % ; PC: 29.2%; NDP: 15.6 %.

Peter Milczyn announces his run for the Ontario Liberals in Etobicoke-Lakeshore byelection, beside former MPP for the riding, Laurel Broten. CITYNEWS.

This southwest suburban Toronto riding, once held by Laurel Broten provincially (and Michael Ignatieff federally) ought to be the safest Liberal seat based on the results of the 2011 election. The Wynne Liberals would seem to have a strong candidate in Peter Milczyn — a longtime Toronto city councillor “once aligned with Mayor Rob Ford”. And Milczyn also “enjoys high name recognition.”

Yet the plot here has thickened quite recently. Peter Milczyn’s original Conservative opponent was “a little-known police officer, Steve Ryan.” But then Ryan apparently “informed the party …  he would be withdrawing from the race because of injuries he received in a car accident earlier this year.” This opened the door for Toronto Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday on the Conservative side.  Holyday “welcomes support from his longtime ally Toronto Mayor Rob Ford … ‘Mayor Ford’s support will be valuable. There’s a lot of support for him in south Etobicoke and the Etobicoke area in general actually.’”

At the same time : “A Forum Research survey last Friday found the Liberals at 50 per cent compared to 25 per cent for the Progressive Conservatives, 21 per cent for the New Democrats, and 2 per cent for the Greens.” This was before Doug Holyday’s announcement, and he claims long family ties in Etobicoke-Lakeshore. On the other hand again, the majority demographic in the riding today is non-British-non-French European, with a strong tilt towards southern and eastern Europe. And a candidate with a last name of Milczyn might do better here than one with a last name of Holyday.

Toronto Taxpayers Coalition hosted a standing room-only Etobicoke Lakeshore all-candidate' debate on Thursday night (June 11) that saw a couple candidates land a few good shots. Staff photo/TAMARA SHEPHARD.

The New Democrats will be nominating a candidate this coming Sunday. [SEE UPDATE BELOW]. The results from the last election do not suggest much hope for whoever the candidate may be. The midsummer 2013 Etobicoke-Lakeshore byelection, however, should be a more or less interesting test of  how well the Ford Nation can travel in provincial politics. (And who knows? Maybe there’s still a chance for Doug Ford yet ????)

UPDATE JULY 13: Ontario Byelections: Poll Suggests Doug Holyday May Be Headed To Queen’s Park “… Forum Research “had conducted a poll prior to Holyday throwing his hat in the ring, and gave Milczyn 50 per cent support to only 25 per cent for the Progressive Conservatives. Their latest poll, conducted earlier this week [July 8-12], dropped Milczyn and the Liberals to 45 per cent, compared to 39 per cent for Holyday. The NDP trailed with only 11 per cent …  The sample size in the [most recent] Forum poll is small, however, with only 334 surveyed (and that includes undecideds). It makes Milczyn’s lead statistically insignificant, along with his drop of five points since Forum’s last missive. But the 14-point boost Holyday gave Tories in the riding is outside the margin of error. He may have booked his ticket out of city hall.” (Eric Grenier).

And see as well :  “Sparks fly at Etobicoke-Lakeshore all-candidates debate” ; and “Ontario byelection pits Rob Ford allies against each other in tough battle for Etobicoke riding … Also running in Etobicoke-Lakeshore are former school trustee P.C. Choo (New Democratic Party) and businesswoman Angela Salewsky (Green Party). Neither is expected to pick up much of the vote …  At a chaotic all-candidates debate Thursday [July 11] in the Royal Canadian Legion on Lakeshore Boulevard West, attended by Holyday supporter Mayor Ford, it became evident the two front-runners were evenly matched. No clear winner emerged, with both earning enthusiastic cheers when they hit their party’s talking points.”

2. Scarborough-Guildwood

* Results from last election: Lib: 48.9% ; PC: 28.6% ; NDP: 19.4%.

Mitzie Hunter, Liberal candidate in Scarborough-Guildwood byelection, and her mentor at CivicAction Alliance, John Tory. Toronto Star Staff.

The big attraction for the Liberals in this southeast suburban Toronto riding is the candidacy of former CivicAction CEO Mitzie Hunter — an attractive black (or African Canadian) lady, in this respect just like the Margarett Best who resigned after Kathleen Wynne dropped her from the new Liberal cabinet at Queen’s Park.

The Chair of the CivicAction NGO is Toronto’s favourite Red Tory, John Tory. And he said this about his protege after she was nominated to carry the Liberal banner in Scarborough-Guildwood :”Mitzie has made a tremendous contribution to CivicAction since becoming CEO in January 2012. Her obvious passion for this region and its people shines through in everything she does. She has also built a team at CivicAction that is ready, willing and capable of continuing to move the organization’s strategic priorities forward during Mitzie’s absence. I’ve known Mitzie for a decade, and while I led a different political party I can say she is just the kind of person we need offering herself for election. I wish Mitzie all the best with her campaign.”

Ms Hunter’s Conservative opponent is Ken Kirupa — a real estate and insurance agent who is also “Immediate Past President at Canadian Tamils’ Chamber of Commerce.”

The New Democrats will be nominating their candidate this coming Saturday (or as other sources claim, Sunday).

UPDATE JULY 7: Giambrone returns to politics, running for NDP in Scarborough-Guildwood byelection.

UPDATE JULY 13 : Byelection poll: Tories within striking distance in Etobicoke-Lakeshore and Scarborough-Guildwood …  Premier Kathleen Wynne’s minority Liberals risk losing key byelections to the Progressive Conservatives …  new polls suggest … In Scarborough—Guildwood, Liberal hopeful Mitzie Hunter, the CivicAction chief executive officer, was at 39 per cent compared to the Tories’ Ken Kirupa, a realtor and past president of the Canadian Tamils’ Chamber of Commerce, at 34 per cent … Former Davenport councillor Adam Giambrone — mounting a political comeback for the NDP after abandoning his 2010 Toronto mayoral bid amid a sex-and-lies scandal — was at 18 per cent.”

3. Ottawa South

* Results from last election: Lib: 48.9% ; PC: 33.4% ; NDP: 13.4%.

John Fraser, Liberal candidate in Ottawa South.

This is Dalton McGuinty’s old riding — and also the riding that his father once held provincially  and that his brother holds federally now.  Before Dalton McGuinty Sr. won provincially in 1987, however, what is more or less the present riding had consistently returned Conservative members to Queen’s Park, since its creation in the 1920s.  In the 1970s and earlier 1980s it was the stomping ground of the Bill Davis cabinet minister Claude Bennett.

As reported by the CBC on July 4, 2013, a  “recent poll has the Progressive Conservatives ahead — and that’s put the heat on both parties as they began to gear up for the Aug. 1 byelection.”  At the same time, “Matt Young, 34, is running for the Ontario PC Party and his office was in his garage as of Wednesday [July 3]. He said he would move his headquarters to a larger building by week’s end.”

Matt Young, Conservative candidate in Ottawa South.

Meanwhile, according to the very latest poll in the riding: “Liberal John Fraser, the former premier’s long-time constituency aide, was at 42 per cent just ahead of Tory businessman Matt Young at 38 per cent.“ Both the New Democrats and the Greens have yet to nominate candidates.

Yesterday Martin Regg Cohn opined: “In Ottawa South, the Tories are quietly optimistic that they can take over a riding long represented by the McGuinty family (most recently the former premier). But it’s hard to imagine a civil service town embracing Tory policies that target public sector wages and pensions.” As has been frequently said in Ottawa (and by Ottawans elsewhere) for many, many years now: Maybe, maybe not.

UPDATE JULY 6: Public school board vice-chair Bronwyn Funiciello selected as NDP candidate in Ottawa South.

4. London West

* Results from last election: Lib: 45.7% ; PC: 29.5% ; NDP: 21.7%.

Ali Chahbar, the Ontario Conservative candidate for London West, is leading in the polls, for the moment at any rate.

Until a new Forum Research poll was released today, the smart money was saying that London West was a three-way horse race. According to the new poll, reported on by Robert Benzie in the Toronto Star : “Things also look bleak for the governing party in London West, represented by former energy minister Chris Bentley for the past decade … Tory lawyer Ali Chahbar was at 36 per cent, ahead of the NDP’s Peggy Sattler, a Thames Valley District School Board trustee, at 29 per cent, Liberal Ken Coran at 24 per cent, and the Greens’ Gary Brown at eight per cent … Coran, the former president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, appears to be backfiring as a star candidate, said (pollster Lorne) Bozinoff.”

Similarly, according to yesterday’s London Free Press : “Coran off to rocky start on Day 1 of campaign … Already dogged by credibility questions from New Democrats who feel betrayed by their former NDP ally, Coran’s biography came under renewed scrutiny Wednesday just as the provincial byelection was formally set for Aug. 1 … Issues raised by a Free Press probe include:
* Coran is distancing himself from a previous claim that he played football with the Western Mustangs in 1972
* Some question how accurately he portrays his minor role with the team in the early 1990s, having told Liberal faithful in his Tuesday night nomination speech that he ‘helped coach the Western Mustangs’ back then
* His claim that he’s lived in Westmount since 1990 (‘I’ve always lived here,’ he says) contradicts what he told The Free Press last year about having moved to Toronto for several years a decade ago.”

On Tuesday, July 2, 2013 Ken Coran was named the London West Liberal candidate in the upcoming byelection. (DEREK RUTTAN, The London Free Press.

You might wonder what kind of election it is when a candidate’s historic relationship with the University of Western Ontario football team assumes such vast proportions. Yet the London Free Press no doubt wisely enough points out : “‘There’s always somebody checking out your claims,’ said Peter Woolstencroft, a retired University of Waterloo politics professor. ‘It raises questions to me: if he’s casual about (these details) what else is he casual about?’”

And pollster Lorne Bozinoff, also on the subject of Liberal candidate Ken Coran in London West, further elaborated : “‘If someone comes across as being inauthentic, I think it really hurts these days in politics,’ the pollster said, noting voters are repelled by ‘political expediency’ … ‘That could blow up in the Liberals’ face,’ he said in reference to Coran campaigning for the NDP in the September 2012 Kitchener-Waterloo byelection when the teachers’ unions were battling McGuinty.” So … it would at best seem risky (right now at any rate) to bet too much money on the Liberals here.

5. Windsor-Tecumseh

* Results from last election: Lib: 42.8% ; NDP: 32.8 per cent; PC: 20.8 per cent.

Windsor City Councillor Percy Hatfield, Lacey Bruce, and Jeremy Bruce (left to right), attending the Do Good Divas Brunch Baubles and Bling event at the local Royal Canadian Legion, Sunday, June 26, 2011.

As already noted above : “Almost everyone believes that Percy Hatfield will take Windsor-Tecumseh for the NDP.” And, according to Rob Benzie’s report on Lorne Bozinoff’s latest poll for this riding: “In Windsor-Tecumseh, which had been held by former treasurer Dwight Duncan since 1995, NDP candidate Percy Hatfield, a local councillor, polled at 52 per cent. Tory engineer Robert de Verteuil was at 22 per cent and Liberal business owner Jeewen Gill was at 17 per cent.”

According to the hometown Windsor Star: “The byelection writ dropped Wednesday by the Liberal government might as well have been a starter’s pistol for Percy Hatfield … Once the five Ontario byelections were officially set for Aug. 1 — triggering a rare summer election — the NDP candidate in Windsor-Tecumseh was knocking signs into lawns within a couple of hours … Hatfield and a campaign staff member erected several NDP signs along Tourangeau Road before moving on to Balfour Boulevard … ‘I go to the door and knock and introduce myself and say I’m running for the NDP and ask if they have any questions,’ said Hatfield, who then asks if the voter would consider supporting the NDP and whether they would allow a sign on their front lawn.”

In fact, confident for some time that a byelection would have to be held in Windsor-Tecumseh by August 1, “Hatfield, 65, [and along with his local councillor status] a CBC journalist for 30-plus years,” has been working the streets for some time now. And it does seem to be working for him. As the Windsor Star has further explained : “Ed Easter, 21, a sport management student at Lambton College in Sarnia, said he was glad to have a politician put out the effort to meet with him at his home on Balfour … ‘About a month ago he came to the door and we spoke,’ Easter said. ‘I’ve never really been interested in politics. But he’s the one who actually came to my house and seems interested, so that’s why I’ll vote for him’ … Chrysler retiree Larry Morency said much the same thing about Hatfield’s visit … ‘I thought it was actually pretty nice of him,’ Morency said. ‘I’m going to vote for Percy, for sure.’”

(Oh and then, btw, the Windsor Star has now also picked up on the latest polling results from Lorne Bozinoff and Forum Research : “Poll: Hatfield way out in front in Windsor-Tecumseh.”)

UPDATE JULY 13 :NDP poised to win Windsor byelection.”

6. The mini-election at large … a question and a caveat …

A week can be a long time in politics, etc, etc. But as things look right now, it seems conceivable enough that Kathleen Wynne’s new Liberal government could take three of the five seats up for grabs on August 1. And that would probably be close enough for jazz, as far as keeping her positive and progressive forward momentum more or less intact goes.

As frequently pointed out, even if the Liberals were to lose all five byelections, that would have no technical impact on the present array of political forces in the Ontario legislature. “Currently the Liberals have 48 out of the 107 seats at Queen’s Park, the Tories have 36 and the New Democrats have 18.” Even if the Tories were to win all five byelections (which certainly seems impossible right now), they would only have 41 seats to the Liberals’ 48, etc.

Premier Wynne tells it like it is. Frank Gunn/Canadian Press.

On the other hand, even if the Liberals were to lose only four of the five byelections (their worst-case scenario on present readings, say), that could do some serious enough psychological damage to the authority of Kathleen Wynne’s minority government. (And, as already noted, it would place considerable pressure on the premier to call a real province-wide general election sooner rather than later.)

In this light, I find myself wondering just what kind of role Premier Wynne herself will be playing in the mini-election over the next few weeks.

Will she be minding her own business as chief executive, and letting the five local campaigns pretty much look after themselves? (She will, eg, be hosting Canada’s Premiers and their delegations for the 2013 Council of the Federation Summer Meeting at Niagara-on-the-Lake this coming July 24-26, just as the byelection campaigns enter their final week.)

Or will she be taking a more active role in the byelection campaigns — trying to show the voters of Windsor-Tecumseh, London West, Etobicoke-Lakeshore, Scarborough-Guildwood, and Ottawa South that more is at stake than Percy Hatfield’s winning personality, or Ken Coran’s casual approach to the details of his (alleged?) Western Mustangs football career, or  John Fraser’s long admiration for Dalton McGuinty, or even the increasingly internationally recognized Ford Nation in Ontario’s capital city?

Finally, I also find myself wondering about the precedent of the recent provincial general election on Canada’s Pacific coast — where the pollsters and pundits were wrong and the Liberal lady premier won in the end.

Meanwhile, for all we confirmed Ontario political junkies (at the very least) Thursday, August 1, 2013 has become an intriguing and perhaps even somewhat serious date on this summer’s calendar. By the traditional August holiday weekend here in Ontariario, one way or another, we will know a little more about the new Wynne government — and perhaps even its potential fate over the next number of years — than we do right now.

UPDATE JULY 13 : “Gas-plant scandal: Ontario NDP and Tories want emergency hearings after deleted emails found  …   NDP and Progressive Conservative MPPs are demanding an emergency meeting of in light of the recovery of deleted Liberal emails on the gas-plants debacle … While some 130,000 gas-plant related documents have already been released and Wynne has admitted McGuinty made a ‘political’ decision to scrap the plants and apologized for the fiasco, the NDP and the Tories believe July hearings would be useful electorally… That’s because byelections are being held on Aug. 1 in Etobicoke—Lakeshore, Scarborough—Guildwood, Ottawa South, London West, and Windsor—Tecumseh … Because the standing committee on justice already agreed to rise until next month it isn’t immediately known if it can be reconvened in July.”

(Yet isn’t “the NDP and the Tories believe July hearings would be useful electorally” the same thing they’re supposedly complaining about in the gas plant scandal? And isn’t too much hypocrisy all around the great unhappy hallmark of the scandal in the first place?)

Randall White is a former Ontario public servant, and the author of a number of books on Canadian history and politics, including Ontario 1610–1985 : A Political and Economic History and Ontario Since 1985.

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