February 13 Ontario byelection notes .. a general election as soon as May?

Feb 14th, 2014 | By | Category: In Brief

Gila Martow, flanked here by federal friends Peter Kent and John Baird, has just won Thornhill for Tim Hudak’s Ontario provincial Conservatives in a byelection.

Back on January 21, I was reporting that “A new poll suggests the Progressive Conservatives are off to a strong lead in two Ontario byelections being held next month … The poll, conducted Jan. 15, took a random sample of voters in both Thornhill and Niagara Falls … In Thornhill, 44 per cent of voters said they would be most likely to vote for the Progressive Conservatives …  Results were more evenly split in Niagara Falls, though the PCs still carry an eight point lead.”

More recently, the polling picture shifted somewhat. The Liberals looked a little stronger in Thornhill, and the New Democrats seemed like real competitors in Niagara Falls.

Wayne Gates, who has just won Niagara Falls for the Ontario New Democrats, with his leader Andrea Horwath, on the campaign trial.

With all “polls” (in a somewhat different sense) in the actual byelection now reporting, we know that Gila Martow has won for the Conservatives in Thornhill, with 48.0% of the vote, compared to 41.5% for her Liberal rival, Sandra Yeung Racco (and a mere 6.8% for Cindy Hackelberg of the NDP).

With all polls reporting in Niagara Falls we know that Wayne Gates of the NDP has won with 39.4% of the vote, compared to 36.8% for the Conservative Bart Maves, and 19.4% for the Liberal Joyce Morocco. (Or, as one journalist’s editors have put it : “Opposition parties give Liberals a double whammy in Ontario by-elections.”)

* * * *

New Democrat Bob Rae (l) and Liberal David Peterson prepare for an election debate in August 1990.

Personally, I agree with the argument that these results increase the likelihood of a fresh election sooner than later — possibly even “as soon as May.”  Going back to the speculations of Susanna Kelley that I took as my text on January 21, “former Liberal MP Ken Dryden” has been pointing to “a palpable anger out there amongst the citizenry.” And “ if and when the Ontario electorate is angry, a radical change of government, and direction, is very possible.”

The New Democrat victory in the February 13, 2014 Niagara Falls byelection strengthens the hand of those NDP activists who argue that Andrea Horwath’s New Democrats — and not Tim Hudak’s too right-extremist Conservatives — could reap this coming whirlwind in a fresh general election. A discussion over a leisurely coffee a few weeks ago, with an ancient eminent authority on Ontario political culture from Southwestern Ontario, also raised the prospect that the NDP, and not the Conservatives, just might do surprisingly well in that Ontario region in a general election this spring — just like Bob Rae’s Ontario New Democrats in 1990!

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne : what’s not to like?

Finally, I thought John Tory was offering some sensible advice about the potential resilience of Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne on CP24 earlier this evening/morning, even in this freshly storm-tossed situation. The thing is, Mr. Tory seemed to be saying, that in a general election Kathleen Wynne will be getting on TV a lot. And when people see her on TV they like her, and (perhaps even more important in old Ontariario), they trust her.

Then I caught Ms Wynne’s TV appearance in Thornhill, after the Liberal defeats in both ridings had become clear. And it seemed to bear out the still faithful Progressive Conservative/Red Tory John Tory’s warning, or note of caution, or whatever it was. The leader of the current Liberal minority government made clear that she recognized what had happened on February 13, 2014 was not good news for her party. But she did not seem at all like someone who was afraid of a general election, even as soon as this May.

Liberal reformer Oliver Mowat, Premier of Ontario 1872–1896.

She was composed and confident — and in fighting form. These byelections, she said, were not a guide to what would happen in a general election. In that kind of contest voters will see that the losing Liberal candidates on February 13 did in fact understand “what an optimistic and aspirational future for Ontario looks like.”  And “optimistic and aspirational” may well still be what some broad mainstream of Ontario has always wanted — from Oliver Moawt’s long-lasting Liberal “Great Reform” dynasty in the 19th century, to the later half-dozen-premier Progressive Conservative dynasty from 1943 to 1985.

Killarney Provincial Park, on the north shore of Georgian Bay — one of Ontario’s many beautiful natural resources.

And so Ms Wynne put out her last great claim to fame (and at least yet another Ontario minority government, dependent on her New Democrat friends) : “I know that people are looking for change in this province. Well I’m the change. My plan is the change.” Dalton McGuinty’s various sins may still be on Kathleen Wynne’s back. But she’s doing everything she can to make you forget them. And, even as analytically objective as I try to and certainly should be, I have to confess that Ms Wynne’s act works pretty well on me. (Even if, as I heard a few weeks ago, she is not going to win a single seat in a “rural Ontario” that may finally wind up voting NDP????)

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