Category Archives: Ontario

Ontario 2014

Provincial elections were held in Ontario (Canada) on June 12, 2014. All 107 seats in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, elected by FPTP in single-member constituencies (ridings) were up for reelection.

In 1999, Premier Mike Harris’ Conservative government reduced the number of seats in the provincial legislature from 130 t0 103 and aligned the borders of the new provincial ridings with those of the province’s federal ridings. Ontario’s provincial ridings were redistributed in 2005, increasing the number of seats to 107. In southern Ontario, the borders match up with the federal ridings of the 2003 redistribution. However, in northern Ontario, which lost one seat in the 2003 federal redistribution, the provincial redistribution in 2005 opted to retain the old borders – meaning that northern Ontario’s 11 provincial ridings still correspond to the 1996 federal redistribution (with one exception). Federally, the 2013 redistribution, which will be first used for the 2015 federal elections, increased the number of federal seats in Ontario from 106 to 121. It is unclear whether or not there will be a provincial redistribution during the term of the upcoming Legislative Assembly.

This election came over a year early, because the Liberal minority government fell after both opposition parties announced that they would not support the government’s budget tabled in early May 2014. Premier Kathleen Wynne formally asked the Lieutenant Governor to dissolve the legislature and call an election for June 12.

Background

The Ontario Liberals have been in power since 2003 – they won reelection with a second majority in 2007 but they were reduced to a minority government in the October 2011 election. The Liberal government has had a remarkably long shelf life, especially for a government which rarely was very popular or at least enthusiastically supported by voters.

Dalton McGuinty led the Ontario Liberal Party to a large victory in the 2003 provincial election, after 8 years of Progressive Conservative (PC) governments under Premiers Mike Harris (1995-2002) and Ernie Eves (2002).

The Tories themselves had swept into power in 1995, on the back of five years of Premier Bob Rae’s woefully unpopular New Democratic Party (NDP) government. Mike Harris ran on a populist, anti-government platform – the ‘Common Sense Revolution’ – which proclaimed that government was broken, and promised to create over 700,000 jobs, cut personal income taxes by 30% and reduce the size and role of the provincial government. Uncharacteristically for a party which had hitherto been known for its moderate, pragmatic and inoffensive centrist managerialism under the ‘Big Blue Machine’ governments (the PCs ruled Ontario from 1943 to 1985), the Harris PC government ruled very much from the right. It cut taxes, balanced the budget, slashed public spending, repealed NDP ‘job-killing’ labour legislation, introduced workfare programs, cut social assistance benefits, deregulated the energy market (it stopped short of privatizing Ontario Hydro, but split it off and opened the market to competition), undertook a massive programs of forced municipal amalgamations (which led to the creation of large single-tier metro municipalities for Toronto, Ottawa, Hamilton and other urban centres), laid off public servants (including nurses), closed some hospitals and downloaded the costs of many programs on the municipalities. Harris’ legacy remains complicated – depending on who you ask, he may be painted either as a visionary who set the economy straight after the NDP ‘disaster’ or as a heartless monster whose slash-and-burn policies led to higher poverty and inequality.

At any rate, after Harris was reelected to a second term in 1999, his government’s popularity dwindled as a result of a series of unpopular policies and crises (notably the Walkerton tragedy, where 7 people died from e. coli. contaminated water, which was largely blamed on the Conservatives’ deregulation of water testing and cuts to inspection services). After Harris’ retirement, his successor, Ernie Eves, signaled a return to a more moderate and less confrontational style of Ontarian conservatism. He cancelled the planned privatization of hydro and deferred tax breaks for corporations and private schools; but the PCs remained in the ditch due to an uptick in hydro prices after deregulation, cabinet ethics scandals and the presentation the budget at the headquarters of Frank Stronach’s Magna International (for which Eves’ government faced a contempt motion).

Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals, who had been defeated by Harris in 1999 despite a coalescing of anti-Harris support around the Liberals, were the favourites to win the 2003 election. The PC’s attempts to flash-polarize the election against the Liberals, which had worked well in 1995 and 1999, failed as most voters sought change and others were turned off by the Tories’ negativity (including, famously, a bizarre PC press release which called McGuinty an ‘evil reptilian kitten-eater from another planet’). The Liberals ran on a fairly bland and centrist managerial platform emphasizing protection of public education and healthcare (smaller class sizes, reducing wait times in hospitals), good fiscal management, environmental protection, freezing taxes (no tax cuts, but a clear promise not to raise them) and generally giving the image of being a positive change after Tory divisiveness. It worked, as the Liberals won a majority government with 72 seats (and 46%) against 24 (and 35%) for the PCs.

McGuinty’s government more or less lived up to the general flair of the Liberal campaign, but he quickly broke key a Liberal campaign pledge not to raise taxes by imposing a new health premium in their very first budget – which the government argued was needed because of a ‘hidden deficit’ inherited from the Tories and the Liberals’ policies of reducing wait times and improving treatment in hospitals. Although the Liberals would continue to be dogged by their first broken promise, which earned them the epithet ‘lieberals’ from their strongest opponents, the first McGuinty government managed to remain relatively popular as the economy still sailed quite smoothly and the provincial government had achievements to its records (balanced budgets from 2005-6smaller class sizes, investments in education and healthcare, investments in public transit, child benefits, successful negotiations with public sector unions, environmental policies).

In the 2007 campaign, the Liberals faced criticism from the NDP and the PCs (now led by John Tory, who set the PCs on a moderate Red Tory course) for broken promises and other weaknesses in their record. The PCs moderate campaign targeted the unpopular ‘health premium’ (which they promised to repeal) and McGuinty’s “spending spree” (public spending had indeed grown dramatically since 2003) but themselves promised more money for public education and healthcare and to clean up the environment. The NDP promised better healthcare services (also including a repeal of the health tax), a post-secondary tuition fee freeze and excellence in schools. Given broken promises and other issues, the Liberals were vulnerable going into the campaign, but they ran a very strong campaign which successfully turned one minor plank of the PC platform into the defining election issue – Tory’s pledge to extend public funding to faith-based schools (under Ontario’s constitutionally-entrenched separate schools, the province funds English and French Catholic schools in addition to English and French public, non-denominational schools). It was very much of a wedge issue (only the Green Party opposed the status-quo, by promising to create a single public school system), but it divided and dragged down the PCs – fatally. The Liberals were reelected with a second majority, winning 71 seats (down only 1) and 42.3% against only 26 for the PCs (and 31.6%) and 10 seats (16.8%) for the NDP.

The Liberals’ second term proved significantly tougher for them, as the government faced an increasing number of scandals and the economic recession which began setting in after 2008. Ontario has been hard-hit by the recession – the province’s manufacturing-driven and export-oriented economy has been badly hurt by subdued domestic activity and declining demand from the US. The province’s economy took a hit (-3.2% recession in 2009) and government finances were deep in the red due to decreased revenues – the Ontario government posted a large $3.9 billion deficit in 2008-9, which grew to $19.3 billion (3.2% of GDP) in 2009-10. The province became heavily indebted as a result, from 28% of GDP in 2008-9 to 36% at the time of the 2011 election (and 40% this year). After tax cuts in the 2009 budget, the government was unable to offer very many goodies and tax reforms in following years, although it tried its hand at fiscal stimulus before turning towards more restraint after 2011 (although the government resisted austerity and chose to support public services over deficit elimination, projected for 2017-8). Employment-wise, Ontario lost many jobs during the recession, with unemployment hitting 9%, but the Liberals later insisted that Ontario’s recovery from the recession had been more robust than that of its Canadian and US neighbors.

Some of the government’s policies were controversial and unpopular. Beginning in 2009, Ontario transitioned towards the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST), a single 13% sales tax which merged the provincial and federal sales tax; consumers largely disliked the measure because it generally meant higher prices, but Ontario’s HST did not face the same kind of populist, bottom-up anger which led to British Columbia’s HST being repealed by voters in a referendum. The McGuinty government placed heavy emphasis on green, renewable energies and, with the Green Energy Act in 2009, the Liberals made significant investments to support new renewable technologies and promised that their green policies would create over 50,000 jobs. However, job creation has been far below target and the Tories pummeled the government for higher hydro bills.

The Liberals faced their toughest election yet in 2011, with a weaker and more unpopular record than in 2007 and enough ammunition for the NDP and PCs to attack the government from all sides. The PCs, which had shifted back towards the right and populism under Tim Hudak (elected in 2009), relentlessly attacked the McGuinty government for its several tax increases (and promised tax cuts), skyrocketing hydro bills, growing bureaucracy and shabby economic/jobs record. It promised lower taxes, HST breaks on energy bills, downsizing the bureaucracy, cut red tape, cut corporate taxes, a balanced budget with spending cuts but also more investments in healthcare and education. The NDP, under new leader Andrea Horwath, also had a populist campaign – from the left. Horwath promised to remove the HST from daily essentials (electricity, heating and gas), regulate gas prices, freeze transit fares, reduce hydro bills by cutting CEO pay, stop corporate tax giveaways, reward companies which create jobs in Ontario, protect domestic industries and natural resources, cut ER wait times by half, tackle growing healthcare costs shouldered by patients and cut wasteful spending.

The Liberals ran a cautious, centrist campaign built on the notion that they had a ‘good story to tell’ as a government – in terms of higher educational achievement, strong economic recovery, the innovations in green technologies and protecting public healthcare. The general gist of the platform is summed up with its insipid title ‘Forward. Together’ – more or less, keep doing what we’re doing with a few added promises (full-day KG – a landmark initiative of the government; a 30% off post-secondary tuition grant; continuing to attract new businesses and foreign investment) and lots of stuff about ‘preparing for the future’. The Liberals were seriously in the ditch following the May 2011 federal election, which saw their more hapless and incompetent federal counterparts take a thumping and place third for the first time. However, the Ontario Liberals again proved that they had a strong machine, and they roared back to make it a close race – never missing a chance to attack the PCs by tying them to Mike Harris, and taking advantage of voter unease with Hudak’s hard-hitting plan (the Liberals alleged there was a $14.8 billion ‘hole’ in the PC platform), Hudak’s gaffes and his penchant for cheap soundbites (the PC campaign eventually repeated ‘tax grab’ and ‘high hydro bills’ at every opportunity).

As in May 2011, voters opted to stick with ‘experienced and proven government’ in tough economic times, and the Liberals were reelected – although they were reduced to a minority and the party suffered major loses in parts of the province. McGuinty’s Liberals won 37.7% and 53 seats (falling one seat short of a majority), against 35.5% and 37 seats for the PCs and 22.7% and 17 seats for the NDP. Turnout fell to only 49%.

Economic growth slowed to 1.4% in 2012 and 1.2% in 2013, although growth should increase to 2.1% this year. The provincial government has been forced to deal with, since 2008-2009, a very large deficit and ballooning public debt. The 2013-2014 deficit projection is $11.3 billion, up from a $9.2 billion deficit in 2012-2013; the province’s debt has continued increasing. The size of Ontario’s debt and deficit has led some fiscally conservative economists to liken Ontario to California and Greece. Economist Don Drummond was appointed to lead a commission to examine the province’s finances, which reported in February 2012 and called on policy-makers to take tough actions (austerity measures) or else Ontario would face dangerous runaway debts and deficits. Some of Drummond’s recommendations – such as limiting spending increases in education and healthcare, scrapping full-day KG, increasing class sizes, eliminating sector-specific subsidies (notably for green energy) and reduced public sector benefits – went against the Liberals’ traditional platform, and they chose to silently ignore them.

The Liberal government introduced a severe austerity-minded budget in 2012, including very tight control of public expenditures and a two-year pay freeze for public sector employees (including teachers and doctors). The PCs rejected the budget out of hand, claiming it did not do enough to curb “runaway spending” and debt. The Liberals were forced to reach a compromise with the NDP. In April, the NDP agreed to prop up the government in return for the inclusion of a tax on high incomes, although in June the province seemed to be on the verge of an election when the NDP and the PCs started voting against key planks of the budget. McGuinty threatened to call an election until the NDP blinked and abstained on the final vote, allowing the minority government to survive its first supply vote.

The government’s decision to impose a two-year pay freeze on public employees was met by strong opposition from teachers and their unions. In September 2012, the Liberals – with PC support – passed the very controversial Bill 115 (‘Putting Students First Act’) which severely limited teachers’ right to strike and imposed the two-year pay freeze (along with less benefits). There were rolling one-day strikes by elementary school teachers throughout the province in early and mid-December. The government and the unions finally reached agreement shortly after the bill’s December 31 deadline, and Bill 115 was repealed in January 2013. However, elementary and high school teachers promised province-wide one-day walkouts until the Ontario Labour Relations Board ruled the walkouts illegal.

To make things worse, McGuinty’s Liberals were constantly dogged by various high-profile scandals which have seriously undermined the government’s legitimacy and popularity. In December 2011, the government was drawn into the Ornge (the province’s air-ambulance service) scandal, after allegations of financial irregularities, cost overruns, huge salaries for managers and kickbacks. It was later shown that the McGuinty government had wasted thousands of taxpayer dollars in Ornge and had turned a blind eye to earlier reports of corruption.

However, the most damaging scandal has been the power plants scandal. In 2009, the Liberal government, which had closed down two polluting coal-powered power plants in southern Ontario approved the construction of two new natural gas-fired power plants in Oakville and Mississauga, two suburban communities in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) – a key electoral battleground. However, the plants faced the opposition of local residents, which forced the Liberals to cancel the Oakville plant in October 2010. In September 2011, a month before the elections and facing a strong challenge – notably in Mississauga – from the Tories and the NDP, the Liberals cancelled the Mississauga power plant. The Oakville cancellation cost $40 million and the Mississauga cancellation cost $190 million. Today, the total cost for the cancellation of two plants – which includes the need to build two new plants to replace them – could be $600 million.

The Liberals were reelected in October 2011, and held seats in Mississauga and Oakville. In the summer of 2012, the emboldened PCs and New Democrats called on Liberal energy minister Chris Bentley to hand over all documents related to the gas plant cancellations, which he refused to do, until September 2012. In early October, Bentley was facing an opposition motion which would hold him in “contempt of Parliament” – a very serious and rare offence which might have meant jail time for him.

The power plant scandal was one of the major factors which led Premier McGuinty to announce his surprise resignation on October 15, 2012. However, at the same time, the outgoing Premier prorogued Parliament – effectively killing off the opposition’s contempt motion.

The Liberal leadership election on January 26, 2013 opposed six candidates – the top three being former MPP and cabinet minister Sandra Pupatello, incumbent cabinet minister Kathleen Wynne and former provincial cabinet minister and former federal Liberal MP Gerard Kennedy. Kathleen Wynne, considered as being on the left of the party, won on the third ballot at the convention, with 57% against 43% for Pupatello.

The Liberals, who had dropped to third place and oscillating in the low-to-mid 20s, saw their support increase considerably after Wynne’s election, shooting into second or first place and over 30% – in some cases over 35%. There were rumours – unfounded – that Wynne would seek a mandate of her own and take advantage of her honeymoon. She did not.

In May 2013, the NDP once again backed the Liberals’ 2013 budget, which included a few NDP-influenced goodies (15% cut in auto insurance, new funding for youth jobs etc) while continuing with the government’s stated intent to achieve a surplus in 2017-2018. Two of the NDP’s three post-budget demands were satisfied by the Liberals. The gas plant scandal continued to hurt the Liberals, with recent revelations of Liberal cover-ups or attempts to intimidate the Speaker. Wynne struggle to shake off the perception that she was only a new face on the McGuinty Liberal government, rather than a clear break with McGuinty’s tainted legacy.

In her first electoral test as Premier, she faced five by-elections in August 2013, all in Liberal-held ridings. The Liberals lost three of these seats – two (London West and Windsor-Tecumseh) to the NDP and one (Etobicoke-Lakeshore, in Toronto) to the PCs. But because the PCs failed to gain at least one of London West, Ottawa South or Scarborough-Guildwood (three ridings in which they stood a strong chance), the Liberals could find a silver lining while questions about Hudak’s leadership abilities popped up again. In February 2014, the Liberals lost another seat in a by-election to the NDP – Niagara Falls, but because the Liberals had given up on the seat long ago and that the PCs were the most likely candidates to gain the seat, it was also interpreted as a mediocre result for Hudak. That same day, the PCs narrowly held Thornhill, an affluent and plurality-Jewish GTA riding held by the PCs since 2007.

In September 2013, Premier Wynne dared the PCs and NDP to cause a snap election but privately confided that she had little desire to go to the polls in the fall. PC leader Tim Hudak, who had been clamoring for a rematch since day one, continued hounding on the government but also directed some of his fire to the NDP, who had collaborated with the Liberal government and propped it up on several occasions. Hudak accused NDP leader Andrea Horwath of propping up a corrupt and discredited government, unwilling to bring about change. However, Hudak faced trouble in PC ranks. Following the 2013 by-elections, there were local and isolated but well publicized grumbling in party ranks over Hudak’s leadership and isolated demands for a leadership review. Later, Hudak was forced to dump his finance critic, Thornhill MPP Peter Shurman amid a scandal and he removed vocal hard-right ‘maverick’ MPP Randy Hillier from the frontbench.

By early 2014 there was a widespread feeling that the Liberals are running on borrowed time. Most assumed that the government would fall on its May 2014 budget – the PCs would vote against no matter its contents, while the NDP might prove unwilling to extend the Liberals’ lease on government for the third budget in a row. One issue which strained relations between the Liberals and the NDP was the question of new tolls or fees to fund public transit: the Liberal government, promoting upgrades to public transit in Toronto and Hamilton, supported new tolls/taxes to raise revenue; the NDP has warned that they would stand against that. Facing attacks from Hudak in propping up the Liberals since 2012, Horwath came out more determined, saying that she is “seeking the job of Premier”.

On May 1, the Liberals presented their budget, which, knowing that it would likely be defeated, also doubled up as an early election manifesto. Fiscally, the government announced a larger deficit in 2014-5 than in 2013-4 ($12.5 billion, up from $11.3 billion – but the government has undershot its deficit targets for 5 years in a row) and a record-high debt level (40.3% of GDP). The Liberals promised a return to a balanced budget in 2017-8. Despite the challenging environment, the Liberals announced several major initiatives. Chief among them was the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan (ORPP), a defined-benefit plan which would top-up the federal Canada Pension Plan (CPP) for employers/employees who do not
have existing registered pension plans with contributions of 1.9% for employers and employees on earnings of up to $90,000. The Liberals proposed the ORPP after Stephen Harper’s federal Conservative government refused to enhance the CPP. As expected, the Liberals confirmed a $29 billion transportation fund for transit development in the GTA/Hamilton and the rest of Ontario, which would be funded through existing taxes, borrowing, an increase in the aviation fuel tax. Other government announcements included an increased in child benefits (and their indexation to inflation), a 1% increase in social assistance rates, wage hikes for early childhood education and personal support workers, a 10-year $2.5 billion Jobs and Prosperity Fund to attract investments, remove the Debt Retirement Charge from hydro bills (the charge was introduced by Harris in 1998 to pay off the debts of Ontario Hydro) to ‘lower the rate of increase’ in hydro bills, raising the minimum wage to $11 and indexing it to inflation in 2015 and $80-million/year for five years toward a federal-provincial affordable housing program. The budget measures would be funded by ‘asset optimization’ (asset sales), income tax hikes for high-incomes (a 1% increase for incomes from $150k to $220k, and lowering the threshold for the top rate from $514k to $220k) while the government announced it would strive to meet more restraint recommendations from the Drummond report. Unsurprisingly for a pre-electoral budget, the 2014 budget was less austere and less focused on restraining spending growth than the 2012 and 2013 budgets.

NDP leader Andrea Horwath’s announcement that she would not support the government’s budget provided the trigger for a snap election which had been in the offing for a long time.

Parties and Issues

Ontario’s 2014 election opened as one of the most open-ended and unpredictable election battles in years (granted, 2011 was similar) – the Liberals, PCs and NDP all were in serious contention; even the third-party NDP was optimistic after gaining 4 seats in by-elections since 2011, and polls indicated the NDP now had a fighting chance at official opposition or even government. All three parties had advantages and disadvantages going into the election. Pollsters disagreed throughout the campaign on what was going on, creating a wild ride of emotions for supporters on all sides.

The Ontario Liberal Party (OLP) has formed government since 2003 in the province. The Liberals’ recent power in provincial politics, however, is fairly recent. The provincial Liberals were left decimated after Liberal Premier Mitch Hepburn (1934-1942) – something of a hubristic blowhard (but a complex and fascinating politician) – picked a fight with Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King after 1935 and during World War II, which led to the division of the party and its landslide defeat in 1943, when the Liberals fell to third behind the PCs and the left-wing Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF, the modern-day NDP’s ancestor). Between 1943 and 1985, the Ontario Liberals were out of power (and even fell into third twice – in 1948 and 1975), becoming largely a disorganized and directionless party left with a reduced base in rural southwestern Ontario (and with French-Catholic voters). It is often said that the Liberals in this era were even to the right of the hegemonic PCs, although this is not a universal rule. In 1985, the Liberals finally regained the initiative with the modernizing and progressive leadership of David Peterson, while the Tories had finally run out of steam. The PCs won the most seats in 1985, but Peterson’s Liberals were able to form a government thanks to a confidence and supply pact with the NDP for a 2-year period. Peterson’s first term in office saw passage of several progressive reforms (pay equity, eliminated extra billing by doctors, penalties for polluters, campaign finance reform, French-language services etc), which allowed the Liberals to win reelection in a landslide (with a majority mandate) in 1987. The second term saw a marked slowdown in reformist zeal, and the Liberals were hurt by problems in auto insurance and rent control, a Liberal financing scandal, a worsening economy and the Canadian constitutional crises of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Neverthless, Peterson made the ill-advised decision to call a snap election in September 1990, largely motivated by the desire to win reelection before the recession kicked in. Instead, however, the mood quickly turned against him for opportunistically calling a snap election, and the Liberals suffered a defeat of historic proportions at hands of the NDP. Widely expected to win in 1995 after Bob Rae’s unpopular government, the mood again turned against them, because of a weak and indecisive leader often found to be flip-flopping. The Liberals lost to the PCs in 1995, and again in 1999 – under McGuinty – despite strategic voting on the left for the Liberals against the PCs.

Like most successful Liberal parties in Canada, the OLP is a big-tent party, both in terms of voter support and internal factions within the party. It evens out, ideologically, to a vaguely centre-left or centrist stance, often derided by critics as being bland and insipid. Kathleen Wynne, who is the first woman premier of the province and the first openly lesbian head of government in Canada, hails from Toronto – so, unsurprisingly, she’s rather on the (progressive, urban) left of the party. In an encouraging sign, her sexual orientation was thankfully never an issue in this election.

Wynne took the party a bit to the left, although still presenting itself in the centre – the Liberals sold themselves as the ‘balanced and realistic approach’ against those (the NDP and PCs) who would endanger the recovery ‘radical schemes and reckless choices’. However, the budget was widely described by commentators as a left-wing budget (some said ‘NDP-friendly’) while left-wing Liberals praised Wynne for a manifesto which courageously defended the role of government and taxation in a global environment of austerity. The Liberals, like in 2011, did believe that they had a ‘good story to tell’, but the campaign was far less retrospective than that of 2011 – largely because it was imperative for Wynne to distance herself from McGuinty’s tainted legacy and break free from the ‘McGuinty-Wynne’ label which Hudak assigned to her government.

The Liberal manifesto, unsurprisingly, largely consisted of new policy announcements made with the 2014 budget or reiterating existing government policies. From the budget, the Liberals especially focused on the $2.5 billion Jobs and Prosperity Fund to attract new investments across all sectors; the ORPP to ensure a secure and predictable retirement income beginning in 2017; a 10-year $130 billion plan for infrastructure investments (which includes the $29 billion for transit, for major public transit projects in the GTA, Ottawa, Kitchener-Waterloo etc) notably for roads, highways and bridges across Ontario and for upgrades to schools, hospitals and universities/colleges; eliminating the Debt Retirement Charge from hydro bills; the increase in and indexation of child benefits and the increase in and indexation of the minimum wage.

Other promises and reiterated policies included full implementation of full-day KG; continuing the 30% off tuition grant; increasing apprenticeships and training opportunities; lowering auto insurance rates; lowering electricity prices for low-income families; implementing a new anti-poverty strategy; expanding child care; promoting new methods of learning (experimental learning, technology in schools, global-oriented learning, fostering new skills); reducing wait times in healthcare; supporting seniors (home care, increased pay for personal support workers, a new palliative and end-of-life care strategy, seniors activity and community grants program); encouraging eco-friendly ‘smarter growth'; tackling climate change (Ontario finally shut down its last coal-powered power plant); greater government accountability and protecting consumers.

Economically, the Liberal Party planned a return to a balanced budget in 2017-8. It reiterated the budget’s tax changes including income tax hikes for high-incomes, increasing the aviation fuel tax but maintain Ontario’s low competitive corporate tax rate. The Liberals reiterated the government’s policies to make public sector pensions ‘more sustainable’ and to limit spending growth.

The Liberals also took on the mantle of ‘defending Ontario’s interests’ against the federal government – criticizing the federal government for not giving Ontario “its fair share” and advocating for a national drug insurance policy and child care program. Relations between the Ontario Liberals and the federal Conservatives have become increasingly testy, with federal cabinet ministers (some of whom are former Ontario provincial cabinet ministers or MPPs from the Harris era) criticizing the provincial Liberal government.

The Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario (PC) was Ontario’s natural governing party for most of the post-war era, governing Ontario without interruption between 1943 and 1985 (prior to that, the Conservatives also governed from 1905 to 1919 and 1923 to 1934). Prior to the election of Mike Harris to the PC leadership in 1990, the Tories were a largely moderate party – reflecting the soft interventionist tendencies of the party’s Protestant elite supporters. Premier James Whitney (1905-1914) led a progressive conservative administration whose achievements include Ontario Hydro, the Workmen’s Compensation Board and public works but also infamous Regulation 17, which restricted the use of French to the first two years of schooling. In 1943, George Drew led the PCs to a narrow victory on an unusually radical ’22 points program’ (including progressive labour legislation, full social security programs) and his victories in 1943 and 1945 (when the PCs led an anti-communist, red-baiting campaign to destroy the CCF and socialism) laid the roots of the Ontario PC dynasty which ruled until 1985. The remarkable longevity of the PCs can be explained by economic prosperity, low-key and inoffensive governments which laid low and followed the public mood, regular turnover in leadership to prevent voter fatigue, a weak and divided opposition, a big-tent party generously backed by big business, a strong electoral machine and policies moulded to the electorate’s taste for centrist managerialism. The PC premiers from this era (Drew, Leslie Frost, John Robarts and Bill Davis) all came from WASP elite backgrounds, were ‘business-like’ managerial leaders and were flexible when required (changing their mind on hospital insurance, medicare, Francophone rights or full funding for Catholic separate schools). While they were unquestionably conservatives (for instance, the PCs were dragged into medicare and federal pensions by the federal Liberals), these premiers all are remembered for some progressive pieces of legislation or interventionist policies – Drew’s labour legislation, Frost’s public works investments, Robart’s recognition of Franco-Ontarian rights and Metro Toronto scheme, Davis’ big education investments, rent controls and piecemeal environmental legislation. The Tories ran out of steam after Davis’ retirement in early 1985, and his replacement by the more rural right-winger Frank Miller. The PCs were also hurt, in the 1985 election, by Davis’ about-face on separate schools with his decision to extend full funding for Catholic separate schools to all grades (hitherto limited to Grade 10, to be expanded to Grades 11 to 13). This decision, which broke with Tory tradition, alienated traditional Protestant Conservative voters in rural Anglo Ontario. The PCs still won the most seats (but not the most votes), but were defeated in the legislature right after it first convened by a Liberal-NDP coalition. In 1987, the PCs were decimated and dropped into third, and made no significant inroads under new leader Mike Harris in 1990. The PCs regained power with Mike Harris in 1995, and were reelected in 1999 but defeated by the Liberals in 2003.

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PC and Liberal signs in Ottawa-Orléans (own picture)

The election of Mike Harris was a sea-change for the PCs. Nevertheless, Ernie Eves and John Tory both represented a shift back to the centre-right Red Toryism of the Big Blue Machine – but Eves was defeated in 2003 and Tory was a gloriously incompetent leader who self-sabotaged the 2007 campaign. Tory failed to win his chosen seat in Toronto in 2007 (defeated by Wynne, as it turns out), but tried to hold on to the PC leadership, until he was defeated by a Liberal candidate in hilarious fashion in a 2009 by-election in a safe Tory seat. Tim Hudak clearly shifted the PCs back to the right – his leadership style has been called a retread of Mike Harris’ Common Sense Revolution or a ‘Tea Party north’ strategy. Despite performing poorly as a leader in the 2011 election, the PCs still made sufficient gains on the Liberals in that election to allow the PCs to be indulgent on Hudak and allow him to stay on. In the legislature, Hudak was a fiery and virulent opponent of the government – relentlessly attacking it for its fiscal and budgetary woes, ethics problems, countless scandals and alleged mismanagement. He refused to support any Liberal budget since 2011, always clamoring for a snap election and picking on the NDP for propping up the Liberals in 2012 and 2013.

An upbeat and confident Hudak kicked off his 2014 campaign with a heavy focus on job creation – Hudak said he had a “laser-like focus” on job creation. His manifesto, the Million Jobs Plan was very critical of the Liberal record – manufacturing job loses since 2003, emigration to Western Canada, equalization payments (for the first time in Canadian history, Ontario became a ‘have-not’ province because of the bad recession), the record debt, high taxes and ‘wasteful subsidies’ to green energy. The plan was very right-wing, neoliberal and populist, reminiscent of the Common Sense Revolution (some might say even to the right of that!). The manifesto was filled with proposals to reduce the size and role of government and ‘empower entrepreneurs and job-creators’.

To encourage private sector job creation (because the PCs strongly reject the idea of government creating jobs), the PCs promised to replace ‘corporate welfare and handouts’ with a 30% corporate tax cut (to make Ontario’s corporate tax rate the lowest in North America); increase opportunities in skilled trades jobs (by abolishing the College of Trades and scrapping apprenticeship rules); cut hydro rates (by eliminating green energy subsidies); cut red tape; reduce government’s role and regulatory powers; allow pension plans to invest in Crown corporations; expand transit and roads in the GTA; reform labour laws to weaken union ‘bureaucracy’ and empower individuals; expand the roles of colleges; refocus universities on STEM subjects (to build a ‘culture of entrepreneurship’) and expand free trade. The PCs ultimately decided against backing controversial ‘right-to-work’ legislation.

The PC plan to reduce the size and role of government was controversial, and especially hard-hitting. The PCs planned to kill the deficit by 2016-7, a year ahead of the Liberals, and made it one of their top priorities. Hudak also delayed personal income tax cuts till after the budget is balanced. In their Million Jobs Plan, the PCs promised to limit government from growing (after the budget is balanced) beyond a fixed percentage of the economy. In the immediate, the PCs pledged to review all government programs, reduce spending (by 6% over 4 years), shrink the cabinet from 27 to 16, implement a two-year pay freeze for all public servants (saving $2 billion), limit public sector benefits (in line with the private sector), cut the public sector by 10% by cutting 100,000 jobs (Hudak promised that vital frontline services wouldn’t be affected), open government services to competition and refocus government on “jobs that only government can and should do”. Hudak mentioned privatizing gambling (the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, OLG) but still regulating gambling.

Healthcare and education, Hudak said, would remain two key government priorities but explained that both needed major reforms to make them sustainable for the future. As in 2011, Hudak targeted the ‘bureaucracy’ in healthcare and education management and promised to empower frontline professionals and local schools, hospitals, teachers and doctors. On healthcare, the PCs promised a new focus on chronic care, expand home care and allow choice and competition (allowing, for example, home care services to be received from the government or another provider). On education, the PCs specific focus was on raising standards and expectations for students, improving math skills and helping kids with special needs. The manifesto also included a verbose and very vague part about ‘protection core education’ which decried spending increases over the past decade and ‘making choices’. Not included in the manifesto, but announced by the party, the PCs planned to increase class sizes, eliminate 9,700 non-teaching positions, reduce the number of early childhood educators in KG. One union estimated, on the base of the PCs’ pledge to implement Drummond’s recommendations for cuts in education, that 19,000 positions in the education sector would be cut.

Obviously, Hudak’s ‘radical’ plan was strongly criticized by both Liberals and New Democrats. The Liberals doubled-down on Hudak’s daring ‘pink-slip pledge’ to lay off 100,000 public servants (and many others wondered how the Tories would create jobs by gutting 100,000 of them to begin with) and attacked the PC platform for its ‘bad math’.

The Ontario New Democratic Party (NDP or ONDP) has been a successful third party in Ontarian politics, forming the official opposition on four occasion and forming a majority government once (some may also count Ernest Drury’s 1919-1923 United Farmer-Labour government, as a predecessor of the CCF/NDP). Ontario has been one of the few Canadian provinces which has had a genuine, lasting three-party system (since the 1970s in Ontario’s case), and it has been the NDP’s strongest province outside the West due to the strength of organized labour (the Ontario Federation of Labour, OFL) in the province. The CCF came very close to winning the most seats in 1943 (34 seats to the PCs’ 38), but Drew’s anti-communist, anti-union red baiting campaign in 1945 (or, given the popular vote results, the whims of FPTP) decimated the CCF in 1945 although they regained second in 1948. The CCF/NDP went through a prolonged trough with the early Cold War between 1951 and 1967; in the 1967 election, the NDP finally broke through in 1967 – going from 7 to 20 seats and 16% to 26% – thanks to greater urbanization and concern for social issues. The NDP was very successful under Stephen Lewis’ leadership, becoming the official opposition to a Tory minority government in 1975, after Lewis’ successful campaign targeted sensitive rent issues – which pushed the PC government to adopt rent controls. Despite a strong performance in opposition, the NDP slid back into third in 1977 (in 1975, the NDP won two more seats than the Liberals while in 1977 the NDP lost five seats and was one seat behind the OLP). The NDP did poorly under the more left-wing leadership of Michael Cassidy, but the election of federal MP and urban moderate Bob Rae led the NDP to success in 1985 (25 seats). Rae’s NDP allied with the Liberals for a two-year period, which saw the Liberal government adopt a number of policies advocated by the NDP (pay equity, no extra billing, pollution control, job security, social justice) and the NDP still managed to hold its own in 1987 despite the Liberal sweep (it lost 6 MPPs but its vote actually edged up to 26% as the PCs lost 12% and 36 MPPs).

Bob Rae famously led the NDP to an unexpectedly massive victory in 1990, winning 38% and a 74-seat majority government. Unfortunately for the NDP, Rae took office in the midst of a major recession which saw significant manufacturing job loses and a ballooning provincial debt and deficit ($12.7 billion deficit in 1993-4) and the NDP was quickly forced to swallow its principles and respond with austerity measures (tax increases and spending cuts) which alienated the NDP’s working-class supporters and organized labour. The Rae government’s 1993 Social Contract forced 900,000 public employees to take up to 12 days of unpaid leave (‘Rae days’), which the NDP claimed was a better alternative than mass layoffs as the federal government did and the PCs later did. The NDP’s allies in organized labour, particularly the main public sector union (CUPE) broke with the NDP over the Social Contract, which reopened collective bargaining agreements. The NDP was forced to renege on its landmark promise to nationalize the auto insurance industry. While Rae’s government is largely remembered, fairly or unfairly, for its austerity policies, broken promises and cabinet inexperience; the NDP did also introduce some more left-leaning pieces of legislation: a new labour law made it easier to form a union, gave public servants the right to strike, banned the use of replacement workers in a strike or lockout and increased the minimum wage; it brought in affirmative action; unsuccessfully tried to introduce same-sex civil unions (but it was defeated by 12 NDP rebels and the Liberal’s reversal on the issue after a shock by-election loss to the PCs who had made it an issue) and the government intervened to keep several plants from closing. Nevertheless, none of this was enough to change the negative perception of the government in 1995, and the NDP collapsed to 21% and 17 seats. Rae was succeded by Howard Hampton, a well-meaning but ineffectual leader who steered the NDP back to the left. But the Hampton NDP suffered from the negative perception of the NDP post-Rae, strategic voting for the Liberals against the Tories (in 1999 and 2003, the NDP fell to only 9 and 7 MPPs respectively) and the NDP only began recovering in 2007, which was Hampton’s last election as leader.

Horwath did quite well in 2011, and she became the most popular party leader of the three after the election. Teacher’s unions anger over the Liberals’ Bill 115 mobilized union support for the NDP, which picked up four seats – 3 from the Liberals and one from the PCs – in by-elections in 2012 and 2013. Three of these seats, furthermore, were ridings in which the NDP had not usually been strong in (1990 excluded), so they were considered major successes for the NDP.

The Ontario NDP has stuck to a moderate, pragmatic social democratic agenda for decades. In the 1970s, Stephen Lewis successfully disbanded the radical left minority (The Waffle) in the NDP. Horwath has been widely perceived as being more ‘populist’ – as opposed to urban, progressive and environmentalist (à la Jack Layton or modern federal NDP). She pulled the plug on Wynne’s government, but the Liberals attacked the NDP for opposing a ‘left-wing budget’ and some of the NDP’s allies in organized labour and some Dippers criticized Horwath for not supporting the budget. Liberal commentators claimed that Horwath was ‘moving the party to the right’.

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NDP, Liberal and PC signs in Ottawa Centre (own picture)

The Horwath NDP’s 2014 platform was certainly nothing radical and retained the gritty, populist tone of the 2011 manifesto. The NDP even talked of ‘rewarding job creators’ – which is often a kind of phrasing associated with the right – although by that Horwath meant offering tax credits to employers who create jobs (equal to 10% of an employee’s salary up to $5,000), cutting the small business tax from 4.5% to 3% by 2016, giving tax credits to companies investing in machinery/buildings/equipment and investing in re-training programs for seniors. The NDP also promised substantial investments in public transit ($29 billion) and infrastructure (highways, and the new mining region in northern Ontario’s Ring of Fire). In the bread-and-butter issues which the Horwath NDP has focused on, it promised to take the HST off home hydro bills, reduce auto insurance by 15% (claiming the Liberal concession to the NDP in 2013 on the issue had no effect), provide homeowners with loans to make energy efficient home retrofits (or install solar panels), free undergrad tuition fees (at 2014 levels), make provincial student loans interest-free, invest in childcare spaces and prevent ‘unfair’ increases in natural gas prices. On healthcare questions, the NDP promised to invest money on frontline services and pointed out the Liberals’ waste on Ornge and eHealth. The party pledged to open 50 new 24-hr family health clinics to provide more Ontarians with access to primary care, hire more nurse practitioners to treat and discharge patients in ERs, increase the number of long-term care beds, support families caring for the ill or elderly with a tax credit, attract doctors to under-serviced communities by forgiving student debts and eliminate wait times for seniors. The NDP promised to keep schools open with an ‘open schools fund’, launch a student achievement program, expand dental benefits for low-income children, protect tenants by enforcing building standards and maintenance rules and promote healthy eating and physical activity in schools.

The NDP also made a big issue out of government accountability and ethics – in the debate, Horwath repeated that voters had an alternative to ‘bad math’ (the PCs) and ‘bad ethics’ (the Liberals). The Dippers promised to cap the salaries of public sector CEOs, stop corporate tax ‘giveaways’ by increasing it by 1% (from 11.5% to 12.5%), toughen oversight on government advertising, appoint a Financial Accountability Office, cut hydro bills by merge four hydro agencies and promised $600 million savings thanks to a Minister of Savings and Accountability (no comment!). Like the Liberals, the NDP envisioned a return to a balanced budget in 2017-8.

The Green Party of Ontario (GPO) has seen its support oscillate in recent years, pulling a small but not insignificant percentage of the vote. Although the Ontario Greens are one of the more successful provincial Green parties in Canada (along with BC; but that’s largely because many other provincial Green parties are disorganized jokes), having won 8% in 2007, they have never won a seat (they came ‘close’ in 2007, winning 33% and second in Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound against 47% for the PCs). Support for the Greens collapsed to 2.9% in 2011. The current leader is Mike Schreiner, who replaced longtime leader Frank de Jong (1993-2009). Ideologically, de Jong was an eco-capitalist and the GPO have been seen as a more centrist/centre-right green liberal party. They have traditionally backed lowering taxes on small businesses and individuals, shifting the burden to polluters and big corporations with new green taxes.

The Greens sold themselves as a fresh alternative with new ideas, depicting the three parties as old, stuck in gimmicks and politicking and in bed with big corporations. The Greens’ manifesto promised to lower payroll taxes on small businesses (by increasing corporate taxes by 1%), greatly expand transit infrastructure, grants to homeowners to invest in energy conservation, save $1.2 to $1.6 billion each year by merging the school boards into a single public system, push for a guaranteed annual income for all citizens (in the meantime, they’d tackle child poverty), protect farmland and clean water, fight to increase royalties for natural resources, close legislative loopholes which threaten communities and create something called a ‘Social Innovation Foundation’ for young adults.

The Greens also ran a full slate of candidates.

Results

Turnout was 52.1%, up from an historic sub-50 low of 49.2% in 2011. Turnout had been steadily declining from 1990 (64%), so this marks the first increase in turnout in over 20 years. However, 52% – barely below 2007 – is now the second-lowest turnout in Ontario history, after 2011. Ontarians have generally not voted in droves in provincial elections, being more interested by federal politics (and thus voting more in federal elections).

Liberal 38.65% (+1%) winning 58 seats (+5)
PC 31.25% (-4.2%) winning 28 seats (-9)
NDP 23.75% (+1.01%) winning 21 seats (+4)
Green 4.84% (+1.92%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 1.53% (+0.33%) winning 0 seats (nc)

ON 2014

The Liberals were reelected to a fourth term in office and regained their majority in the provincial parliament, which they had lost in 2011. The result was not a total surprise, but the ease with which the Liberals ultimately won a majority was unexpected. The PCs did not do as well as expected, winning only 28 seats and 31.3% of the vote, actually losing over 4 points off of their 2011 result. The NDP did well, winning 23.8% and 21 seats, which is the NDP’s result since 1990. That the gap between first and second in terms of seats (20) was much wider than the gap between second and third (7) was, however, rather unexpected.

All opinion polls from all pollsters (eligible voters) during the Ontario 2014 election campaign (own graph)

All opinion polls from all pollsters (eligible voters) during the Ontario 2014 election campaign (own graph)

The campaign, as noted above, was a wild ride – mostly because pollsters disagreed on where the race stood, and pollsters’ attempts to alter their methodologies in bid to more accurately predict the outcome of the vote on June 12 only added to the confusion. The graph to the right, which looks at all polls from all pollsters during the duration of the campaign, shows how confusing it all was. Who led during the different parts of the campaign depended heavily on the pollster you asked. Ipsos-Reid showed the PCs leading the Liberals in their first four polls, until the Liberals and PCs tied at 36% on June 6. In their final poll, on June 11, the Liberals led the PCs by 2 and the PCs led by the NDP by 1. EKOS, which had daily trackers in June, showed the Liberals leading the PCs until June 5, when the PCs suddenly jumped 4% from the previous day’s rolling sample (30.9% to 34.9%) but then lost another 4 points from June 9 to June 10 (falling from 34.5% to 30.2%), giving the Liberals a solid 6-point lead over the PCs in their last poll. EKOS consistently showed the NDP weak, with no more than 21.5% support in June while they always showed the Greens above 5%. Forum Research, an increasingly reliable pollster in Canada, showed a close race, but the Liberals broke a tie on May 27 and regained a solid lead, leading 41 to 35 in the final poll from the organization on June 11. Like EKOS, Forum showed the NDP weak, and dropping from 22% on May 3 (when the PCs led 38 to 33) to 17% on June 5 before edging back up to 20% on June 11. Abacus showed the Liberals ahead in all but one of their 5 polls during the campaign, with a 35-32 lead on June 10 (and the NDP strong at 26%).

To make matters worse, EKOS, Ipsos-Reid and Abacus actively promoted their new ‘likely voter’ model polls during the campaign. LV polls are common in the US during election season, and they are typically seen as more accurate than registered voters (RV) samples in the last 2 months of the campaign. But they’re new in Canada. The pollsters wanted to use LV models to more accurately capture voters’ enthusiasm for parties and to account for the likelihood of low, 50%-ish turnout. However, EKOS and Ipsos-Reid’s LV models ended up giving two vastly different pictures. EKOS’ LV model awarded ‘points’ to segments based on their likelihood to vote – more points for those who voted federally and provincially in 2011, more points for those who said they were angry or hopeful about Wynne’s government, more points for those who rate their likelihood to vote as 7 (out of 7), more points for those who said they knew the location of their polling station and more points for older voters. Ipsos’ LV details are no longer (if they ever were) available online for free. EKOS’ LV model showed the Liberals leading throughout, almost always by large margins.  On June 11, EKOS’ LV model showed the Liberals at 42.2% (37.3% in the main sample), the PCs at 35.9% (31.3%) and the NDP at 16.9% (19.2%), while the Greens and ‘others’ were much lower than in the main sample (EKOS tends to overstate Green support). Ipsos-Reid’s LV model, however, showed consistent PC leads throughout – although the size of the PC lead dropped from 14% on May 9 to 6% in their last poll on June 11. Ipsos-Reid’s June 11 LV model showed the PCs at 36% (31% in the main sample) and the Liberals and NDP tied at 30% (33% and 30% in the main sample). Abacus’ last two LV polls showed the Liberals and PCs tied.

While most pollsters agreed that the Liberals were leading, they disagreed about the size of its lead. The pollsters differed wildly on the NDP’s numbers – four final polls on June 11 showed the NDP at 19.2% (EKOS), 20% (Forum), 26% (Abacus) and 30% (Ipsos-Reid)! The PC numbers ranged from 31% to 35% while the Grits’ numbers ranged from 33% to 41% (another wide gap). Most predicted that the Liberals would win a fourth term, and most believed it would be majority. There was clearly some sense that the Liberals could, if lucky, win a majority. At the same time, most people did not want to rule out a Tory surprise entirely. The NDP’s numbers in polls made it unclear whether the NDP would do very well or poorly.

The Liberals ‘led’ – or we have the sense that they did – for most of the campaign, although it remained a very close race with the Tories and many predicted strong results for the Dippers too. The leader’s debate on June 3 did not, in the end, matter much. Wynne struggled in the debate, especially in the beginning as Hudak and Horwath pounded on her for the Liberals’ ethics scandals. Later on, however, Wynne proved much more feisty, in heated exchanges with Hudak. Hudak held his ground well, being able to sell his plan quite well and landing several good blows on Wynne. Horwath also did well. Wynne attacked Hudak’s Million Jobs Plan, particularly the big cuts and public sector layoffs he was calling for. Hudak criticized the Liberals’ plan as unrealistic, insisting that Wynne tell him what she would cut in order to balance the budget. Wynne’s poor performance may explain the short-lived PC surge in EKOS and other polls, but it was inconsistent and died off quickly.

Overall, LV models were junk. EKOS overestimated Liberal and PC support, while they badly underestimated the NDP. Ipsos-Reid overestimated the PCs and NDP, and the Liberals did much better than they predicted. The traditional polls did much better – in fact, all pollsters which also had a LV model saw their main sample perform better than the LV model. Angus-Reid was the most accurate – their main model had the Liberals leading the PCs 36 to 32, with the NDP at 26%. Abacus’ eligible and LV models placed second and third, despite the LV model indicating a 36-36 ties between the OLP and PCs. Ipsos-Reid’s eligible and LV models were two of the worst performers, and EKOS’ LV was also worthless.

So, the Liberals won a fourth term. It’s an unprecedented success for the modern Ontario Liberal Party – the last time the Liberals were so successful was between 1871 and 1902, when the Liberals won 9 elections in a row (Oliver Mowat was the early OLP’s most famous Premier, from 1872 to 1896). It is, more significantly, another major comeback for the Liberals. Since 2003, the Liberals have never been wildly popular, and their electoral victories in 2007, 2011 and now 2014 have owed a lot to the weakness of the Conservative opposition. In 2007, John Tory’s incompetence allowed the Liberals to win a huge majority again. In 2011, Hudak’s poor campaign and style allowed the Liberals to stage a comeback, although it was only good enough for a much reduced minority mandate. Nevertheless, the Ontario Liberals have also proven themselves to be good campaigners and tough fighters – regardless of what people think of them or their governing abilities, they’re a strong electoral machine and they know how to win elections (which is something which the PCs seem to have forgotten about).

The 2014 victory – and the majority – is made all the more impressive given the amount of anger for the Liberal government which existed out there. It is, granted, quite possible that much of this anger came from voters who hadn’t voted Liberal in the past elections to begin with. On the basis of the 2013 and 2014 by-elections, the Liberals seemed to be in big trouble. What came out of those results was that the Liberals were practically dead in the water outside of central Toronto, Ottawa and the inner GTA – in southwestern Ontario, the real contest would be between the NDP and PCs, even in Liberal-held seats (see: London West and Niagara Falls by-elections). While the results certainly did show that the Liberal performance was much stronger in the GTA than in, say, southwestern Ontario, the Liberal results province-wide were nowhere near as catastrophic as those of the by-elections. I had already warned, at the time, against taking the by-election results too seriously – history shows that by-elections are fairly poor predictors of general election results. Turnout was lower, and voters drawn to vote in the by-elections between 2011 and 2014 were likely anti-government, anti-Liberal voters. The NDP had the chance to focus and target its resources and manpower on specific ridings in these by-elections, which they did extremely well, but a general election requires a broader strategy and less micro-focus from a major party. The Liberals certainly did not pull all they had in the by-elections, but they went all-out in the general election and their machine worked.

An interesting result, though: all but one of the nine ridings which saw by-elections between 2011 and 2014 ended up sticking with the MPP they had elected in those by-elections.

Kathleen Wynne, in the end, proved many naysayers wrong and ended up as a rather good leader and candidate. Despite Hudak’s attempts to tie Wynne to McGuinty’s tainted legacy, a strategy which seemed to be working in the by-elections, that ‘Wynne-McGuinty Liberals’ failed to stick to the Liberals during the campaign and Wynne was generally good (except in the debate) at avoiding the issue of McGuinty or letting the Liberals’ McGuinty-era scandals hurt her or even the party. Wynne made a good impression on a lot of voters, who saw her as somewhat fresh, reasonable and a decent enough leader. Hudak, critically, failed to make a good impression or, more accurately, improve on his existing unpopularity.

Hudak was the clear loser. The PCs, again, more or less blew their chances at what could have been an easy victory. The ‘Million Jobs Plan’ scared voters away – it was badly crafted policy, which had several holes in it, left many questions unanswered and had all the ingredients in it to mobilize voters against the PCs or to turn swing voters away from them. Granted, Mike Harris won in 1995 on a similarly right-wing platform – but since then, the traumatic Harris era continues to evoke strong feelings with a lot of voters. Additionally, Hudak’s Million Jobs Plan lacked a lot of the elements which made the Common Sense Revolution successful: he did not promise any tax cuts for individuals (but promised major tax cuts for corporations) and he did not really allay fears that healthcare and education would not be cut (although Harris ended up cutting both, the Common Sense Revolution manifesto had pledged not to touch them). Additionally, Hudak was a mediocre communicator who had difficulty selling himself and his plan to voters.

While Tories can say whatever about them being the only ones who told ‘the truth’ about Ontario’s current state, the reality is that campaigning on a platform which focuses heavily on unpopular austerity policies – such as reducing the public sector by 10%, cutting spending and government programs – is a bad idea (even if it is ‘honest’). The austerity must be counterbalanced by appealing promises – like tax cuts for individuals – even if those can later be broken. Hudak’s plan promised job creation (although he never really indicated a target for job creation or a timeline for it), but that proved far too vague to capture voters’ imagination. Hudak, again, let his opponents define him. What stuck were the controversial pledges to cut public sector jobs or the attacks on his platform’s ‘bad math’. There are now indications that PC MPPs and candidates were frustrated with Hudak’s pledge to cut 100,000 public sector jobs, and talk that they found the effect of that controversial promise to be ‘brutal’ and devastating locally. Other Tories, however, said that voters were misled on the issue by the Liberals and the unions.

The result was that, as will be explained in full detail later, the PCs failed to make any gains – in fact, they suffered significant loses – in the province’s key electoral battleground: Toronto and its suburbs. The 905 area code (outside Toronto) is where Ontarian elections are won – the federal Conservatives’ sweep of the 905 region in 2011, aided by the division of the anti-Harper vote between Dippers and Grits led them to a big win in Ontario and by extension a majority government; the provincial Liberals’ success in the 905 since 2003 provided the main base of their governments while Mike Harris’ own success in the 905 in 1995 and 1999 were key to the Tory victories in those two elections. While the 905 is a huge, sprawling and increasingly diverse and heterogeneous area, voters there can be said to broadly favour stability – they endorse parties and politicians who embody (either real or perceived) stability, good economic management and some degree of moderation. Harper, for those voters, more or less ticked off those three issues. The provincial Liberals ticked off those three issues for a lot of suburban 905 voters. As the results of the CBC’s Vote Compass questions show, suburban voters in the 905 are not necessarily opposed to right-wing economics or some of the Hudak PCs’ core tenets, but they still support strong public services and they distrusted Hudak. At the end of the day, they preferred to stick with the devil they know. Hudak failed to convey a feeling of relative security, stability, moderation and he was not perceived as somebody who would be a competent economic manager.

Of course, Hudak’s image problems date from the 2011 election. Since then, he failed to improve his image and he give little indication that he even had interest in improving his image. He carried well to the Conservatives’ solid core electorate, who are very angry with the Liberals, but alienated swing voters. In the 2014 campaign, Hudak’s image failed to improve.

Liberal, NDP and... Communist signs in Ottawa Centre (own picture)

Liberal, NDP and… Communist signs in Ottawa Centre (own picture)

The Ontario NDP did quite well – 23.8% and 21 seats mark the NDP’s best result in a post-1990 era. However, the results were still a mix of good and bad news for the NDP and highlighted the issues faced by the provincial NDP as a result of the ‘populist’ path on which Horwath has taken them. The NDP did very well in southwestern Ontario and the province’s old manufacturing, blue-collar cities – places such as Windsor, Hamilton but also Oshawa and London are now thoroughly dominated by the NDP. However, the NDP lost three seats to the Liberals in downtown Toronto and the NDP suffered significant loses, mostly to the benefit of the Liberals, in all of central and ‘core’ Toronto and in demographically similar ridings in central Ottawa, Guelph and even Hamilton. Horwath’s noted ‘populist shift’ and her focus on bread-and-butter issues alienated a lot of the NDP’s urban, well-educated professional bobo clientele. They were concerned about the NDP’s platform talking of stuff like tax cuts for employers and by the little attention paid to issues dear to them such as poverty, urban housing or the environment. The Liberals’ shift to the left – a more progressive and left-wing budget and platform, the Grits’ attacks on the NDP from the left and perhaps even the personality of Wynne (a Toronto progressive – and her sexuality might have helped Liberals with LGBT voters) – helped them pick up dissatisfied NDP voters. In 2011, the Liberals had also made significant inroads in the Dippers’ central Toronto seats – a result of heavy anti-Hudak strategic voting for the Liberals in the 416 – but the Dippers had still held their own.

It is certainly not impossible to bridge the NDP’s unionized working-class support with its bobo urban support. Jack Layton, despite very much fitting the profile of the ‘urban environmentalist bobo left’ and with a very moderate, Third Way-ish platform, had no trouble appealing to the NDP’s working-class supporters in poorer regions of Ontario and Canada all the while performing tremendously well in inner cities. Horwath largely failed to do that because she gave the impression of focusing entirely on a certain specific type of voter while doing little to market herself to the NDP’s urban supporters.

Some of the initial comments on the NDP’s result were pretty gloomy and negative. Objectively, the NDP did well but not tremendously well; it appealed to some voters at the expense of losing other types of voters. Some of the negative reactions likely stemmed from expectations people had of Horwath and the NDP. After the NDP’s by-election successes across the board in 2012-2014, and Horwath’s strong personal ratings in the polls, many felt that Horwath would finally take the NDP to the ‘big leagues’ and given the Liberals’ performance in the by-elections in 2012-2014, there certainly was reason to believe that the NDP might be on the cusp of displacing the Liberals. That did not materialize – the NDP gained votes and seats, but not ‘enough’ and their mixed results were a cold shower.

The Greens were up a bit – to 4.8% – but that’s still a fairly mediocre result for them, and far from their 2007 highs. Unsurprisingly, the Greens failed to win any seat. While the Ontario Greens do not seem to have completely followed the federal and BC Greens on running ‘micro-targeting’ electoral campaigns which focus heavily on a single riding to elect a Green legislator there, Green leader Mike Schreiner did run in a more Green-friendly riding than last time: the socially liberal progressive university town of Guelph. Schreiner won third place in Guelph with 19.2%, against 21.1% for the PCs and 41.3% for the Liberals – that’s up from 6.9% in 2011 and similar to the GPO’s 19.6% result there back in 2007. It was the party’s second best result – their top result came, unexpectedly, from Parry Sound-Muskoka, where they won 19.3% – up 10 points from 2011 but also up on 2007.

The Liberals will remain in power until 2018, with a majority government. The reelected government quickly passed its 2014 budget in the new legislature. The province’s economic situation remains rather difficult, with a record-high debt and a large deficit which will still take a few years to eliminate (assuming the Liberals do meet their 2017-8 target), but the government is very optimistic that the recovery is only going to get stronger and that Ontario’s most severe economic woes are behind it – it projects that the debt should start dropping after 2015, as the province edges closer to budgetary balance. The four-year term gives the government time to breathe and implement more unpopular decisions if need be, and hope to benefit from a stronger economy in 2018. But can the Liberals really win a fifth term at this point? By 2018, the Liberals will have been in power for 15 years – 11 years is already a pretty surprisingly remarkable longevity for the Liberals.

Tim Hudak announced his intention to step down after a successor is chosen, but he was later forced to anticipate his decision and quit immediately as the PC caucus told him that it was time to go. The PCs have an interim leader until they can choose a permanent leader in 2015. The only declared candidate thus far is Christine Elliott, the PC MPP for Whitby-Oshawa and the widow of former federal finance minister Jim Flaherty, who died earlier this year shortly after retiring from politics. Flaherty had previously been a senior cabinet minister provincially under Harris and Eves, and was the main Harrisite right-wing candidate in the 2002 and 2004 PC leadership elections, in which he placed second both times. Elliott ran for the PC leadership herself in 2009, placing third on the second ballot. Elliott, in 2009, had ran on a platform proposing a 8% flat tax, a minimum wage freeze for 4 years and tough-on-crime policies but she was more liberal on social/moral issues. Since 2009, she has served as Deputy Leader of the Opposition and, after the PCs were murdered in the GTA this election, she’s one of the few (only?) remaining senior Tories from that seat-rich swing region.

There’s been a bit of speculation that some federal Tory cabinet ministers from Ontario might return to provincial politics – John Baird (the foreign minister) and Tony Clement (the President of the Treasury Board), who were both PC MPPs and cabinet ministers under Harris-Eves, have been cited. Other names include Lisa MacLeod, a senior PC MPP for Nepean-Carleton; and Lisa Raitt, a federal Tory MP and transport minister.

The PCs will need to find a new direction or a new, more appealing way of selling themselves. The shift to the centre and the old Red Tory history failed with John Tory, a return to the 1995 Common Sense Revolution basics on the right failed with Tim Hudak – although neither leaders were predestined to fail because of their ideologies, and rather failed because of their own weaknesses as leaders. However, the 2011 and 2014 campaigns and results should make it clear that few voters fancy a return to Mike Harris-style politics and policies, and that the Tories can’t win through right-wing populism and ‘tough talk’/’brutal honesty’ about austerity. The Tories can remain on the right and win, however – it just requires much better framing and marketing than the disastrous PR it got with Hudak. However, if the Tories don’t change, it’s worth noting that the NDP have only seven seats less than the Tories…

Andrea Horwath will remain NDP leader. That seems fair and reasonable based on the NDP’s results – I found the overly negative tone of the post-election analysis of the NDP and the questions about Horwath’s future to be a bit silly. However, she will need to do a much better job at marketing the NDP to its entire traditional base – it isn’t impossible, but two successive election campaigns have shown that Horwath has failed to appeal to a large and important segment of the NDP’s traditional electorate.

Geographic analysis

I said it above – the Liberals won the election and their majority in Toronto and its suburbs, a region known as the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), Golden Horseshoe (which covers the whole extended urban megalopolis from Niagara to Oshawa) or the 905 (the area code for GTA/Golden Horseshoe regions outside the city of Toronto, which is known as the 416).

In Toronto, it was a near total Liberal sweep. The Liberals won about 49% of the vote and 21 out of 23 seats, against about 22% for the NDP and 2 seats. The PCs, interestingly, placed second and improved on their (admittedly terrible) 2011 result, winning about 23%, but they were shut out. The city of Toronto has been the Ontario Liberal stronghold since 1993 (federally) and 2003 (provincially), and the PCs have not won a seat in a general election in the city since 1999 – the PC gain in Etobicoke-Lakeshore in last year’s by-election marked the first PC victory in the 416 in over 10 years. The Liberals were expected to do very well in Toronto, and the NDP expected to do poorly; likewise, Toronto was not a must-win for Hudak: he could have formed government without any seats in Toronto, just like Harper’s Tories carried a plurality of seats in Ontario in the 2008 federal election despite not returning a single MP from the 416. The Liberals remain a near-perfect fit for most of the city of Toronto, especially now with a Torontonian at the helm: demographically, the city’s highly diverse mix of low-income visible minorities, old white ethnic European communities (Italians) and well-educated affluent professionals (the ‘too smart to vote Tory, too rich to vote NDP’ demographic) are all solidly Liberal groups. However, as the 2011 federal election showed, the Liberals are certainly not invincible. That year, the Liberals fell from 21 MPs to only 6, with the Tories breaking through (9 seats) and the NDP making gains (8 seats).

Poll-by-poll results in downtown Toronto (source: ‘Krago’, uselectionatlas.org)

Andrea Horwath’s campaign style was a very poor fit for Toronto, which is where the NDP suffered its most significant loses (losing 3 seats and about 4% of the vote). As explained above, the traditional NDP base in the city tends to be young, well-educated professionals (generally not particularly high income) with cosmopolitan, green and progressive worldviews, living in gentrified downtown areas (such as the present-day riding of Trinity-Spadina, which once upon a time in the 1940s elected Communist MPPs!); these voters were turned off by Horwath’s campaign, which targeted working-class Rust Belt voters with a populist campaign focused on what critics would call ‘gimmicks’ (tax cuts, HST off hydro etc). On the other hand, the Wynne Liberals have moved to the left since the McGuinty days, and their cosmopolitan, progressive urban centre-left image was very appealing to a lot of voters who had backed the NDP in previous elections. As a result of Liberal gains, directly from the NDP and because of higher turnout, the Liberals gained the ridings of Beaches-East York, Trinity-Spadina and Davenport. The riding of Trinity-Spadina attracted most attention, because a federal by-election was held in that same seat a few weeks later, on June 30. In the federal contest, Liberal star candidate Adam Vaughan, a left-wing Toronto city councillor, easily gained the seat from the NDP, which had held the riding since 2006 with Olivia Chow (the widow of former NDP leader Jack Layton, who resigned to run for mayor of Toronto in October 2014).

The NDP vote fell from 46.8% to 39% in Beaches-East York, 42.4% to 30.5% in Trinity-Spadina, 45.9% to 39.8% in Davenport; in all these seats, the Liberals made significant gains, allowing them to win a 15.8% majority (!) in Trinity-Spadina. The NDP only retained Toronto-Danforth (44.5% vs 37% for the Liberals) and saved Parkdale-High Park by a hair (40.7% to 39.6%). The NDP also suffered loses to the Liberals in ridings where they were not the incumbents: for instance, in the fourth straight rematch between Liberal MPP Laura Albanese and former NDP MPP Paul Ferreira in York South-Weston, a seat which the NDP won in a February 2007 by-election (but then lost to the Liberals in October), the Liberal majority grew from 2.4% to 10.9%. In Toronto Centre, the NDP fell back into third place, losing about 10% from the 2011 election.

In 2011, the Liberals came dangerously close to the NDP in Trinity-Spadina. The general wisdom for that riding holds that the huge condo boom on the waterfront (bred from the redevelopment of old industrial lands on the harbourfront) will benefit the Liberals, as the NDP does poorly with affluent, high-end condo dwellers (although that didn’t stop Olivia Chow from doing very well in May 2011). The Liberals made major inroads all across the diverse riding: in they did well in low-income Chinatown, because of their Chinese-born candidate Han Dong; they swept most neighborhoods (including student and academic neighborhoods around UofT and the gentrified bobo Kensington Market), except for parts of the northwestern end and Palmertson-Little Italy which remained with the NDP (as did, of course, the uber-leftist Toronto Island with its small population of highly activist and engaged left-wing voters) and the Liberals thoroughly dominated their original bases: the waterfront condo boomtown (Entertainment District, Fashion District, Harbourfront) and the affluent Annex – although, interestingly, the PCs seem to have improved marginally at the Liberals’ expense in the most affluent polls. In Beaches-East York, the Grits won by about 1%, with the map showing a north-south divide between Grit dominance in The Beaches – an increasingly affluent area, while the NDP MPP Michael Prue carried East York, which is poorer and historically working-class (but has definitely seen gentrification, which helps the NDP); the NDP was killed by its loses in the more socioeconomically mixed areas of the Beaches, which they had won in 2011.

Davenport, which includes the bulk of Toronto’s Portuguese areas but also increasingly gentrified bobo areas catering to young, well-educated but not very affluent professionals, the NDP lost by 5.7% after gaining the seat from the Liberals in 2011 with a 4.5% majority. The NDP carried Dufferin Grove and Dovercourt Park – i.e. the gentrified bobo spillover from Trinity-Spadina’s last standing Dipper base, while the Liberals generally carried the Portuguese areas. Long-term gentrification in Davenport and Parkdale-High Park’s old working-class areas should theoretically help the NDP, but the Dippers were unable to withstand the anti-Horwath swings. However, the NDP did narrowly save Parkdale-High Park, thanks to decent enough resistance in Parkdale and The Junction, traditionally working-class neighborhoods which have seen gentrification or at least an influx of bobos (but the area is still low-income); the Liberals largely swept the more affluent (and suburban) High Park area and the Polish/Eastern European neighborhoods.

As mentioned, the NDP fell back in low-income and multiethnic York South-Weston, where former MPP Paul Ferreira was in his fourth successive battle against Liberal MPP Laura Albanese. He only carried a few clusters of polls in the western half of the riding, generally areas with a Portuguese population or a low-income black or Hispanic population; the Liberals dominated, as usual, in the Italian half of the riding.

The Liberals won some of their strongest results in the central part of the old city of Toronto and parts of the old city of North York. The Liberals’ best province-wide result came from St. Paul’s – an upper middle-class central riding with the highest levels of education in the province – where the Liberals won 59.7% against 24% for the PCs (the PCs gained from the Liberals in the very affluent and secular Jewish Forest Hills, a Tory bastion); they also did very well in Toronto Centre (58.2%, refer to my posts on last year’s federal by-election there for an explanation of this very diverse and socioeconomically polarized downtown riding, where the Liberals once again bridged the two extremes – although, again, I pick out Liberal loses to the PCs in very affluent Rosedale) and Wynne’s own riding of Don Valley West (57%, another socioeconomically polarized riding including some of the wealthiest and poorest parts of the city, where the Liberal vote is actually down from 2011 due to loses in the very affluent Bridle Path, Lawrence Parks and York Mills areas – but the PCs failed to match their federal cousins’ results in the [non-1%er] upper middle-class areas).

The Liberals held on with a big margin in Eglinton-Lawrence (21%), held by the federal Tories by a handsome margin since 2011 thanks to the very pronounced right-wards swing of Jewish voters in the Bathurst corridor (a swing which has thrown suburban Thornhill to the Tories since 2007 and placed York Centre in contention). The PCs did dominate the Jewish corridor, as in 2011, but again they failed to make inroads in the upper middle-class (non-Jewish) eastern half while the predominantly Italian western half remained rock-ribbed Liberal country.

The Liberals swept Etobicoke (‘Ford Nation’) – the most interesting contest was middle-class Etobicoke-Lakeshore, which featured a rematch of last year’s by-election between PC MPP Doug Holyday and right-wing Liberal candidate Peter Milczyn (both allies of everybody’s favourite mayor Rob Ford) – this time, the contest went firmly in the Grits’ favour, with the Liberals defeating the Tories 47.1% to 34.3%. In Etobs, the Tories largely shrunk back to their core bases – the affluent neighborhoods, such as the Kingsway in Etobicoke-Lakeshore and Humber Valley Village in Etobicoke Centre.

Poll-by-poll results in Scarborough (source: ‘Krago’, uselectionatlas.org)

Interestingly, the Liberal majorities in low-income, multicultural Etobicoke North and York West (which are both about 70% non-white and low-income) shrunk somewhat: the Grits came down from 48.5% to 44.8% in Etobicoke North and from 50.5% to 46.6% in York West, while the NDP from 21.8% to 26.3% in the former riding and 34.8% to 39.3% in the latter. In York Centre, the NDP remained in third, but improved from 14.1% to 16.5%, with gains in Downsview – a lower middle-class and ethnically diverse (Hispanic, Caribbean, Italian etc) neighborhood, usually solidly Liberal; the Liberals retained the seat with an expanded majority over the Tories, who remained confined to the Jewish enclaves.

The Liberals held all seats in immigrant-heavy Scarborough; however, with both the NDP and PCs making real inroads with some previously quasi-unanimously Liberal visible minority voters in two ridings, the Liberals’ dominance is nowhere near as secure or impressive (although it would still require a May 2011-like perfect storm to actually topple the Liberals). In Scarborough-Rouge River – at 90% non-white, it has the largest population of visible minorities in Canada – the Liberal vote fell to 38.9% (from 41.9% in 2011 and 65.1% in 2007), but still withstood strong challenges from the NDP (31%) – which has made impressive gains with suburban Tamil voters, federally and provincially, since 2011 thanks to strong locally-based Tamil candidates (provincial NDP candidate Neethan Shan, the president of the ONDP and federal NDP MP Rathika Sitsabaiesan); and the PCs (27.7%), who had a star candidate in Raymond Cho, a well-known local city councillor (who ran federally in 1998 and 2004), and made gains in Chinese neighborhoods. In next-door Scarborough-Agincourt, which is 47% Chinese, the PCs also did well – 34.8% (32.1% in 2011), against 49.7% for the Liberals (who also increased their vote, from 47% in 2011). The federal Liberals held Scarborough-Agincourt in the June 30 federal by-elections with a huge majority (30.1%) despite Conservative efforts, although the comically low turnout (29.6%) makes it silly to extrapolate much. The Grits, however, won over 50% of the vote in the four other Scarborough ridings, where both the Tories and NDP suffered loses.

The region of Durham in the eastern GTA produced two of the election’s most surprising results: an unexpected Liberal gain in Durham, said to be a Tory citadel (it had been held by the PCs since its creation in 1999 and last elected a Liberal in 1937 – with Mitch Hepburn’s last majority); and a comfortable NDP gain from the PCs in the industrial auto city of Oshawa, which hadn’t voted for the federal or provincial NDP in decades. Tory backbencher John O’Toole, who held Durham since 1995, did not seek reelection this year, leaving an open seat – but considering the riding’s history and past results at the provincial and federal level (a 19.7% majority in 2011 and a 24.4% majority for the federal Tories in a 2012 by-election, won by O’Toole’s son), few expected that the Tories would be at risk here. The Liberals, however, took everyone by surprise by taking the seat with a 2.3% (1,236 votes) majority, 36.4% to 34.1%. The NDP, with 24%, also did very well (up from 17.6% in 2011). Geographically, the Grits and Dippers made huge inroads in traditionally Tory-voting exurban towns (Courtice, Bowmanville, Port Perry, Uxbridge), with the PCs only holding their own in the rural polls.

The other surprise came from Oshawa, a predominantly industrial (automobile industry) working-class riding which was usually strong territory for the NDP but where the provincial or federal NDP haven’t won a local contest since 1990 (the PCs gained the riding from the ONDP in 1995, leading many to talk of ‘Harris Dippers’ – old working-class NDP voters who switched to the PCs in 1995), although they’ve consistently posted strong second place showings in the last three provincial and last four federal elections. However, a lot of the riding’s right-wards shift also owes to middle-class suburban growth in the north of the riding, which has usually leaned towards the Tories, and concurrent economic transformations (the new dynamics of industrial employment in the Western world, the diminished role of GM in Oshawa’s economy). The NDP has retained a substantial base of support, however, concentrated in Oshawa’s working-class neighborhoods in the older southern and central parts of the city. In 2011, the PCs won 42.3% against 36.2% for the NDP (the Liberals, a non-factor both federally and provincially, won only 17.5%). This year, the NDP won Oshawa with a very unexpectedly large majority of 16.2% (46.7% to 30.5%) on the Tories; they swept nearly all parts of the riding, including middle-class suburban polls where the NDP was weak in the past. The NDP’s surprise victory has been assigned, by some, to strong union mobilization against Hudak’s agenda in this old bastion of organized labour; turnout increased from 44.3% to 51%, in line with most of the 905.

The Liberals had no trouble holding Ajax-Pickering, a well-off middle-class suburban seat with a large visible minority population (45.5%), growing their majority from 11.8% to 21.7% (thanks to a dip in the PC vote from 35.5% to 29.2%). The PCs were only left with the affluent riding of Whitby-Oshawa, where potential future PC leader Christine Elliott was reelected with a reduced 9.4% majority.

Poll-by-poll results in York Region (source: ‘Krago’, uselectionatlas.org)

In York region (northern 905 suburbs), the Liberals gained one seat from the PCs to hold 5 seats against only one for the Tories. The Liberals had no trouble whatsoever in Vaughan (a heavily Italian suburban riding and a Grit citadel) and Markham-Unionville (44% Chinese and 81% visible minority, another Liberal fortress), and they held tight in Richmond Hill and Oak Ridges-Markham – very affluent, white-collar ridings with large visible minority populations (Markham is only 27.5% white and Richmond Hill is 47% white) in the GTA’s booming northern suburbs. They won by 28 points in Vaughan (taking 56% of the vote), 17 points in Markham-Unionville, 13 points in Richmond Hill and by 8 in Oak Ridges-Markham. However, the PCs did quite well in some affluent Chinese subdivisions in Markham and Richmond Hill, cutting down the Liberal majority in Markham-Unionville by 4% (by building their vote from 31.5% to 34%. Some have speculated that this may portend a slow shift of Chinese-Canadian voters in Ontario towards the Tories, like in BC; probable causes may include affluence or an ‘entrepreneurial spirit’.

There was a major swing against the Tories in Newmarket-Aurora, because of the retirement of senior PC MPP Frank Klees, the runner-up in the final ballot in the 2009 PC leadership election who had a rocky relationship with Hudak. The PC vote fell by 10% to 37%, while the Grit vote increased from 35.6% to 43.8% in this affluent, predominantly white outer suburban riding of Toronto.

The PCs saved the affluent and plurality Jewish riding of Thornhill by a whisker in a rematch of the by-election in February 2014 (in which the PCs had narrowly retained the seat, which they gained in 2007 due to the swing of Jewish-Canadian voters towards Tories at both levels of government). The Liberals won the election day vote, but lost to the PCs in advance voting (the PCs did better and the NDP worse in the advance voting); on election night, the riding was erroneously placed in the Liberal column, but the results were switched a day later (apparently due to a tabulation error) to show an 85-vote victory for the PCs (0.17%, down from a 6.3% majority in February and 5.8% in 2011). The election was, again, the usual battle between the strongly Tory Jewish areas and Liberal-voting Italians and visible minorities.

The Liberals remained dominant in the Peel region (Mississauga and Brampton), although the NDP had some strong results in Brampton. The rapidly-growing region has a very large immigrant population – 46% and 33% of Mississauga and Brampton’s respective populations are white – and has been a Liberal stronghold for the past decade (provincially) or so, but the Tories made major gains federally in Peel in 2011 (due, in good part, to inroads with upwardly-mobile ‘aspirational’ visible minority voters, who had previously been loyal Liberals) while the NDP has also shown capacity for growth in a region where it was usually very weak, thanks to visible minority candidates. This year, however, the PCs fell back in Peel region, allowing the Liberals to remain hegemonic – although the NDP had some good showings.

In Mississauga, the Liberals held their five seats without any issues, improving on their 2011 results at the Tories and NDP’s expenses. The Grits won over 50% of the vote in Mississauga South, Mississauga East-Cooksville and Mississauga-Streetsville.

In 2011, the NDP gained the hitherto reliably Liberal seat of Bramalea-Gore-Malton, which has the largest South Asian (45.3%) and Sikh populations (22.2%) in the province (overall, visible minorities now make up 72.7% of the population). The NDP scored major gains with Sikh voters thanks to their local candidate, Jagmeet Singh, who had come within 539 votes of winning the federal riding in May 2011 and then defeated Liberal MPP Kuldip Kular by a 5.2% margin in October 2011 (in 2007, the Liberals had won 47% against 29.4% for the PCs and only 12.3% for the NDP’s white candidate). This year, in a rematch against Kular, Singh increased his vote share from 38.2% to 44.2%.

Poll-by-poll results in Brampton (source: ‘Krago’, uselectionatlas.org)

In Brampton-Springdale, where South Asians make up about 38% of the population, the NDP made significant gains in the most heavily Punjabi neighborhoods – winning over 40% of the vote in most polls -which indicates that the Dippers may now be expanding their new base with Punjabi voters in Brampton, at the expense of the Liberals. In 2011, the Liberals had won Brampton-Springdale with a narrow 8.3% majority over the PCs (who had made gains in Punjabi areas thanks to a Punjabi candidate, Pam Hundal – although her second candidacy this year didn’t do them any favours) – with the NDP winning just 15.3%; this year, they held the seat with a 8% majority over the NDP – with the Dippers surging to 31.9% and the Liberals falling from 44.4% to 39.9% (the PCs lost 12%, winning 24%). The NDP won the most heavily Punjabi subdivisions, which had been solidly Liberal in 2007 and fought between Liberals and Tories in 2011. The NDP also made small, but less spectacular, gains in Brampton West, which the Grits held with an expanded majority over the Tories.

Outside the urbanized core of the GTA/Golden Horseshoe, the PCs held the riding of Dufferin-Caledon (Caledon is part of Peel region in the GTA, although Dufferin County is not in the GTA) with a significantly reduced majority of 9.2% (compared to 20% in 2011), with the PC vote falling from 47% to 39.9% (and the Liberal vote increasing from 26.8% to 30.7%). The Liberals made strong gains in most of the riding, but especially in suburban Bolton, which has a large Italian population. As in 2011, the riding was also one of the Greens’ best – they won 16.7%, up from 14.6% in 2011 and 16.3% in 2007. The Greens’ support, heavily concentrated in Dufferin County, owes to local environmental issues – local farmers and urban transplants/weekenders united to strongly oppose a proposed limestone quarry in rural Melancthon Township; the large mobilization against the mega-quarry forced its private promoters to toss the idea in late 2012, but it has helped the Greens. This year, the Greens won over 40% in the rural polls where the quarry would have been (in Melancthon Township), and also did very well in Mono, a rural area popular with Toronto weekenders and bobo-types.

The Liberals scored major gains on the Tories in the Halton region in the GTA gaining the ridings of Burlington and Halton (which has the highest median HH income in the province) and holding Oakville by over 10 points. The riding of Halton, which is one of the most overpopulated ridings in the province, has seen very rapid growth around the affluent suburban town of Milton, attractive to young families and visible minorities (the town is 30% non-white); the Liberals performed best in Milton’s new subdivisions as well as new subdivisions north of Oakville and Burlington. The Liberals defeated PC MPP Ted Chudleigh, who has held Halton since 1995, with a decisive 7.6% majority (over 5,700 votes). The Grits scored an historic victory over the Tories in middle-class suburban Burlington, winning a riding which had been held by the PCs since 1943 – although Tory majorities over the Liberals had been quite thin in every election since 2003 (4.3% and a bit over 2,100 votes in 2011). Liberal candidate Eleanor McMahon defeated one-term PC MPP Jane McKenna with a solid 6.3% majority. The Liberals retained Oakville, another affluent suburban riding, with a 11.6% majority (with numbers close to 2011). In all ridings, the PCs found themselves relegated to the wealthiest neighborhoods, while the Liberals topped the poll throughout most middle-class subdivisions (which conforms to the general GTA 2014 pattern of the PCs doing quite well in the wealthiest places while suffering substantial loses to the Liberals in other types of areas). The PCs did retain the more exurban-rural riding of Wellington-Halton Hills, albeit with a significantly reduced majority of 17.6% (compared to a nearly 29-point landslide margin in 2011) thanks to a major tumble in PC support (from 55.6% to 46.7%) and Liberal gains in growing exurban Georgetown.

The NDP held its three seats in the industrial (steel, manufacturing) city of Hamilton, while the Liberals held the mixed suburban-rural seat of Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale. The provincial NDP has held all three ‘core’ urban ridings in Hamilton since 2011, when they toppled Liberal MPP Sophia Aggelonitis in Hamilton Mountain, an inner suburban riding (within the pre-amalgamation municipal borders of Hamilton) with older working-class suburban neighborhoods and newer middle-class suburbs. Andrea Horwath was reelected with 52.1% and a 28.6% majority in Hamilton Centre, a predominantly low-income working-class/working-poor riding in central Hamilton, although she suffered a substantial swing against her compared to 2011, when she had been reelected with a phenomenal 61.3% of the vote. The Liberals and Greens both increased their vote shares by a nice amount in the riding (17.5% to 23.5% a nd 3.7% to 8.6% respectively), perhaps due to well-educated left-wing bobo voters (Hamilton Centre is the poorest riding in the city, but also has a higher proportion of university grads than the other two NDP-held ridings) swinging against the NDP. Of course, one might say that it’s also a matter of winning with 52% rather than 61% (by all standards, the NDP polled ridiculously and unusually well there in 2011). The NDP’s majority in Hamilton East-Stoney Creek (a mix of urban poverty with post-war middle-class suburban Stoney Creek, which has a large Eastern European and Italian population) was also reduced, from 25.4% to 17.7%. However, in Hamilton Mountain, where the NDP were now the incumbents, their majority increased from 12.8% in 2011 (against the Liberal incumbent) to 17.3% (against a new Liberal candidate). The Liberals handily retained Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale, a mix of Hamilton’s affluent suburbs, academia (McMaster University) and incorporated rural areas, with a 10.7% majority over the PCs (up from 9% in 2011). This is another suburban riding held federally by the Tories (since 2006, with a large majority in 2011) and was a must-win for a PC majority government, but the PCs were once again crushed by the Liberals in the middle-class suburbs.

Poll-by-poll results in Halton Region and Hamilton (source: ‘Krago’, uselectionatlas.org)

There was no change from the pre-election situation in the Niagara region, with all three parties reelecting their incumbents. In Niagara Falls, won by the Liberals in 2011 but gained by the NDP with a 2.6% majority over the PCs in a February 2014 by-election, the new NDP MPP Wayne Gates was reelected with a much wider majority than in February, taking 47.4% against 32.8% for the PCs by coalescing the anti-Hudak vote around him (as a result, the Liberals won only 14.4% in the riding, their second-worst result in the province. The NDP nearly swept the riding’s three main urban centres, even doing well in trendy Niagara-on-the-Lake, where the Liberals had retained some support in the by-election. The NDP also solidified their hold on Welland, which includes a number of old working-class industrial communities along the Welland Canal (Welland, Thorold, Port Colborne), going from a 12.6% majority in 2011 (the NDP’s majority had been reduced to the retirement of long-time popular MPP Peter Kormos) to a 18.3% victory. The provincial NDP has held Welland since 1977.

On the other hand, Liberal MPP Jim Bradley – the longest-serving member of the legislature, having served since 1977, was reelected to an eleventh term in office in his riding of St. Catharines, in a much easier contest than in 2011, when Bradley had won by only 4% (and 1,700 votes) against the PCs in his closest contest since 1995. While the Liberal vote held steady, at 40.9%, the PC vote collapsed from 36.2% to 29.7% and the NDP increased its backing from 20.2% to 24.5%. St. Catharines is an old auto manufacturing city which remains rather poor, but it lacks Oshawa’s tradition of organized labour activism and strong NDP support. Nevertheless, the NDP won old working-class neighborhoods in the south of the city and placed ahead of the Tories in most of downtown and southern St. Catharines, including most low-income areas.

PC leader Tim Hudak was reelected in the conservative riding of Niagara West-Glanbrook, a largely rural and outer suburban riding straddling the city of Hamilton and Niagara region. However, his vote fell by about 9 points from 51% to 42%, with both the Liberals and NDP making gains, especially thanks to inroads in suburban neighborhoods adjacent to Hamilton and new subdivisions.

The Tories also suffered loses in the Waterloo region. The Liberals gained Cambridge from the PCs, which had never voted for the Liberals since its creation in 1975; freshman PC MPP Rob Leone was defeated by a 6.3% margin (he won by a bit less than 5 points in 2011). The riding includes the old industrial towns of Preston, Galt and Hesperer, now amalgamated in the city of Cambridge, which has become more affluent and suburban although manufacturing retains a large presence due to a Toyota plant. The Liberals held Kitchener Centre by a much more comfortable margin than in 2011, winning by 16.1% compared to just 0.8% in 2011. The PC vote collapsed from 38.4% to 27%; the Grits and Dippers both increased their support, to 43.1% and 22.8% respectively. The urban riding is centered around Kitchener (formerly Berlin, a sign of the very strong German heritage in the Waterloo region), an old manufacturing-oriented industrial centre which has diversified and revitalized itself – although the riding itself includes the city’s more low-income neighborhoods, with some middle-class residential suburbs.

In Kitchener-Waterloo, NDP MPP Catherine Fife, who gained the seat from the PCs in a memorable and high-stakes by-election in 2012, was reelected with a 7.2% majority over the Liberals (37.4% to 30.2%), while the PCs – who had held the riding between 1990 and 2012 (with Elizabeth Witmer, a popular moderate Tory MPP) – fell into third with 26.3%. The riding, which includes two universities (University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University), financial companies and a high-tech sector (RIM), is the most highly educated and white-collar constituency in the Waterloo region (it is also more affluent than its neighbour to the south, although it still includes poorer areas). The NDP’s victory in 2012 was a major win for Horwath’s party at the time, and a major defeat for the Liberals, who had traditionally been the PCs’ main competitors for the riding provincially and federally (a victory in the by-election, at the time, would also have secured McGuinty’s government its elusive majority) and the PCs (although the riding is by no means a Tory stronghold, it has been held by the federal Tories since 2008). This year, Fife was reelected with a slightly narrower margin than in 2012, suffering some loses to the Liberals while gaining suburban votes from the PCs.

Poll-by-poll results in Kitchener and Waterloo (source: ‘Krago’, uselectionatlas.org)

The PCs saved Kitchener-Conestoga by a tight margin, 36.5% to 33.3% for the Liberals (and a solid 21.1% for the NDP), whereas in 2011 the Tories had gained the seat from the Liberals with a solid 8.7% majority (but the Liberals won a higher share of the vote in 2011, suggesting the PCs mostly lost to the NDP). The quasi-doughnut rurban riding takes in rural areas (where the Liberals have really fallen off since 2007) and suburban neighborhoods, both working-class and affluent, of Kitchener proper; this year, the PCs won solid margins in the rural and village polls, while the Liberals and NDP won most suburban polls in Kitchener.

Outside the Waterloo region, the Liberals easily held the very left-liberal ‘college town’ riding of Guelph with a slightly expanded 20-point majority on the Tories (41.3% to 21.1%), but the most noteworthy result in the riding was that of Green Party leader Mike Schreiner, who placed a strong third with 19.2% (although he still fell far short of winning the seat, as his party had hoped). Guelph has tended to be one of the Greens’ strongest riding, thanks to its well-educated bobo-ish population of students and academics; the party won 21.2% in the 2008 federal election and 19.6% in the 2007 provincial election, although Green support dropped to 6-7% in the 2011 federal and provincial elections. This year, Schreiner won a number of polls in downtown Guelph’s Old Town, a young, student and cosmopolitan area; the Greens also placed second, ahead of the PCs and NDP, in other neighborhoods close to the university or downtown.

Southwestern Ontario was a very interesting contrast to the results in the GTA – put together, the results from these two electoral battleground regions make this election highly interesting and give the new Liberal majority government a rather unusual form when compared to past Liberal majorities, including Dalton McGuinty’s back-to-back majorities in 2003 and 2007. Southwestern Ontario, while highly diverse in its own right, is a largely ‘Rust Belt’-type blue-collar region with a number of industrial centres (Windsor, Brantford, London, Sarnia, Ingersoll, Woodstock – in addition to Kitchener and Cambridge, which are also formally in SW Ontario), some of which – notably the famous auto manufacturing city of Windsor – have struggled in recent years, with high unemployment and general economic decline. Politically, southwestern Ontario has been the Liberal Party’s main rural base, dating back to the nineteenth century when the region’s Methodist English settlers or German Catholic immigrants supported the Liberals in the tradition of George Brown’s radical Clear Grits of the pre-Confederation days; that tradition remained strong and visible until quite recently – in 2003 and 2007, when the Ontario Liberals won majority mandates, they won most rural and small town ridings in SW Ontario. Federally, as recently as 2004, the Liberals won a few rural seats in SW Ontario, including Huron-Bruce, which was only lost to the Tories in 2008. Provincially and federally, however, the Liberals have really suffered in recent years – all rural ridings in the region are now held at both levels by Tories, leaving the Liberals only with a urban base (it is even worse, after 2011, federally). Liberal loses in traditionally Liberal rural areas across Canada have come, in part, as a result of ideological shifts which have seen the Liberals defined more as a urban (in Ontario, Torontonian) party catering to a urban base which is demographically quite different from the old Liberal base in rural regions. Provincially, the poor economy may have hurt the provincial Liberals too. In the by-elections following the 2011 provincial election, the Liberals lost two seats to the NDP, and polls regularly showed the NDP polling very well and the Liberals very poorly in SW Ontario. In the election, the Liberals did indeed do poorly in SW Ontario – they lost Windsor West to the NDP, one of two seats in the province which the Liberals lost; the Liberal vote also receded even further in rural ridings which they lost in 2011 and in a number of ridings – such as Sarnia-Lambton, Chatham-Kent-Essex, Oxford or Elgin-Middlesex-London – the Liberals fell into third, behind the PCs and NDP. The NDP was the only party which truly did well in SW Ontario, scoring significant gains in a number of ridings. The PCs lost no seats, but their vote fell back in nearly every single seat, even where they were the incumbents.

The Liberal Speaker, Dave Levac, was reelected in Brant with a more comfortable 6.3% majority over former PC MPP Phil Gillies (he had held on by only 2.7% in 2011), although it was mostly due to the PC vote falling from 34.7% to 30.8%. The NDP came in a very strong third with 26.9%, up from an already strong result of 24.2% three years ago. The NDP expanded its support in Brantford, an old blue collar industrial town which remains relatively poor, dominating the city’s old working-class and lower-income neighborhoods; the NDP had already made very significant gains in Brantford in 2011. The NDP represented the region federally between 1971 and 1993. The Grits owed their victory to support in Brantford’s newer middle-income suburban neighborhoods, the small industrial centre of Paris and (to a much lesser extent) to the Six Nations Reserve (where turnout is always very low, although votes heavily favour the Liberals and/or NDP).

The Conservatives confirmed their domination of rural SW Ontario – although the PC vote actually fell back a bit in these ridings, most of which were gained from the Liberals in 2011. Nevertheless, the Liberals lost even more, ensuring some more comfortable PC majorities. In Perth-Wellington, which the PCs had gained from the Liberals with a tiny 0.6% or 210 vote lead, the PC majority grew to 6.1% as the Grit vote fell from about 39% to 32.9%. The Liberals have lost rural areas to the PCs, but they retain strong support in Stratford, an old industrial centre which now has a somewhat famous arts/cultural scene. In Huron-Bruce, another traditionally Liberal riding lost to the PCs (by a decisive 10-point margin), the Liberal vote declined further from 32.8% to 30.9%, benefiting the NDP and the Greens because the Tory vote also fell.

The NDP won some quite impressive numbers in small town ridings in SW Ontario, numbers oftentimes even better than those won by the federal NDP in May 2011. In Sarnia-Lambton, in PC hands since 2007, the NDP won 35.7% of the vote, coming within 5.4% of the PCs in the riding and trouncing the Tories in most of Sarnia itself, a predominantly industrial (petrochemicals) town on the shores of Lake Huron. In Oxford, a solidly Tory seat with a large blue-collar manufacturing presence, the NDP boosted its support by over 10 points to win 25.8% (although that was still far behind the PCs’ 46.2%), making impressive gains in the auto manufacturing town of Ingersoll and also in Woodstock. In Chatham-Kent-Essex, a Liberal seat until 2011, the Liberals fell to third place (24.1%) while the NDP won an impressive 31.1%, against 37.8% for the PCs. The NDP had strong support in the small industrial town of Tilbury, the regional centre of Chatham and the agro-industrial town of Leamington. The NDP also placed second, ahead of the Liberals, in Lambton-Kent-Middlesex and Elgin-Middlesex-London, two seats which were in Liberal hands until 2011.

Poll-by-poll results in London, ON (source: ‘Krago’, uselectionatlas.org)

In London, the NDP won two of the city’s three seats while the Liberals retained one. The NDP had little problem retaining London West, a seat which they gained from the Liberals in last summer’s by-election. At the time, the riding, which is the city’s most affluent riding – it is a predominantly middle-class suburban riding, although it include more urban neighborhoods such as trendy and hip South London and some low-income areas – should have been low-hanging fruit for the PCs, whose federal counterparts have held the seat since 2008 and the NDP’s victory by 9.2% over the PCs (while the Liberals collapsed by nearly 30% to 16%) was a big surprise. Freshman NDP MPP Peggy Sattler was reelected with a 10.8% majority over the PCs, although the NDP’s vote share is down slightly from the by-election because the Liberals improved slightly to 23.7% (although that’s still a very mediocre third compared to 45.7% in 2011). The NDP was also reelected easily in London Fanshawe, with a 27.5% majority over the PCs (the Liberal vote fell from 28.3% to 19.9%); the riding – the most blue-collar in the city – includes working-class low-income and low-education neighborhoods on the city’s east ends and some newer lower middle-class suburbs. The NDP had gained the seat from the Liberals in 2011, with a 12.5% majority over the Liberal incumbent. The Liberals were victorious in London North Centre, the city’s ‘college town’ riding (it includes Western U), although the NDP also made major gains – from 22.7% and third to 30.4% and second, coming within 5.7% of the Liberal incumbent, whose vote fell from 43.9% in 2011 to 36.1%. The riding map showed a split between the southeastern half of the riding, an old working-class and low-income area which the NDP thoroughly dominated; and the downtown and northwestern half of the riding, a mix of urban and more leafy suburban highly-educated and more middle-class areas (including Western and surrounding academia-influenced neighborhoods), where the Liberals won most polls with a handful of PC polls in the more affluent parts. The Tories were the other major losers in the city (remember that, federally, they hold two of the city’s three seats, except London Fanshawe which is Dipper), given that their share of the vote declined compared to the last election/by-election in all three ridings.

The NDP swept the Windsor region. In 2011, they had failed to defeat the Liberals in the two Windsor urban seats, losing by about ten in both of them. They had, however, managed to score a gain in the more rural riding of Essex, which had been expected to be a PC gain from the Liberals rather than a NDP gain at the time. The NDP’s Taras Natyshak won the seat with a 3 point edge on the Tories. This year, Natyshak was reelected with an incredible 60.3% of the vote (compared to 38% in 2011) and a massive 38% majority over the PCs, while the Liberals won their worst provincial result (14.2%) in a riding which used to be strongly Liberal in the past.

In last summer’s by-election, the NDP also gained Windsor-Tecumseh with a massive margin – 61.1% against 20% for the PCs, their closest rivals. It had little trouble holding that seat this year either – NDP MPP Percy Hatfield was reelected with a 46.8% majority over the Liberals, or 62.1% of the vote. The only close contest, therefore, was Windsor West, the only seat still in Liberal hands with Teresa Piruzza, the Minister of Children and Youth Services, who had defeated the NDP by about 10% in 2011. She was the only sitting Liberal MPP to be defeated in the election, losing 38.5% to 41.3% to the NDP. Windsor, the leading auto manufacturing capital of Canada, has suffered a lot from the recession – resulting in a loss of manufacturing jobs and a significant decline in household incomes since 2006.

In central Ontario, the Liberals regained the seat of Northumberland-Quinte West, lost in 2011, from the PCs, with former Liberal MPP Lou Rinaldi winning his rematch against the PC candidate who had defeated him in 2011. The Liberals won with a comfortable 43% and 7% majority in the riding, which borders Lake Ontario and includes the towns of Cobourg, Port Hope and Trenton. The Liberals also regained the urban riding of Barrie, lost in 2011, taking a narrow 4.6% against the PCs. Finally, the Liberals retained Peterborough with a solid 16.4% majority, up from a much thinner 8.4% majority.

The PCs held their other seats. The Liberals came within 5.9% in York-Simcoe, a largely exurban which includes the northern end of the GTA in York region, and increased their vote by 10 points from 24% to 34%. The Liberals also made major gains in Simcoe North, gaining 10 points (from 22% to 32%) as the PCs fell over 10 points from 55% to 43%, allowing the Liberals to regain the upper hand in the Franco-Ontarian Penetanguishene area. Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock, a large rural and solidly Tory riding had gained attention for the hilarious 2009 by-election which saw the Liberals unexpectedly defeat then-PC leader John Tory, who was seeking to enter the legislature from a PC stronghold after losing his riding in the 2007 election. Obviously, the Liberal incumbent was defeated by a large margin (nearly 12 points) in 2011, but in a rematch of the 2011 contest, he came within 5.8% of regaining his old seat – certainly much too close for comfort for the Tories.

The PCs were also reelected in Parry Sound-Muskoka, although their vote share fell from 54% to 40.7% because of a strong showing from the Liberals (18% to 26%) and especially the Greens, who, with 19.3%, won their best provincial result in the riding – which, in ‘cottage country’, has a large tourism industry which may boost Green support.

There was no change in eastern Ontario, with the Liberals and PCs holding their seats without too much trouble. Rural eastern Ontario is one of the most solidly and ancestrally Tory regions in the province, because of its early settlement by United Empire Loyalists. In the past decade, the very right-wing and anti-government Ontario Landowners Association (OLA), which defends landowners’ property rights, has gained much influence in the region’s rural regions and over the PCs. Former OLA leaders Randy Hillier and Jack MacLaren have been PC MPPs from eastern Ontario since 2007 and 2011 respectively, and Randy Hillier won

The Liberals failed to regain Prince Edward-Hastings, lost to the PCs in 2011, going down by 9 points against the Tories this year in a riding which includes the town of Belleville and the touristy region of Prince Edward County. The PCs held their rural WASP strongholds. Randy Hillier, a controversial MPP on the PCs’ right-wing, was reelected to a third term in Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington with a 13.9% majority. The PCs won some of their best provincial results in Leeds-Grenville, which is an old Tory bastion, but also in Stormont-Dundas and South Glengarry, which was in Liberal hands as recently as 2007 (the area is much less WASPy with a very significant French component). The PCs’ best result in the province came from Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke, where they won no less than 61.1% and savaged the Liberals by a 42 point margin. Ironically, the riding – now one of the safest Tory seats in Ontario at either level of government – was actually a Liberal stronghold (it has a less WASPy-population, with more significant Catholic, notably Polish and Irish, population) in a not-so-distant past: the provincial Liberals held it through the Harris PC elections (1995 and 1999) and only lost it in 2003.

The NDP, usually quite weak in rural eastern ON, had a number of good results – as in 2011. It won 21.6% in Stormont-Dundas and South Glengarry, with a few poll victories in the town of Cornwall; and 20.3% in Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington.

The Liberals held Kingston and the Islands, centered on the lovely and quaint university town of Kingston. However, a retiring Liberal member and a strong NDP candidate meant that the Liberals’ support fell from 48.8% to 41.6% while the NDP, in second place, increased its vote from 23.8% to 29.6%, winning its strongest numbers in Kingston’s poorest neighborhoods north of the historic core.

The Liberals also held the ancestrally Liberal and heavily Franco-Ontarian riding of Glengarry-Prescott-Russell, which they had narrowly retained in 2011 in the face of the strongest PC challenge in years by only 3.4%. This year, the freshman Liberal incumbent was reelected with an 18% majority and cracked 50%. Held by the Conservatives federally since 2006 (a gain which was historic, given how it had more or less been held by the Liberals since the 19th century), the PCs have been unable to make similar gains in rural Franco-Ontarian communities,

Poll-by-poll results in Ottawa (source: ‘Krago’, uselectionatlas.org)

There was no change in Ottawa, but the Liberals performed very strongly. The PCs had two must-win seats in the city, which are held by their federal counterparts since 2006: the suburban ridings of Ottawa West-Nepean and Ottawa-Orléans. In 2011, the Liberals had saved both, but with a very small 2.2% majority in Ottawa West-Nepean and a slightly healthier 6% majority in Ottawa-Orléans (your dear blogger’s riding). In Ottawa West-Nepean, Liberal incumbent Bob Chiarelli – a former Ottawa mayor and a cabinet minister – was reelected in a rematch with his 2011 PC rival with a strong 12.4% majority, as the PC vote fell to about 33% from 39% in 2011. The riding, in Ottawa’s west end, is a socioeconomically mixed suburban area including some lower-income neighborhoods and middle-class suburbs. Despite a strong candidate in Alex Cullen, a former MPP and city councillor, the NDP only won 14.3%. The east end suburban riding of Ottawa-Orléans, where the three-term Liberal incumbent retired (which may have been a positive for them, actually), the Liberals retained the seat by an unexpectedly large margin – 20.5% – with 53.6% of the vote for the Liberals, against only 33.1% for the PCs (46.4% and 40.4% in 2011). The very affluent suburban riding has the largest Francophone population of the Ottawa ridings (30%) and has a large population of public servants. The PCs’ failures (and worse, their loses) in both ridings, which have been held by the federal party since 2006, show their failure to make the required breakthroughs in suburban neighborhoods. In a government city like Ottawa in particular, Hudak’s pledge to cut public sector jobs likely hurt the Tories badly – although the cuts wouldn’t have affected federal public servants, the federal public sector has seen its share of cuts since 2011 by the Harper government.

The Liberals reelected their three other incumbents in Ottawa Centre, Ottawa-Vanier and Ottawa South. In Ottawa Centre, which includes the city’s downtown core (and has the demographics associated with such areas – high levels of education – 50% of residents have a university diploma or degree, likely one of the highest in Ontario; young single renters, white-collar professionals and the large presence of sectors such as education, public administration and culture/arts; with the social mix of low-income areas, upper middle-class urban progressive areas such as The Glebe, gentrified areas, social housing etc.), popular Liberal MPP Yasir Naqvi won with a 31% majority over the NDP (which holds the federal riding since 2006). As in downtown Toronto, the NDP did quite poorly in Ottawa Centre, its support falling from 29% in 2011 (which had already been a very mediocre result, as the NDP in 2011 had also struggled in downtown ridings) to only 20.4%. Certainly the local Liberal MPP’s popularity, like in 2011, helped the Liberals and hurt the NDP but the Horwath NDP’s poor appeal to urban progressive voters played a big part too (the NDP did particularly poorly in The Glebe and Old Ottawa South, NDP-friendly upper middle-class progressive left-leaning neighborhoods). The NDP also did poorly in Ottawa-Vanier (a very diverse and socioeconomically polarized area, which includes some of the wealthiest and poorest areas in Ottawa), an old Liberal stronghold which does have some NDP-‘compatible’ areas (the central areas of Sandy Hill and Lower Town, and, increasingly, the poor Francophone Vanier area). Liberal MPP Madeleine Meilleur was handily reelected with 55.7% of the vote and a 33% majority over the PCs, with the NDP winning just 13.2% compared to 19.6% in 2011 and a high-water mark of 29.4% in the 2011 federal election.

Finally, the Liberals easily held Ottawa South by 18 points, McGuinty’s old riding which it had successfully defended against a tough PC challenge in last summer’s by-election (winning by 3.6%, after polls had predicted a PC gain). The riding, which has the highest visible minority populations (Arab, Somali mostly) outside the GTA, is predominantly middle-class suburban with pockets of deprivation.

The Conservatives only managed to win their two ridings in the outer suburban/exurban/rural parts of the city – Carleton-Mississippi Mills and Nepean-Carleton, with reduced majorities of 15.6% and 13.3% respectively – although the Liberals posted some decent results in the high-growth outer suburban neighborhoods of Kanata and Barrhaven.

There was only one close contest in northern Ontario; otherwise, all incumbents retained their seats and in all but one case, they grew their majorities nicely. Geographically humongous but sparsely populated Northern Ontario has a distinctive regional political culture, which clearly sets it apart from southern Ontario. The region’s economy has traditionally been centered on primary industries – namely mining and lumber – and, outside the major cities, most settlements grew as single-resource towns; this economic base, combined with the region’s isolation has bred a distinctive political culture with strong feelings of alienation and frustration towards dominant southern Ontario and provincial governments accused of ignoring northern Ontario’s special economic concerns and socioeconomic problems. Nowadays, in addition to primary industries, the wider public sector/government has become a key employer while larger cities (Sudbury, Thunder Bay, North Bay, Sault Ste. Marie) have diversified their economies with a large tertiary sector. Demographically, the region has a highly diverse population – a large First Nations population (about 13% of the regional population), a significant Franco-Ontarian minority (17% of the region has French as its mother tongue) and other immigrants group from Europe including, among others, Finns (Thunder Bay has the largest population of Finnish-Canadians per capita). Politically, the region has typically been a stronghold of the Liberals and New Democrats, with limited support for Conservatives – although Mike Harris represented Nipissing, at the southern end of the region, for decades. Since 2011, the NDP holds a majority of seats in the region – 5 against 4 Liberals and one Tory, compared to 7 Liberals in 2003 and 2007. Federally, the NDP has also replaced the Liberals as the region’s dominant party; in fact, the Liberals lost their last northern riding (Nipissing-Timiskaming) in 2011.

The close contest in the region was the urban riding of Sudbury, an open seat with a retiring Liberal incumbent which the Liberals had won by only 1.7% and 531 votes in the last election. The NDP gained the seat from the Liberals 42.2% to 39.3%, a narrow 2.9% majority – representing a slight dip in the Liberal vote and small uptick in the NDP vote, respectively; with Windsor West, it is the only Liberal-held seat (pre-election) which the Liberals lost. Historically dominated by nickel mining, the largest city in northern Ontario has diversified its economy and isn’t too badly off. The NDP dominated in the city’s working-class areas and old mining towns, while the Liberals dominated the affluent areas and generally narrowly beat the NDP in more suburban neighborhoods.

The PCs retained their only seat, Nipissing. Former North Bay mayor Vic Fedeli gained the open seat – Mike Harris’ old turf – from the Liberals by a very large (21.5%) margin in 2011; this year, he was reelected with a reduced majority (15%). The benefactor of the PC loses in the riding was the NDP, which increased its support to a very strong 25.7% – the NDP made sizable gains with traditionally Liberal Franco-Ontarian voters. At the border between north and south (with some arable agricultural land), the rural Anglophone areas in Nipissing District still vote heavily Tory, like other rural regions in the south.

The NDP held its five other ridings  and all with increased majorities – oftentimes landslide margins. In Timiskaming-Cochrane, the NDP increased its majority from 24.2% to 31.9%, winning 55% of the vote. In Algoma-Manitoulin, it increased its majority from 16.1% to 28.9%, winning 53.4%. Both of these ridings had been gained from the Liberals in the last election. In remote and gigantic Timmins-James Bay, longtime NDP MPP Gilles Bisson was returned with a 27% majority over the Liberals (51.2% to 24.2%), whereas in 2011 he had won by only 12.8% against the PCs, who had put up a strong challenge with Al Spacek, the mayor of the heavily Francophone lumber town of Kapuskasing (he won 36.7%, in a riding where the PCs have struggled to break 15%). Without him, the PCs fell to a very decent 22.6%, while the Liberals moved up from a catastrophic 12.4% to a slightly-less horrendous 24.2%. In Kenora-Rainy River, one-term NDP MPP Sarah Thompson won a second term with a much larger 30% majority over the PCs, compared to a much closer 12-point win in 2011 – the riding is the seat of former NDP leader Howard Hampton, who did not seek reelection in 2011; creating a much more competitive race, given the strength of the Conservatives in the white Anglo towns of Kenora, Dryden and rural tourist towns. In Nickel Belt, the NDP won by no less than 40.8%, taking 62.7% of the vote. All of these predominantly ‘rural’ and small town ridings are a mix of single-industry mining or lumber communities, Franco-Ontarian towns and First Nations reserves.

The Liberals did very poorly in the NDP-held seats, suffering loses vis-a-vis the 2011 election and falling far below past levels of support (all of these areas elected Liberal MPs or MPPs at one time or another). However, the Liberals did very well in the three ridings where they had incumbents – namely Thunder Bay-Atikokan, Thunder Bay-Superior North and Sault Ste. Marie. In all three seats, there was a significant swing to the Liberal incumbents and against the NDP. For example, in Thunder Bay-Atikokan, which the Liberals had held against the NDP by only very tight margins in the last two elections (a 1.7% majority in 2011), the Liberal majority surged to 24.7% (it increased its share of the vote from 39% to 53%, while the NDP fell from 37% to 28%). The Liberals held Thunder Bay-Superior North with a 26.6% majority on the NDP and Sault Ste. Marie with a 33% majority on the NDP; in both cases, the Liberals won over 55% of the vote and significantly increased its support at the NDP’s expense.

Conclusion

The Liberals were returned with a majority government, and a fourth straight term in office. The geographic structure of the Liberal majority made this election highly interesting.

The Liberals won the election in the GTA/905 – which was, as always, the main swing region which all parties were required to do well. The Liberals did very well throughout the GTA – both in the 416 (Toronto) and the 905 – unlike the NDP and the PCs, who had mixed results in the region. Compared to the 2011 election, the Liberals made significant gains with left-wing urban progressive voters in downtown Toronto, at the NDP’s expense; it held the visible minority vote, despite some limited and concentrated NDP or PC inroads with some communities; and it retained and even made further gains with the middle-class suburban vote in the GTA. In Ottawa, Ontario’s second largest metro area, the trends were very similar: NDP underperformance in the urban core, PC failure in the swing inner suburbs.

In ‘Rust Belt’-ish SW Ontario, however, the Liberals did uniformly poorly, falling below 2011 levels and even further below 2007 levels. In a number of seats, which were won by the Liberals as recently as 2007, the NDP replaced the Liberals as the main challenger to the PCs. The contrast between the GTA and SW Ontario is very striking in this election.

There was a strong urban-rural divide in this election, which is increasingly common in Canadian politics but was less common historically, when the Liberals had strong support in some rural regions. In this election, the Liberals and NDP dominated in urban centres and most suburban areas – not only the big cities of Toronto, Ottawa, Mississauga, Brampton, Hamilton, London, Kitchener and Windsor but also smaller regional centres such as Oshawa, St. Catharines, Barrie, Cambridge, Kingston, Guelph, Niagara Falls, Brantford, Sarnia, Welland and Belleville; in May 2011, the federal Tories had won most of these smaller towns (except for the college towns of Kingston and Guelph, and Welland). It appears as if the largest towns to have gone PC in June 2014 were suburban Whitby and the weird single-tier municipality of Chatham-Kent (see the borders of this ‘municipality’ here) Even in ridings won by the PCs – such as Perth-Wellington, Huron-Bruce and Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington – the Liberals and/or NDP still won most polls in those ridings’ main towns – Stratford, Goderich, Kincardine and Napanee in this case. It is also noteworthy that, for all the talk of the Liberals being an increasingly Torontonian party (led by a Toronto leader on the party’s left), they still did well in more historically industrial towns such as Cambridge, Kitchener, St. Catharines or regional centres such as Barrie. That being said, the NDP won some very strong results in SW Ontario’s old industrial centres: Windsor and London obviously, but also Sarnia, Brantford and Ingersoll for example. The PCs, in contrast, did poorly throughout the board in urban and suburban areas.

What doomed the PCs was their inability – yet again – to breakthrough in the inner suburbs. As noted previously, suburban voters are a very swingy bunch: in May 2011, they swung to the Conservatives and allowed the Tories to win remarkable results in the 905 and even the 416 (although non-Tory vote splitting also helped a bunch), but in October 2011 they largely stuck with the provincial Liberals despite everything. As such, nothing in this election should be interpreted in the long-term: the PCs may very well sweep the board in the suburbs in 2018, or they might be destroyed again – nobody can really pretend to accurately predict that. The PCs were limited to their rural base – although even in rural areas, they fell far short of the federal Conservative results in those ridings and the provincial Liberals were still miles and miles ahead of the federal Liberals (May 2011, granted) there; in addition to an outer suburban/exurban base, although the Liberals did perform quite well in new housing subdivisions in the GTA. Interestingly, there seems to have been a small swing towards the PCs and against the Liberals in the province’s wealthiest urban neighborhoods, likely a reaction to the Liberals’ left-wards shift. Looking forward to 2018, the PCs need to fix their leadership problems above all – get a leader who, while not necessarily a moderate, can reassure voters and appeal to target PC demographics with a reasonable platform which showcases them as ‘good economic managers'; this would allow the PCs to regain suburban voters, like the Harper Tories did in 2011. The next step could be to copy Harper’s successful appeal to visible minority voters in the GTA; one silver lining from this election might be the PCs’ decent (but still not good enough) results with Chinese voters in Scarborough and Markham.

The NDP had largely positive, but also very mixed results; the strong results in SW Ontario contrasted with the poor numbers in downtown Toronto/Ottawa, showing Horwath’s inability to bridge the two components of the NDP electorate, something which Jack Layton had done very well in 2008-2011 for the federal NDP. Although much commentary on the ONDP’s showing has focused on the contrast between SW Ontario and the urban progressive downtowns, little attention was given to the NDP’s strong results with (historically Liberal) visible minorities in Brampton, northern Toronto (Etobicoke and York) and parts of Scarborough. If the Ontario NDP can continue to do very well in SW Ontario, reconquer downtown voters and make inroads with visible minorities in Toronto’s suburbs, they have the potential to build a winning coalition.

My apologies for the huge delay in publishing this report. Hope it was worth it!

Niagara Falls and Thornhill (Ontario) provincial by-elections, 2014

Provincial by-elections were held in the Ontario (Canada) ridings of Niagara Falls and Thornhill on February 13, 2014. These seats fell vacant in September and December 2013 following the resignations of their sitting MPPs, respectively from the Liberal Party and the Progressive Conservatives (PC).

Context

We last discussed Ontarian provincial politics following five provincial by-elections in early August last year, all of which were in ridings previously held by the governing (in a minority government) Liberals. The Liberals lost three of these five seats; one to the official opposition PCs and two to the Ontario New Democrats (NDP). The results were, on the whole, bad news for the governing Liberals, who got trounced in Windsor and London by the NDP. At the same time, however, the PCs did poorly: they had been expected, by the polls, to win three of the ridings on that day, but ended up winning only one (Etobicoke-Lakeshore, in Toronto). The Liberals narrowly and surprisingly held Ottawa South, a riding vacated by former Premier Dalton McGuinty (2003-2013) and the NDP shocked the Tories by winning London West, a riding in which the PCs were the favourites. By failing to live up to expectations, therefore, the PCs were portrayed as net losers of the round of by-elections. Opposition leader Tim Hudak’s fiery, tough and incessant attacks on the Liberals did not connect with voters, despite voter fatigue after ten years of Liberal governments and several major scandals and policy mishaps for the Liberals. On the other hand, the NDP, the third party in the legislature but whose leader, Andrea Horwath, is the most popular of the three party leader, were the major winners of the August by-elections. They handily won a seat in Windsor, a traditionally NDP-leaning area, but also picked up London West, a seat which isn’t as friendly to the NDP. That, combined with the NDP’s high-profile victory in Kitchener-Waterloo (a seat held by the PCs) in a 2012 by-election, further boosted the NDP’s profile.

Since the August by-elections, the provincial political scene has been rather quiet or at least predictable. In September, Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne dared the PCs and NDP to cause a snap election but privately confided that she had little desire to go to the polls in the fall. PC leader Tim Hudak, who has been clamoring for an election since day one, continued hounding on the government but also directed some of his fire to the NDP, who has collaborated with the Liberal government and propped it up on several occasions. Hudak accused NDP leader Andrea Horwath of propping up a corrupt and discredited government, unwilling to bring about change. However, Hudak faced trouble in PC ranks. Following the by-elections, there were local and isolated but well publicized grumbling in party ranks over Hudak’s leadership and isolated demands for a leadership review. Later, Hudak was forced to dump his finance critic, Thornhill MPP Peter Shurman amid a scandal and he removed vocal hard-right ‘maverick’ MPP Randy Hillier from the frontbench.

At the same time, there is a widespread feeling that the Liberals are running on borrowed time. Most think that the government will fall on the budget in the spring (likely in March). The PCs will vote against the budget no matter its contents, while the NDP might prove unwilling to extend the Liberals’ lease on government for the third budget in a row. One issue which is already straining relations between the Liberals and the NDP is the question of new tolls or fees to fund public transit: the Liberal government, promoting upgrades to public transit in Toronto and Hamilton, supports new tolls/taxes to raise revenue; the NDP has warned that they will stand against that. Facing attacks from Hudak in propping up the Liberals since 2012, Horwath recently came out more determined, saying that she is “seeking the job of Premier”. If the government falls on the budget, there would be a spring election, likely in April or May.

In the polls, the parties’ standings haven’t budged much since August. The PCs retain a small but fairly consistent edge over the Liberals, generally ranging from 3 to 7 points. A few pollsters, most recently Ipsos-Reid in November, have put the Liberals ahead of the PCs. The NDP has ranged between 23% and 31%, that is, either a more distant third or in serious contention for second (if not first). The latest poll, by Forum Research (Jan. 25-24), had the PCs up 3 on the Liberals (36 to 33) with the NDP at 26%.

Wynne’s decision to call the two by-elections so quickly is certainly a calculated means for her and the Liberals to test the waters (in two marginal ridings) before an election.

Niagara Falls

Map of Niagara Falls (source: Elections Canada)

Niagara Falls includes the city of Niagara Falls and the towns of Fort Erie and Niagara-on-the Lake in Niagara Regional Municipality. The riding is located at the eastern edge of the Niagara Peninsula, its eastern border being formed by the Niagara River and the international border with the United States. About 65% of the riding’s population lives in the city of Niagara Falls, which has a population of about 83,000. The riding is particularly famous for its namesake; the spectacular Niagara Falls, one of the top tourist destinations in Ontario. The Canadian ‘side’ of the falls have drawn the most tourist revenue, compared to the rather rundown American ‘side’ of the falls. The Canadian city of Niagara Falls has become notoriously kitsch, particularly the Strip-like Clifton Hill with its gaudy and ostentatious mix of wax museums, clinquant attractions and fast food chains. The quaint colonial town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Niagara’s famous wine country and War of 1812 battlefields also draw a lot of tourists.

The seat fell vacant with the resignation of backbench Liberal MPP Kim Craitor in September 2013. Craitor, who was first elected in 2003, cited mental exhaustion and wanting to focus on his health and family upon resigning. However, he’s since indicated that he plans to run for Niagara Falls city council in the next municipal elections in October 2014; he had been in municipal politics for 13 years before entering the provincial arena.

The riding is tough to describe as a whole: it is a major urban area (as a tourist magnet) in its own right, but it is also clearly influenced by the industrial centres along the Welland Canal and St. Catharines (just next door) and Niagara forms the eastern end of a huge, sprawling urban conglomeration including Toronto and Hamilton (the Golden Horseshoe). Statistically, however, the riding sticks out by the importance of the tourism industry.

In 2001 and 2006 (and probably in 2011 as well), the riding had the highest percentage of persons employed in sales and service occupations in all of Canada’s 308 constituencies: a full 34.4% of the labour force worked in sales and service jobs. About 23% of all Canadians are employed in sales and service occupations. Further reflection of the riding’s tourism-oriented nature is found in the top industries (NAICS): in 2011, the single largest industry was accommodation and food services (15.9% of the labour force), followed by retail trade (11.5%), healthcare (9.2%) manufacturing (8.8%) and arts/entertainment/recreation (8.7%). Comparatively, across Canada, only 6.2% are employed in the accommodation and food services industry and 1.9% in arts/entertainment/recreation. Other main occupations in the riding include trades, transport and equipment operators (14.2%), business/finance/administration occupations (12.8%) and management (9.6%).

Niagara Falls (own picture)

Niagara Falls (own picture)

There are few perceptible remnants (statistically) of the area’s industrial past. Although tourism has been important to the region since the late 1800s, the hydroelectric power provided by the falls (and ‘immortalized’ by the large number of dams and electrical installations on both sides of the Niagara River, either shut down or still running) allowed for the growth of a large electro-chemical and electro-metallurgical industries in the twentieth century. Across the river, Niagara Falls (NY) was driven by similar industries. In the 1970s and 1980s, those industries in both Canada and the US shutdown with the recession, deindustrialization and foreign competition. Niagara Falls, ON has weathered deindustrialization far better than Niagara Falls, NY and transitioned into a tourism-driven tertiary economy. Factors helping the Ontarian city included the better view of the falls from Canada (although the experience at the American Falls is quite spectacular in its own right), a favourable exchange rate (at the time), Ontario’s focus on tourism, Ontario’s lower drinking age (19) and the opening of casinos on the Canadian side in the mid 90s (Seneca Niagara Casino has since tried to compete with Niagara Falls, ON’s two casinos).

Perhaps due to wages in the tourism industry, the median household income (2010) was $56,537. 53% of the riding’s population fall in the bottom half of the Canadian population (by income decile); 46.5% of Ontarians fall in those same lower five income deciles. However, the percentage of individuals classified as low income after tax was lower than the Canadian average (13.3% vs 14.9%).

The Niagara region has attracted a fairly large retiree population. The median age of the population was 45.1 (40.6 in Canada); 19.3% were aged 65 or over (14.8% in Canada) and 20% of the total income of the riding’s population comes from retirement and pensions (private retirement pensions, superannuation, Canada Pension Plan, Old Age Security), compared to 13.3% of the total income in all of Canada.

The Niagara Peninsula became one of the first areas in Upper Canada to be settled, by United Empire Loyalists at the end of the American Revolution in the 18th century. Most early settlers were British, but also included German Protestants. Niagara-on-the-Lake, which actually served as Upper Canada’s colonial capital between 1792 and 1797, was founded in 1781. The Niagara region was one of the main theaters of action in the War of 1812, with major battles at Queenston Heights, Fort Erie, Chippawa and Lundy’s Lane. Industrial growth and the construction of the Welland Canal in the nineteenth century led to major European immigration, notably from Italy and Germany. According to the 2011 NHS, 30% of riding residents claimed English ancestry, followed by Canadian ancestry (26.2%), Scottish (19.5%), Irish (18.7%), Italian (16.3%), German (15.7%) and French (11.9%). Overall, over 50% of residents identified British Isles ancestries and ‘Canadian’ ethnicity can be taken, partly, as a descriptor for families who have lived in the region for generations. The Italian-descent population is significant in Niagara Falls (19.4%), while German ancestry is higher in Niagara-on-the-Lake and Fort Erie (about 22%). The single largest religious denomination are Catholics (35.5%), followed by other Christians (11.7%), Anglicans (9.2%) and the United Church (7.3%). 23.2% have no religious affiliation.

The visible minority population is small, only 8.1% are visible minorities (the largest groups are blacks and Chinese) and another 2.4% claim Aboriginal identity.

While largely urban, Niagara Falls’ demographics have little in common with an inner city seat. A high percentage of those aged over 15 are married (57.3%), the vast majority of the housing stock is made up of single-detached houses (73.6%) and are owned (76.9%). While Niagara Falls has seen fairly strong population growth, the majority of dwellings are rather old: seven in ten were built in 1980 or before. In terms of education, 31.4% of the 15+ population have a high school diploma as their highest qualification, 48.3% have some kind of postsecondary certifications and 20.4% have no certificate, diploma or degree. 13.8% have a university degree at the bachelor level or above and 21.7% have a college education.

The provincial riding of Niagara Falls has existed since 1914 and has been aligned with the federal riding of the same name since 1999. Federally, the riding of Niagara Falls was created from Welland (Fort Erie and Niagara Falls were part of the old Welland county) and Lincoln (Niagara-on-the-Lake was part of Lincoln county) in 1952; always centered on Niagara Falls, its borders have shifted northwards (towards Niagara-on-the-Lake) or southwards (towards Fort Erie) before taking its current shape in 2003. Without any confirmation, I would imagine the provincial riding of Niagara Falls have been centered on the city itself with the north and south of the current ridings being combined with parts of Lincoln and Welland county-based seats respectively. Between 1999 and 2007, the southern half of the present riding was part of the riding of Erie-Lincoln, represented by current PC leader Tim Hudak (he currently represents Niagara West-Glanbrook).

Provincially, all three parties have held the seat: the Conservatives (1914-1919, 1923-1934, 1945-1948, 1953-1959, 1971-1975, 1995-2003), the CCF or NDP (Labour from 1919 to 1923, CCF from 1943 to 1945 and NDP from 1990 to 1995) and the Liberals (1934-1943, 1948-1953, 1959-1971, 1975-1990, 2003-2013). Federally, however, the NDP or its predecessors have never held the seat. It has been held since 2004 by Conservative MP Rob Nicholson, the current Minister of National Defence.

The Ontario NDP won the riding in the 1990 Bob Rae landslide, with a nearly 20 point majority over the Liberals. However, Bart Maves, the PC candidate, gained the seat with a 13.7% majority on the Liberals and held it with a much tighter 3.5% majority in 1999. In 2003, Liberal candidate Kim Craitor, a longtime municipal politician, defeated Maves with a 8.8% majority (46.9% to 38.1%). In 2007, the Liberals were reelected with 47.5% to the PCs’ 31.2%; in 2011, the Liberal majority fell to only 1.19% – 35.95% against 34.76% for the PCs, while the NDP, running a strong candidate, significantly improved its vote to 26.3% (it placed fourth, behind the Greens, with 9.8% in 2007).

Results of the 2011 provincial election in Niagara Falls by poll (source: election-atlas.ca)

Federally, the Liberals held the seat from 1953 to 1972 – even in the Tory landslide of 1958 – and again from 1974 to 1979, 1980 to 1984 and 1993 to 2004 – but Rob Nicholson, who had first held the seat as a PC MP from 1984 to 1988 (going down to bloody defeat in 1993), regained his old seat with a 2.2% majority in the 2004 federal election. His majority has since expanded while the Liberal vote tanked; in 2011, Nicholson held his seat with a 29.8% majority and it was the NDP, with 23.5%, which placed a distant second.

In the 2011 provincial election, the Liberals drew their narrow victory from Niagara Falls and, to a lesser extent, Niagara-on-the-Lake. The Liberal incumbent, a former Niagara Falls alderman, won all but a handful of polls in the city. The NDP did better in some older, historically working-class neighborhoods of the city (such as Silvertown) while doing slightly poorer in newer suburban subdivisions; in the federal election, the NDP managed to pick up a handful of polls, again largely in the Silvertown area. But just as the Liberals won nearly every poll in Niagara Falls (the city) in the last three provincial elections; the federal Tories have won most polls in the city in the 2008 and 2011 federal elections. In the north, the wealthier and older Niagara-on-the-Lake is disputed between Liberals and Tories, with little NDP support (the Greens outpolled them in 2007 and 2008), with an edge to the provincial Grits in the last two provincial elections. In the 2011 provincial election, the NDP candidate was Wayne Redekop, the former mayor of Fort Erie. With a favourite son vote, he swept most of the urban polls in Fort Erie. His candidacy also created an interesting north-south dynamic: the Liberals placed third in every poll in the municipality of Fort Erie, where the match was played between the NDP and the PCs. While the NDP appears to have some solid natural support in Fort Erie and Crystal Beach, the Liberals were competitive – at both levels of government – in past elections. One constant in the electoral geography, finally, have been the very strong Tory results in the rural polls outside the riding’s three main towns.

All three major party candidates were Niagara Falls city or regional councillors. The Liberals nominated Joyce Morocco, the NDP nominated Wayne Gates and the PCs nominated Bart Maves, who has been regional councillor since 2010 after having served as MPP between 1995 and 2003. Joyce Morocco ran and lost for the federal Liberals in the 2008 election; Gates ran for the federal NDP in 2004 and 2006. Bart Maves tried to regain his old seat, without success, in the 2007 provincial election. Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati endorsed the Liberal candidate. In the 2010 municipal election, in the at-large election for city council, Gates won won 10,879 votes and Morocco won 9,720. Bart Maves won 13,695 votes in a 7-candidate race for three seats on the regional council (Maves’ uncle is a city councillor in Niagara Falls). A PC website branded Wayne Gates, a former union official, as ‘radical Wayne’, leading to an hilarious Tumblr parody.

Wayne Gates (NDP) 39.44% (+13.14%)
Bart Maves (PC) 36.83% (+2%)
Joyce Morocco (Liberal) 19.39% (-16.5%)
Clarke Bitter (Green) 2.73% (+1.11%)
Tim Tredwell (Ind) 0.61% (+0.24%)
Stefanos Karatopis (Libertarian) 0.43% (-0.03%)
Troy Young (PPP) 0.29% (+0.29%)
Andrew Brannan (Freedom) 0.28%

A last minute poll by Forum Research had shown the NDP’s Wayne Gates leading the PCs 48 to 33, with the Liberals standing a distant third with only 17%. As the poll had predicted, the NDP came out victorious, although it was by a much narrower margin: a 2.61% majority over the PCs. Nevertheless, a win is a win, and Niagara Falls is (yet another) significant victory for the Ontario NDP, the fourth seat they pick up after Kitchener-Waterloo (from the PCs in 2012), London West and Windsor-Tecumseh (both from the Liberals in 2013). Like the three other seats they have picked up, this is the kind of riding which the NDP need to win if they are to win the next provincial election (Niagara Falls itself has been a bellwether seat in provincial elections since 1985).

The clear losers are the Liberals, who, like in the three previous NDP gains in this legislature, suffered huge loses and slipped to a distant third. I’ll come back to what this trend means for the Liberals in my general conclusion. While the PCs performance is nowhere near as catastrophic as that of the Liberals, this isn’t a very good performance for them: they are up only 2 points from 2011 and they’re still lower than their 2003 result (38.1%).

Compared to 2011, the NDP made the largest inroads in the city of Niagara Falls, which it won by about ten points (43-33) over the PCs with the Liberals crashing 20 points to 22% (the NDP gained 18%, the PCs gained 2%). It held its ground well in Fort Erie, even making small gains and winning the municipality with a 2 point edge over the PCs; a remarkable performance given that the 2011 result for the NDP in Fort Erie owed a lot to a favourite son vote for the NDP’s local candidate. The NDP remained a distant third in Niagara-on-the-Lake, which the PCs won by 26 points (50-24) over the Liberals, with the NDP nevertheless up ten points to 22%.

Thornhill

Map of Thornhill (source: Elections Canada)

Thornhill is an affluent, highly-educated and white-collar suburban riding located directly north of Toronto. The riding includes parts of the municipalities of Vaughan and Markham in York Regional Municipality, and it’s named after Thornhill, the most important neighborhood which straddles the border between the two municipalities (formed by Yonge Street).

The seat became vacant on December 31, 2013 following the resignation of PC MPP and opposition finance critic Peter Shurman in an expense scandal. Shurman had received a housing allowance for a Toronto apartment (despite representing the Toronto area), because he moved his primary residence to Niagara-on-the-Lake. In September 2013, following an ‘heated exchange’, Hudak removed Shurman from his job as PC finance critic. Hudak had asked him to repay his expenses, but Shurman refused and got booted from his frontbench gig as a result In December 2013, it was further revealed that Shurman was claiming mileage from his home in Niagara-on-the-Lake to Toronto as an expense, Shurman was forced to resign his seat. Shurman’s scandal was something of a blow for the PCs, given his prominent frontbench role.

Thornhill is a rather special and unique riding. It is one of two ridings in Canada with a Jewish plurality – the other is the Montreal-area seat of Mount Royal (although in both ridings, all Christian denominations outnumber Jews), with 32.8% of residents being Jewish (the highest in Canada). There are no statistics on the issue, but Thornhill is said to have a large Orthodox Jewish population. 24.2% of residents checked ‘Jewish’ as their ethnic origin, making it the single largest ethnic origin reported. There is a large Eastern European, particularly Russian, population – judging by the geographic distribution of ethnic origin answers (in 2006), almost certainly Jews of Russian or Polish descent. In 2011, 12.2% claimed Russian ancestry (probably the highest in Canada) and 9.3% claimed Polish origins; overall, 24.8% of residents identified some Eastern European descent. There is also a fairly significant Iranian/Persian population (4.7%), which may include some Jews of Iranian background.

The visible minority (non-white) population is fairly significant, albeit not particularly high compared to other GTA ridings. In 2011, 36.9% of the population were visible minorities, the largest group being – by far – Chinese, who made up 12.6% of the total population. In the ethnic origin responses, Chinese was the second largest ethnicity behind Jewish (ahead of Russian), at 13.4%. The Chinese population in the riding is heavily concentrated in the portion of Markham municipality, a spillover from the heavily Chinese riding of Markham-Unionville. Other visible minority groups include South Asians (6.7%), West Asian (4.2%), Filipino (3.9%) and Korean (3.6%). The largest non-Jewish white demographic in the riding are Italians, again a spillover from the heavily Italian community of Woodbridge (in Vaughan municipality). 6.5% claimed Italian ancestry and 18.5% of residents were Catholics, the second largest religious denomination behind Judaism (no religious affiliation placed third, with 17.8%).

This diverse ethnic and religious mix means that a majority of the population (50.1%) have a language other than English as their mother tongue. Russian was actually the largest non-official language, spoken as the mother tongue of 10.6% of residents. Other main non-official languages (mother tongue) included Cantonese (4.4%), Persian/Farsi (4%) and Chinese (3.8%).

Thornhill is a very affluent, highly-educated and white-collar suburban riding. The median household income (2010) was $85,332, which likely places in the top 15-20 of all Canadian ridings. 62.5% of residents were in the top five income deciles, compared with 53.6% of residents: even more telling, the only income deciles overrepresented (against the provincial average) in Thornhill were the top three deciles: 44.9% of residents lived in the top 3 deciles (33.6% of Ontarians), including 19.4% in the top decile. No less than 41.3% of residents over 15 have a university degree at the bachelor level or above (a very high percentage, 16.6%, have a degree above the bachelor level), while low percentages have a HS diploma as their highest qualification (21.2%) or have no qualifications whatsoever (11.8%).

The largest industry in the riding (NAICS) were ‘professional, scientific and technical services’ (13.7%), followed by healthcare (10.5%), retail trade (10.4%) and manufacturing (9.1%). The main occupations, however, emphasize the white-collar nature even more: 21.1% are employed in business, finance and administration occupations; 19.3% (a very low number by Canadian standards) in sales and services; 12.8% had ‘occupations in education, law and social, community and government services’ and 12.7% were in management.

The suburban nature is highlighted by family and housing demographics (commuting information in the 2011 NHS was quite horrendous, but the average commute time was 30 minutes, against 20 minutes for all Ontario). There is a very high percentage of married individuals (58.1%), a low percentage of singles (27.9%) and a high percentage of households with children (46%). 87% of households are owned; a majority (55.3%) are single-detached houses, but there’s also a fairly significant number of new condo developments (about 27% of all households per the NHS in 2011) and some high-rise apartments (22.1%, largely along the main arteries). Thornhill is a riding which grew rapidly after the 1960s, as such, most houses (55.9%) were built between 1961 and 1990, and another 41.2% have been built since 1991. As a settled inner suburban area, growth has slowed down somewhat in the past decade, although the riding was still clearly overpopulated at the 2011 census (140,265) and did grow by +6.3% between 2006 and 2011.

The riding of Thornhill was created at the 1996 federal redistribution, from the division of the rapidly growing old suburban ridings of Markham—Whitchurch—Stouffville and York North. The provincial electoral district was created in 1999 on the lines of the federal seat. The seat has seen very closely fought between PCs and Liberals in the last four provincial election, but at the federal level, it witnessed a fairly sudden and dramatic swing from Liberals to Conservatives. The federal riding of Thornhill was solidly Liberal until 2008: the Liberals won 59% in 1997, 65% in 2000, 55% in 2004 and 53% in 2006. Even in 2006 – Harper’s first victory – the Liberals held Thornhill with a breezy 19% majority over the Tories. In 2008, however, the Conservatives, represented by British-born journalist Peter Kent (the former Minister of the Environment from 2011 to 2013), picked up the seat from incumbent Liberal (Jewish) MP Susan Kadis, with a 9.6% majority for the Tories. The Tory vote increased from 33.7% to 49% in the space of two years, while the Liberal vote fell from 53% to 39% in the same period. In 2011, Kent was reelected for a second term in a landslide, with 61% of the vote and a 37.7% majority over the Grits.

Provincially, the PCs won the seat in 1999, when it was first disputed, with a very thin majority on the Liberals (48.2% vs 47.4%), and while they lost it to the Liberals in the 2003 Grit landslide, it was by a narrow margin: 46.9% for the Liberals’ Mario Racco against 45.2% for the PC MPP Tina Molinari. The seat drew attention in the 2007 provincial election, when it was gained, countercyclically, by the PCs (who lost by a wide margin provincially). PC candidate Peter Shurman (who is Jewish) won 45.9% against 42.3% for the Liberals. In 2011, Shurman won reelection with 46.9% against 40.7% for the Liberals. Unlike the federal Grits, the provincial Liberals put up a fight in 2011: their candidate was Bernie Farber, the former president of the Canadian Jewish Congress.

The NDP has been very weak in Thornhill (even if the Jewish Canadian community, in its working-class days, strongly supported the CCF/NDP or Communists). In the 2011 provincial election, the NDP won 9%, a result which is actually at the upper end of recent NDP showings. In the federal election, the NDP won 12%.

The sudden shift from Liberals to Conservatives has everything to do with the changing political allegiances of the Canadian Jewish community: an hitherto reliably Liberal demographic which has become a solidly Conservative demographic since 2008 (the shift is very perceptible in seats in Toronto and Montreal). Federally, the shift is often assigned to the Harper Conservatives’ strongly pro-Israeli diplomatic stances (while some Liberals have taken more pro-Palestinian positions), which resonate very well with Canadian Jews. Provincially, it is often chalked down to the issue of private/denominational schools: in 2003, the PCs supported a tax credit for parents to send their children to private/denominational schools, and it allowed the PC vote to hold up very well in Thornhill. In 2007, PC leader John Tory famously – and disastrously – proposed to extend public funding to all faith-based schools (the Ontario provincial government funds Catholic schools); while that played disastrously for the PCs in the province, it may explain why the PCs gained Thornhill – for some Jewish parents, especially in the Orthodox Jewish community, access to Jewish schools is a major issue.

At the same time, however, it may also have something to do with a wider shift: many affluent white-collar suburban voters have shifted, fairly dramatically in the long term, from Liberal to Conservatives. Jewish Canadians tend to be like many Canadian suburbanites: socially liberal, but fiscally conservative. Jewish voters, much like those south of the border, are very much allergic to (Christian) religious conservatism, social conservatism or more populist conservative rhetoric. The Canadian Alliance and Reform Party, associated with religious and populist conservatism, did very poorly with Jewish voters (although from poll-by-poll results, it appears the Alliance did fairly well with Orthodox Jews in Thornhill in 2000, presumably helped by a Jewish candidate). Similarly, in the 2011 provincial election, the PCs lost ground (compared to 2007) with more secular Jewish voters in urban Toronto (St. Paul’s and Eglinton-Lawrence), a reaction to Hudak’s populist and right-wing campaign which repelled affluent, urban moderates.

Results of the 2011 provincial election in Thornhill by poll (source: election-atlas.ca)

The map of the 2011 provincial election portrays the riding’s electoral geography well. The PCs were very strong – over 70% of the vote in a handful of polls – in the heavily Jewish areas along Bathurst Street (Toronto’s main ‘Jewish road’ – see a map here) in the Thornhill neighborhood. There were smaller outcrops of PC support in the eastern (Markham) end of the riding, primarily in mixed-Jewish neighborhoods. On the other hand, the Liberals were strongest in non-Jewish areas: areas west of Dufferin Street (more Italian) or between Yonge Street and Bayview Avenue (less Jewish, more Chinese and Iranian). The 2007 election is much the same: the PCs clearly owed their victory to very strong numbers with Jewish voters (again, with numbers over 60-70% in the most Jewish areas) while the Grits won non-Jewish voters. From 2007 to 2011, it appears as if the PC vote in the Jewish areas stagnated while improving in then non-Jewish areas.

The 2011 federal election is a Tory sweep, with many heavily Jewish polls giving over 80% of the vote to the Conservatives. The 2008 map is very similar to the provincial maps from 2007 or 2011, while the 2006 and 2004 maps – Liberal landslides – show a Tory enclave in Thornhill, presumably an Orthodox Jewish area, with the Liberals sweeping the rest (including many Jewish areas).

The PCs nominated optometrist Gila Martow, who ran and lost for Vaughan city council in 2010. On her website, Martow’s biographical blurb includes a well-placed picture of her with Harper and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, both of whom are held in high esteem by the Canadian Jewish community. The Liberal candidate was Sandra Yeung Racco, a Vaughan city councillor and the wife of former Liberal MPP Mario Racco (2003-2007). The NDP’s sacrificial lamb was Cindy Hackelberg, the 2011 candidate.

Gila Martow (PC) 47.96% (+1.25%)
Sandra Yeung Racco (Liberal) 41.50% (+0.58%)
Cindy Hackelberg (NDP) 6.79% (-2.18%)
Teresa Pun (Green) 1.44% (-0.25%)
Gene Balfour (Libertarian) 1.06% (-0.33%)
Erin Goodwin (Freedom) 0.56% (+0.23%)
Kevin Clarke (PPP) 0.52% (+0.52%)
John Turmel (Pauper) 0.18% (+0.18%)

The PCs narrowly held Thornhill, with a margin similar to the 2011 election. As early results trickled in, the Liberals took a narrow lead over the PCs, but as it turned out it was likely the Grit-leaning non-Jewish polls reporting first. Later on, the PCs regained the lead and never gave it back. A Tory defeat in Thornhill (at the hands of the governing Liberals) would have been a serious, potentially fatal, blow to Hudak’s leadership; a victory, even if fairly narrow, allows him to breath a sigh of relief. The Liberals’ decent showing, in sharp contrast to their results in Niagara Falls, shows that the Grits are still a force to be reckoned with in the 416 (city of Toronto) and GTA/905 suburbs. The NDP’s poor result is not surprising if you take into account the propensity for Canadian by-elections to turn into two-party contests in a majority of cases, squeezing out any third party lacking a base and organization in the riding.

Conclusion

byon

Overall, the main winner of these two by-elections was the NDP, which gained Niagara Falls. It was not as extraordinary a victory as Kitchener-Waterloo (2012) or London West/Windsor-Tecumseh (2013), which may or may not indicate that some of the NDP’s momentum has tapered off since then. Yet, all this is still very good news for the NDP and Andrea Horwath. Although Horwath has taken hits from both the Liberals and PCs, and has been the target of PC criticism for ‘propping up’ the Liberal government since 2011, she remains the most popular political leader in the province and for the first time in a long time, the NDP has a good chance of actually winning the next election. The NDP has been riding high in the polls in Southwestern Ontario (home to Kitchener, London and Windsor although not Niagara Falls) and their results in by-elections since 2012 indicate that the NDP are the only threat to the PCs outside of Ottawa and Toronto, even in Liberal-held ridings.

It remains to be seen, of course, if the NDP could repeat the remarkable results of the by-elections since 2012 in a general election. In a province-wide contest, the NDP would focus less heavily on specific ridings (like in by-elections), leaving some local candidates who might receive disproportionate backing from HQs in a by-election to fend for themselves. But the by-elections since 2012 have shown that the NDP are capable of regaining Dipper heartlands (Windsor-Tecumseh) and challenging the Liberals and PCs in seats where the NDP hasn’t usually been a factor in past provincial or federal elections (Kitchener, London, Niagara…): these are exactly the kind of ridings which the NDP need to win in a provincial election if they want to win government.

The NDP’s raw vote across both ridings was very, very close to the 2011 results. But the details show two very different dynamics at work: in Thornhill, a seat which will go NDP only when hell freezes over, the NDP lost 2,128 votes from their 2011 result. In Niagara Falls, where Wayne Gates won, the NDP increased their raw vote total by 2,222 – despite turnout falling by 9,960 votes since 2011. This indicates that the NDP was able to directly win voters who had backed the Grits or Tories in the last election.

The PCs had mixed results, on the whole. There is disagreement as to whether they won (by not losing any riding and by winning the most votes across the two ridings) or if they lost (by failing to regain low-hanging fruit like Niagara Falls and making very limited gains overall), I’d personally lean towards the latter. Holding Thornhill, where the PCs faced a rather serious threat from the Liberals (while still being favoured), is a good result for them insofar as it allows the PCs to breath a sigh of relief. But defeat in Niagara Falls is undeniably bad news for the PCs, which adds on to their defeats in Kitchener-Waterloo, London West and Ottawa South. Niagara Falls was low-hanging fruit for the PCs, who should have won the seat without too much trouble given their lead in province-wide polls, the swings against the Liberals and the federal Conservatives’ success in that seat in federal elections since 2004. It is also, like London West, the kind of riding which Hudak’s PCs need to win in the next election if they are to form government. Hudak, who has a remarkable inability for introspection, preferred to trumpet the meaningless statistic of ‘winning the most votes in the two ridings together’ and blame the Niagara Falls result on ‘unions’ (Hudak’s favourite boogeyman) turning out for the NDP.

The PCs saw their raw vote fall significantly in both ridings: across both, they lost over 10,300 votes. Their gains, in percentage terms, in both ridings were purely by virtue of retaining a good share of their 2011 votes than by any gains directly at another party’s expense. In a general election, the PCs may still win by just getting their 2011 voters again and little else, but they’ll most likely need to expand their base a bit by drawing voters who had backed the Liberals (or, less likely, the NDP) in 2011.

The clear loser were the Liberals – again. They lost yet another seat, after losing three seats in last summer’s five by-elections. What is especially cause for concern for the Liberals is that the disaster in Niagara Falls adds on to the disasters in Kitchener, London and Windsor in the last two years. All this seems to mean that the Liberals are quickly turning irrelevant in ridings outside of Toronto and Ottawa (in the 2013 by-elections, the Liberals held their ground – placing first or second – in the three ridings in Ottawa or Toronto; the Liberals still placed a decent second in the GTA riding of Thornhill). In a general election, the Liberals may very well face a bloodbath outside Ottawa and the 416/905: ridings outside those regions are shaping up, if by-elections are anything to go by, into PC-NDP battles with the Liberals not a factor. Some commentators have said that the Liberals could still be serious contenders for a fourth term in office because of their hold on ‘fortress Toronto’. I don’t disagree with the idea that the Liberals could still be contenders for reelection in the next general election, but I have serious doubts on the solidity of ‘fortress Toronto’. A lot of commentators rehashing that line seem to be assuming that the Liberals face no threat from either the PCs or NDP in the 416 ridings, or that they remain very competitive with the PCs in 905 suburban ridings where the NDP is weak. The latter is probably true; the Liberals will remain the main competition to the PCs in places like Vaughan, Markham, Oakville, Richmond Hill, Aurora and so forth. However, very little proves that Toronto is the impregnable Liberal ‘fortress’ some people present it as. In the 2013 by-elections, the PCs actually gained a seat from the Liberals in Toronto (Etobicoke-Lakeshore) and the Liberals held Scarborough-Guildwood by a narrow margin against serious PC and NDP threats. The NDP has a large potential base in Toronto; it did very poorly in Toronto in the 2011 provincial election, but nothing says that the next election will be just as disappointing for them. The PCs also have the potential to win seats inside Toronto. I would posit, therefore, that the Liberals aren’t particularly safe(r) in Toronto as a whole; in a general election, anything could happen.

It is unclear what impact these results have in the short term, especially as it relates to the likelihood of an early election in the spring. The NDP comes out with a big boost from these by-elections and it might be tempted to finally pull the plug on the Liberals, but from the early rhetoric from Horwath, she doesn’t seem particularly ‘trigger-happy’ and she prefers to present herself as a ‘responsible leader’ who doesn’t talk incessantly about elections. From past experience, Horwath does seem rather reluctant to take the responsibility for provoking an early election. Meanwhile, the Liberals do seem less interested than before in having an early election. In a case of acute spinning, the Liberals said that “a small percentage of people vote in by-elections” and affirm that “a general election will be a different story”. If the Liberals are reading the tea leaves, they might opt to delay an increasingly inevitable defeat at the polls by trying to stay in power for as long as possible. If Wynne was fairly bullish on election night with talk of a general election, other Liberals were on the defensive the next day and downplaying talks of an election (and rumours that the Liberals might engineer their own defeat on the budget).

On the other hand, it is worth noting that the Liberal spin about a general election being a different story is somewhat correct. By-elections are sometimes good predictors, but at best imperfect because of low turnout and the tendency for anti-incumbent votes against the government. It is interesting that the by-election results since 2013 haven’t been lining up with province-wide polling, in which the Liberals remain a fairly strong second not too far behind the PCs. Are the provincial polls all wrong? Are the by-elections showing an exaggerated swing against the Liberals because the Liberals’ supporters are not showing up? A general election will have different and unpredictable dynamics: the Liberals may turn out to be good campaigners who will find what it takes to seriously challenge Hudak and Horwath; but the Liberals may also collapse, if momentum builds around the NDP and leads to Liberal supporters abandoning the Grits for the NDP or PCs (a repeat of what happened federally in May 2011). As things stand, however, the Liberals are in a very difficult position.

Canadian by-elections 2013

Four federal by-elections were held in Canada on November 25, 2013 in the ridings of Bourassa (Quebec), Brandon—Souris (Manitoba), Provencher (Manitoba) and Toronto Centre (Ontario). These seats, two of which were held by the Liberal Party and the other two by the governing Conservative Party, had fallen vacant over the summer.

Context

Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s majority government is in its third year – and the Conservatives have been in power for seven years now, first winning a minority mandate in January 2006. Three years in, the Tories are struggling in the polls and facing a rejuvenated and re-energized opposition, both from the official opposition New Democrats (NDP) and the third-placed Liberals.

Harper’s remarkable ability to survive two minority governments and win a third term as a majority government has been due, in part, to his ‘teflon’ qualities – almost all of what was thrown at him by the opposition, the media, the economy or what have you have largely failed to stick. For example, Harper’s second minority government was brought down in March 2011 by a motion which found his government to be in contempt of Parliament, becoming the first Canadian and Commonwealth government to be found in contempt of Parliament. And yet, despite all that, Harper led the Conservatives to a huge victory on May 2, 2011 – winning a majority government, and relegating the Liberals – Canada’s so-called ‘natural governing party’ – into third place behind the centre-left NDP.

The other part in the Harper winning equation has been his political and strategic acuity, which allowed him to outmaneuver the hapless Liberals on countless occasions since defeating Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin in 2006. The complacent and arrogant Liberals seriously underestimated their opponent’s political acumen and his sharp strategical mind, and it led them into the ditch. Harper has centralized power and decision-making in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), keeping a tight leash on Conservative ministers and MPs and ensuring that the government is kept ‘on message’ at all times. The extremely strict party discipline and deference to authority which characterizes Canadian governance and parliamentary politics predates Harper, but Harper has brought it to new heights. The Conservatives successfully targeted key demographics which had been reliably Liberal in the 1990s – visible minorities, upwardly mobile new Canadians and middle-classes and well-off middle-class suburbanites.

Now, it appears that Harper’s teflon qualities are beginning to wear off. This has been most evident in the Senate scandal which has rocked Canadian politics throughout 2013.

Members of the Canadian Senate, a relatively weak upper house, are appointed by the Prime Minister (officially, by the Governor General on his ‘advice’) and may serve until they reach the age of 75. The unelected nature of the Senate, the unequal representation of provinces (based neither on the equal representation of all constituent units or rep-by-pop) and its perceived uselessness has led to numerous calls for reform. Stephen Harper and the modern Tories were strongly influenced by the strong demands for Senate reform in Western Canada, commonly expressed as ‘Triple E’ (elected, equal, effective). Upon taking office, Harper set out to reform the Senate, tabling legislation to limit Senators to eight-year terms and allowing for the direct election of Senators in each province (Alberta already holds non-binding ‘Senate nominee’ elections, but the Prime Minister is under no obligation to appoint the winner(s), although Harper has done so). However, both bills and other attempts at reform died. Seeing the difficulty of short-term Senate reform, Harper, who had let sixteen vacancies go unfilled since taking office, appointed sixteen new Senators in January 2009. Overall, Harper has appointed no less than 59 senators – all Conservatives – since 2009. Critics have accused Harper, a longstanding supporter of Senate reform, of hypocrisy.

Beginning in late 2012, four senators – three Conservatives appointed by Harper and one Liberal – were investigated for expense claims (housing and travel) for which they were not eligible. Conservative Senators Mike Duffy (PEI) and Pamela Wallin (Saskatchewan) both claimed primary residences in the province they represented, allowing them to claim living expenses while they work in Ottawa, while both still had Ontario health cards. Wallin claimed a total of C$369,593 in expenses in 2011-2012, including C$163,216 in ‘other travel’. Duffy claimed a total of C$298,310 in the same period. A third Tory senator, Patrick Brazeau, also faced questions over his expenses but what attracted the focus on him was his arrest in February for domestic and sexual assault and is awaiting trial.

In May 2013, it was revealed that Harper’s chief of staff, chief of staff, Nigel Wright, had written Duffy a personal cheque for C$90,172 to cover his fraudulent expense claims. Wright was forced to resign his position, and Harper tried to distance himself from his former chief of staff and the three embattled Tory senators he had appointed. Harper denied that he or anyone in the PMO had knowledge of Wright’s cheque, but subsequent revelations that senior members of the PMO were in on the details cast serious doubts on Harper’s honesty. Senators Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau were removed from the Conservative caucus and sat as independents.

As Parliament reconvened and the Tories continued to struggle under the weight of the Senate kerfuffle, Harper was determined to suspend the three senators in a bid to put the affair behind him. However, the three senators, who have been accused but not charged, mounted a spirited defense in which they were joined by some Liberal and Conservative colleagues, who protested the government “driving roughshod over due process and the presumption of innocence” (to quote Tory Senator Hugh Segal). Finally, the Senate did vote to suspend Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau without pay until the end of the session on November 5.

Harper is a shrewd political strategist who has been able to weather many storms in the past. He more or less maneuvered his way out of the 2008-2009 coalition crisis, two prorogations in controversial circumstances, criticism of major cost overruns in the acquisition of F-35 fighter planes, a scandal involving illegal Tory robocalls during the last federal election, harsh domestic and international criticism of Canada’s environmental and natural resources policies and ethics scandals involving cabinet ministers. However, Harper’s handling of the Senate scandal was not nearly as successful. NDP leader Thomas Mulcair led strong offensives against the government on the scandal during Question Periods in the House of Commons. During the Senate suspension debate, Duffy used the opportunity to throw more mud at the government – his lawyers claimed the PMO had pushed him into accepting the cheque or that the Conservative Party had paid all of his legal fees relating to the scandal. According to documents released by RCMP investigators, Wright may be charged for bribery, fraud and breach of trust and that Harper might have known more than he admits (an email from Wright said that the PM knew ‘in broad terms’ of the transaction). The RCMP report also claimed that the PMO had arranged to alter a Senate subcommittee report critical of Duffy.

Harper has tried to get a reboot after a tough start to 2013 by announcing a major cabinet shuffle in July, and a new Throne Speech to open a new session of Parliament in October. His shuffle, unsurprisingly, drew relatively little interest outside political circles given that most of the key portfolios – finance, foreign affairs, natural resources and the President of the Treasury Board – didn’t change hands and some of the more important changes (at justice, national defence, citizenship and immigration) were not really indicative of major changes. Some up-and-coming Conservative MPs, such as Chris Alexander (Citizenship and Immigration), Shelly Glover (Canadian Heritage), Kellie Leitch (Labour), entered cabinet with some significant portfolios.

The Throne Speech in October reiterated the Conservative government’s traditional agenda of small government, low taxes, balanced budgets, private sector job creation, expanding free trade and tough stances on crime. However, an early sign that the Conservatives are looking ahead to the 2015 election, the speech included several popular measures and ‘goodies’ targeting consumers – reducing roaming costs on networks within Canada or requiring television channels to be unbundled.

The Tories are also moving forward on Senate reform, asking the Supreme Court whether it can act alone and/or how much provincial consultation would be needed to (a) set term limits, (b) consultative elections on the appointment of Senators and (c) abolishing the Senate. The Tories’ preferred options remains term limits and elections, while the NDP is vocal about its wish to see the Senate abolished. However, in the Throne Speech, the government stated that “The Senate must be reformed or, as with its provincial counterparts, vanish” and at least one Tory junior minister (Maxime Bernier) has floated the idea of a referendum on Senate reform. The federal government, backed by Alberta and Saskatchewan, argue that the Senate can be abolished using the traditional 7/50 amending formula (consent of Parliament and two-thirds of provinces representing 50% of the population) although all other provinces and a lot of legal experts say that abolition of the Senate would require unanimous consent of all provinces. Most think that the Supreme Court will rule that abolition requires unanimous consent (meaning that it would be impossible in reality) and that consultative elections would require the 7/50 rule; Harper is unwilling to open the Pandora’s box of constitutional politics, meaning that he will need to choose between Senate reform through constitutional negotiations or letting the issue slide, perhaps to use it to run against the provinces and the courts in 2015.

Meanwhile, the Tories are facing stronger opposition. In April 2013, Liberal members and ‘supporters’ (non-paying sympathizers who could vote in the leadership contest) elected Justin Trudeau, the son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau (1968-1979, 1980-1984), as Liberal leader, replacing Ontario MP Bob Rae, who had been serving as interim leader since the Grits were obliterated into third place in May 2011. Justin Trudeau, elected in a marginal Montreal-area riding in 2008 and reelected in 2011 despite the NDP’s Orange Crush landslide in Quebec that year, is young (41), photogenic, quite charismatic, at ease in the media and has a famous name. Trudeau had originally declined to run (when Rae was widely anticipated to run for the permanent leadership) but, as Rae did not run, Trudeau reconsidered and threw his hat into the race. Trudeau, by far the strongest and most well-known of the contenders, won handily with 80% of the ‘points’ and 78.8% of the votes.

Since then, the Liberals have led the Tories and NDP in almost all polls. The size of the Liberal lead has varied, peaking after his election in April and dropping somewhat afterwards. Unlike what many had predicted, Trudeau’s honeymoon has prolonged itself – the Liberal lead grew in September and October, while the Tories have foundered – falling below the traditional Tory ‘floor’ of 30%.

Trudeau’s appeal is largely built on his personality and message.

Canadians, outside of the 40% of Tory supporters or floating sympathizers, have never really warmed to Harper (whose approval ratings have always been mediocre) although many respect him as a ‘strong leader’ and view him as most capable on economic issues (the government’s self-proclaimed priority). The Canadian economy is doing relatively well (with natural resource-rich provinces such as Saskatchewan or Alberta leading the way), although growth is projected to slow to 1.5% in 2013 as a result of public spending cuts, restrained foreign demand, the persistent strength of the Canadian dollar, ongoing competitiveness challenges and government policies to curb and reverse record high levels of household debt. Economic recovery in the US and high commodity prices should continue to help the economy. The economy remains one of Harper’s main strengths going into an election campaign, although he is not unassailable on the issue. After seven years in power (and nine by 2015), the mishandled Senate debacle and other scandals/issues, voter fatigue is definitely settling in.

There are also signs that Harper is facing push-back from Tory backbenchers for his ultra-centralist, hegemonic, PMO rule style of governance. Again, while both the Liberals and NDP have whipped caucuses in which backbenchers are told to tow the party line or else, the Tory government has taken it to another level. Government news releases are now signed as ‘the Harper Government’ rather than ‘the Government of Canada’, the PMO and the Privy Council Office vet their content, ministers are tightly controlled and backbenchers generally irrelevant and forgettable cogs. In October 2012, a Tory backbencher introduced a private members’ motion to form a committee to review the meaning of life (reopening the abortion debate), despite Harper’s objection to having the touchy issue reopened (Harper wants to keep a tight lid on social conservative issues like these, to kill the old ‘Tory secret agenda’ ideas). It was voted down 203 to 91, but 86 Tory MPs – including 10 members of cabinet – voted in favour. Just this month, Michael Chong, a Conservative backbencher, introduced a much-discussed ‘reform bill’ which would formalize a caucus’ ability to call for a leadership review and remove leaders’ power to deny nomination to candidates by not signing their nomination papers.

Similarly, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, who won the NDP leadership in March 2012 following the death of iconic NDP leader Jack Layton in August 2011, has seen his star fade and popularity decline. He is a capable politician and a strong performer in the House, but the Mulcair NDP has been somewhat stale and unappealing. Mulcair has been working hard to finally shake off the NDP’s image as a leftist third party, by transforming the NDP into a moderate, pragmatic and vaguely centre-left party – a transformation which actually began with Layton (whose 2011 platform was more Tony Blair than anything socialist). For example, while Mulcair supports a cap-and-trade system and drew flack for his comments on Canada facing a ‘Dutch disease’ because of the Albertan oil sands industry, he opposes any changes to personal income tax levels (so no ‘wealth tax’) and only proposes raising corporate tax levels to pre-Harper levels (22%) and cutting business subsidies (notably to the oil and gas sector).

In this context, Trudeau – who presents a fresh face and a vague but appealing message (‘hope and change’, ‘hard work’, ‘middle-classes’) – is seen as a refreshing alternative. Even his admission that he smoked pot, even after becoming an MP, failed to make a lasting mark on the Liberals. Despite Mulcair’s stronger performances in QP, Trudeau’s Grits are still seen as the anti-Harper Trudeau’s main Achilles heel, however, is that his appeal remains quite fragile. He has been criticized countless times for being an empty suit who lacks coherent policies behind pablum like ‘real priorities’. In fact, his policies appear a rather vague mix-mash of things designed to please both the left (legalizing marijuana, opposition to Northern Gateway pipeline, musings about a carbon tax) and the right (support for the Keystone XL pipeline, pro-free trade) all couched in vague language about helping the middle-classes. To add to this, Trudeau still has a knack for rookie gaffes which may come back to haunt him. Most recently, in early November, Trudeau said he ‘admired’ China’s administration because of their environmental policies (while Trudeau was not explicit and may have phrased it awkwardly, it was widely read as ‘Trudeau admires authoritarian China’). He said this at an event for ‘ladies’ whose promotional poster was widely ridiculed because it looked like some Justin Bieber meet-and-greet event and invited ‘ladies’ to “really get to know the future PM” and asked “who are your real life heroes?” or “what is your favourite virtue?” (seriously).

Bourassa, QC

Map of Bourassa (source: Elections Canada)

Bourassa is located in northeastern Montreal, including the entirety of the borough of Montréal-Nord and parts of the boroughs of Ahuntsic (Sault-au-Recollet) and Rivière-des-Prairies-Pointe-aux-Trembles (part of Rivière-des-Prairies).

The seat became vacant in June following the resignation of Liberal MP Denis Coderre to run for mayor of Montreal in last month’s municipal elections (he won). Coderre, a prominent Quebec Liberal MP, had represented the riding since 1997 and served in cabinets under Prime Ministers Chrétien and Martin.

Bourassa is a lower-income multicultural suburban riding. In 2011, 40.2% of the population were visible minorities, and the largest visible minority groups were blacks (21% of the population), Arab (8.9%) and Latin American (6.1%) populations. Bourassa has a large Haitian population – 17.5% claimed Haitian ancestry (the highest in the country), 11% were born in Haiti (29.8% of immigrants were Haitian-born) and 8.6% said Creole was their mother tongue. This demographic makeup explains why Bourassa is still predominantly Francophone (51.4% as a mother tongue, 58.9% speak French most often at home) and largely Catholic (61.8%).

On the note of religion, Quebec is very much a secular province and religious practice is very low. But there’s still a strong secular Christian/Catholic tradition lingering in most of the province, meaning that the percentage of those who pick ‘no religious affiliation’ is very low (except in the more bobo parts of Montreal) compared to Anglo parts of Canada (except perhaps the Atlantic), so only 8.2% of Bourassa’s residents claimed no religious affiliation on the NHS in 2011.

Nevertheless, this should not obscure the fact that Bourassa also has, by Canadian standards, large Arab and Latin American populations as well as a significant Italian community. Most Arabs come from North Africa or Lebanon, countries with a significant Francophone influence. Muslims, at 12.7%, form the second largest religious group after Catholics and 7.3% claimed Arab as their mother tongue. Most Latin Americans are of Peruvian, Salvadoran or Mexican origin and Spanish was the mother tongue of 6.7% of the riding’s population. Finally, Bourassa has a large Italian population, albeit smaller than in neighboring Saint-Léonard or Rivière-des-Prairies, the Italian heartlands of Montreal. Still, 14.3% claimed Italian ancestry and around 9% said Italian was their mother tongue. The Italian population is spread out throughout most of the riding, but largest in the small part of Rivière-des-Prairies included in the riding.

The riding is largely poor – in 2006, it ranked as one of the poorest ridings in all of Canada and it was undoubtedly the same in 2011. The 2010 median household income was $36,981 and 30.4% of all persons were considered low income after tax. Another indicator of the riding’s deprivation is that only 60% of income came from employment earnings while 26.8% came from government transfers.

Low income is also reflected in education, work and housing. 32.2% of the 15+ population had no certificate/diploma/degree of any kind and 24.6% only had a high school diploma – and if 43.2% had post-sec qualifications, most of these were apprenticeship/trades (14.8%) or CEGEP/college diplomas (13.1%), only 10.9% had a university diploma. The leading occupations in 2011 were sales and services (27.8% of the labour force), business/finance/administration (15.4%) and trades/transport (12.9%). The riding’s main industries (NAICS) are retail trade (14.5%), healthcare and social services (13.9%) and manufacturing (13%). In 2011, 69% of households were rented and 60% of them were apartments with fewer than five floors.

Montréal-Nord has a fairly grim reputation in Montreal (as always, certainly undeserved in good part) as a poor, dangerous high-crime neighborhood. It does have something like the third highest crime rate of the island, and crime and violence – gang, drug or prostitution related – is high in parts of the borough, especially in the eastern end close to highway 25. In August 2008, protests following the death of an Honduran teenager at the hands of the police turned into riots (vandalism, cars burned, looting).

The riding of Bourassa was created in 1966 and first contested in 1968, and although the boundaries have shifted eastwards or westwards since then, it has always been centered on Montréal-Nord, an independent municipality until amalgamation. Since 1968, the Liberals lost the riding only twice – to the Progressive Conservatives (PC) in Brian Mulroney’s 1988 Quebec landslide and to the Bloc Québécois (BQ) in the 1993 election. That year, Bloc candidate Osvaldo Nunez, a Chilean immigrant who fled the Pinochet coup in 1973, won the seat by 95 votes (0.12%) over Liberal candidate Denis Coderre, 42% to 41.9%. The PC incumbent, who had won 43.4% in 1988, won 12%. In 1997, a much less favourable year for the Bloc in Quebec, Coderre defeated Nunez in a rematch – and it wasn’t even close: Coderre won the seat by 19.7%, with 52.2% to the Bloc’s 32.5%. Thereafter, he was reelected by comfortable margins – a huge 34% in 2000, more modest margins of 12% (2004), 11% (2006) and 24% (2008) in the subsequent elections. In 2008, Coderre had won 49.8% against 25.4% for the Bloc and 13.6% for the Tories. In 2011, Coderre held his seat with an 8.6% majority over the NDP, with 40.9% against 32.3% for the NDP, 16.1% for the Bloc and 8.8% for the Conservatives.

With redistribution, the new (post-2015) riding will expand westwards to take in the rest of Sault-au-Recollet but lost all Rivière-des-Prairies; this reduces the Liberal majority in 2011 to 6.1%.

Poll-by-poll results of the 2011 federal election in Bourassa (source: election-atlas.ca)

The parties lack well-defined ‘strongholds’ in the riding, although there are some general patterns – broken by the NDP’s Orange Crush in 2011. The Liberals, since the 1990s, have tended to perform best in areas of Montréal-Nord with a large(r) Haitian or Arab population or in Rivière-des-Prairies, and its strong Italian presence. In 2006, for example, the Liberals won over 60% in a series of polls in Rivière-des-Prairies, where the Conservatives also did relatively well – second ahead of the Bloc in a few polls. The Bloc, prior to 2011, did better in polls with a smaller immigrant population. As in the rest of Montreal/Quebec, the 2011 NDP Orange Crush was at its strongest with Francophone ex-BQ voters and the NDP did not do as well with immigrants and minorities, who remained Liberals – although the NDP still won higher numbers with them than the Bloc had in the past. Therefore, the NDP’s support in 2011 bears some similarities to the Bloc’s pre-2011 support, although naturally the correlation isn’t perfect.

The Liberals and the NDP both had contested nomination meetings. The Liberals nominated Emmanuel Dubourg, an Haitian-born who served as provincial Liberal MNA for the provincial riding of Viau (which borders Bourassa, but does not include any parts thereof) between 2007 and his resignation in August 2013. When Dubourg resigned from the National Assembly, he received (legally) a severance pay of $100,000. That sparked some controversy, especially as some felt that he had resigned early before the provincial government passed a law which will abolish severance pays for MNAs resigning for no official reason. Dubourg and the federal Liberals consider the case closed and he has no intention of relinquishing his retirement bonus. The NDP made noise about having a “star candidate” – but as often happens with parties trumpeting a mystery star candidate, it turned out that said star candidate wasn’t a start candidate. The NDP nominated this ‘star candidate’, Stéphane Moraille, an Haitian lawyer and singer in Bran Van 3000, a Juno Award-winning (in 1998) band.

The Bloc nominated Daniel Duranleau, a former school trustee. There was some speculation at the outset about whether the Bloc’s leader, Daniel Paillé, who has no seat in the House, would throw his hat into the ring but unsurprisingly he did not run – as that would have been suicidal. The Conservatives nominated Rida Mahmoud, an engineer from Côte-d’Ivoire.

The Green Party, which is for all intents and purposes dead in Quebec besides managing to run no-namers in elections, was excited by its original candidate, Georges Laraque. Laraque, who is of Haitian ancestry, was a NHL hockey player between 1997 and his retirement in 2010; he finished his NHL career with the Montreal Canadiens. He became deputy leader of the Green Party in 2010, but he didn’t even run in the 2011 federal election and the Greens performed, unsurprisingly, disastrously in Quebec in 2011. Laraque polled up to 12% in October, entirely on the star factor and his ties with the Haitian community which likely won him the backing of a few (probably usually Liberal) Haitian voters. However, he quit as candidate and Green deputy leader on October 17 after it was revealed he was charged on five counts of fraud. His unethical business practices were already public and police had raided his home in January 2013, raising major questions as to why Green leader Elizabeth May thought running Laraque would end up being beneficial for the Greens. It seemed, however, that May was desperately looking for another ‘beach-head’ in her micro-targeting strategy (after the successful results in last year’s Victoria and Calgary by-elections) and was ready to bankrupt her very thinly spread party in the process. When Laraque dropped out, despite May reaffirming her ‘faith in his innocence’, the Greens went with one Danny Polifroni, who ran for the provincial Greens in 2012.

Forum Research polled the riding five times, including four times with the names of the candidates themselves. The Liberals saw their support fall from 56% on November 5 to 43% on November 22, while the NDP’s numbers rose from 18% in October to 31% in the final poll in late November. The Bloc, which got 26% in the May poll, was pegged at 15-17% for the campaign (except one poll on November 14 which had them at 20%). Green support collapsed to 2% after Laraque dropped out.

Turnout was only 26.2%, down from 55.1% in 2011.

Emmanuel Dubourg (Liberal) 48.12% (+7.21%)
Stéphane Moraille (NDP) 31.44% (-0.84%)
Daniel Duranleau (Bloc Québécois) 13.02% (-3.04%)
Rida Mahmoud (Conservative) 4.65% (-4.17%)
Danny Polifroni (Green) 2.01% (+0.4%)
Serge Lavoie (Rhinoceros) 0.76%

Unsurprisingly, the Liberals held the seat with a comfortable majority, with a 16.7% majority, significantly larger than Coderre’s small 8.6% majority over the NDP in May 2011. The seat has a strong and old Liberal tradition, which both predates Coderre and goes beyond a simple personal vote for Coderre. Like Coderre before him, Dubourg had strong roots in the Haitian community, probably far more so than somebody like Moraille who is not a politician. This factor, combined with the continuing popularity of the Trudeau Liberal brand – which has given signs of being even stronger in immigrant-heavy ridings such as this one, where immigrant voters might harbour positive opinions of the Trudeau last name because, in part, of Pierre Trudeau’s multiculturalism policy. Justin Trudeau’s Liberals have led the polls in Quebec since he became leader, but Trudeau is the most polarizing politician in Quebec according to a recent poll, which found his favourables/unfavourables split 44-32 – against 60/10 for Mulcair and 67% unfavourables for Harper.

That being said, the NDP vote held up quite well considering that the NDP’s popularity in Quebec has fallen significantly since the Orange Crush, when the NDP won 43% of the vote in the province. According to 308.com’s latest polling average (November), the NDP’s support stood at 25% in Quebec, trailing the Liberals by 11 points (36%, up from 32% last month). That might be due, in part, to the natural propensity in most by-elections to squeeze minor parties out and coalesce the vote around two parties. After Laraque dropped out, Moraille presented the race as a two-way contest. Political winds change direction very quickly in Quebec (witness the evolution of voting intentions during the 2011 campaign), but for the time being, the NDP, while its support has been eroded as of late with the Liberal upsurge, shouldn’t be counted out.

For one, the Dippers are in a much stronger position than the Bloc, which has failed to recover from the drubbing it received in 2011 because of the Orange Crush (23% of the vote). Because its leader, the rather low-key Daniel Paillé, lacks a seat in the House and the Bloc lacks official party status (4 MPs) it receives low media coverage. Add to that that the PQ provincial government is unpopular, that support for independence is low and that the last time the Bloc got significant media attention was when one of its MPs, Maria Mourani, was expelled from the party from opposing the PQ’s new and controversial Quebec Charter of Values. However, to be fairer, the Bloc likely didn’t put put much of its meager resources into the race.

Similarly, the Conservative vote consistently drops, often rather significantly, in those by-elections in which the Tories have no chance of winning and therefore don’t put any effort into them.

Without Laraque, in a riding which is demographically unfavourable to the Greens to begin with, the Greens did poorly, although they increased their percentage share of the vote by a few decimals.

Turnout was very low, so any conclusions we can draw from this by-election should be taken with a grain of salt. There were 19,675 less valid votes in 2013 than in 2011. All parties, even the Liberals, saw their actual raw vote fall from 2011 – the Liberals lost 6,725, the NDP lost 6,504, the Bloc lost 3,718, the Tories lost 2,502 and the Greens lost 245. More than anything else, in such circumstances, each party likely held their core voters who vote in every election and direct gains/loses from party to party were likely limited.

Brandon—Souris, MB

Map of Brandon-Souris (source: Elections Canada)

Brandon—Souris is located in the southwestern corner of Manitoba, centered around the city of Brandon. The city, the second largest in the province, has a population of about 56,000 (with 64,200 in the wider metro area), making it – by miles – the largest town in the constituency, which is otherwise made up of small towns with only a few thousand inhabitants, Prairie farmland and a few Native reserves.

The seat became vacant with the resignation of Conservative backbench MP Merv Tweed resigned at the end of August. Tweed was first elected in 2004.

Brandon-Souris is a largely white and Protestant riding, but given that 72% of the riding’s population lives in the Brandon metro I would object to the descriptor ‘rural’ for this riding. It is more rural, obviously, than many ridings in Canada – in 2011, 9.6% were employed in agriculture/forestry which places it significantly above the Canadian average in terms of population employed in agriculture. However, the main industries in Brandon-Souris are healthcare (14.3%) and retail trade (11.4%), with agriculture in third followed down the list by public administration (9.4%) and manufacturing (8%). Brandon has a regional health centre, contributing the strong presence of healthcare and social assistance in the riding; it also has a university (Brandon University) meaning that education is also rather big (7.4% in 2011). The leading occupations in 2011 were sales/services (22% of the labour force), trades/transport/equipment operators (15.1%), management (13.8%) and education/law/social, community and government services (13.5%).

The median household income, $57,055, not particularly high, but poverty is rather low – 14.8% were low income after tax in 2011. Low income but comparatively low poverty is common for a ‘rural/small town’ areas. One reason being that houses are fairly cheap, the median value of dwellings in 2011 was $189,875 against $280,552 for the entire country. Seven in ten households are owned (72% to be exact), most of them were built before the 1980s and the huge majority of them are single-detached houses.

Another typical characteristic of ridings such as Brandon-Souris is the relatively low level of education – despite the presence of a (small) university campus. 24% have no certifications and 29.5% only have their high school diploma. 46.6% do have post-secondary qualifications, largely from college (17.9%) or university (13.7%).

6.8% of the population are visible minorities, the leading communities being Latin Americans and Chinese. Another 9.8% claim ‘aboriginal identity’ – including 5.6% of Native Americans and 4.1% Métis. The non-white population is largest in the city of Brandon, where ‘only’ 77% are white.

Of more political relevance is the ethnic/ancestral makeup of the riding. Southwestern Manitoba, where the land was the best, attracted well-off ‘elite’ English settlers from Ontario or the British Isles beginning in the 1870s and 1880s, who gradually came to outnumbers the Natives and Métis. These Ontarian-English farmers and businessmen came to form the political and economic elite of the province, which more or less retained power at the provincial level until the election of Ed Schreyer’s NDP government in 1969. Several Manitoba Premiers, including famous names such as Thomas Greenway, Rodmond Roblin or John Bracken, had immigrated from Ontario. The result of this interesting history is that the Brandon area, in contrast with other parts of the Canadian Prairies which attracted very diverse immigration from Eastern Europe, the Russian Empire or Germany, has a more English/Scottish population. English and Scottish were the two leading ethnic origins declared in 2011, with 35.9% and 29.9% of the population respectively. Germans came in fifth – behind Canadian and Irish – with 16.7% – while a total of 17.5% declaring various Eastern European origins, mostly Ukrainian, Polish or Russian.

English was the mother tongue of 85% of residents in 2011. German was a very far second, with 4.4%, although the proportion of German speakers rises to over 20% in some rural municipalities outside Brandon.

Religiously, the riding is heavily Protestant – in 2011, the various Protestant and non-Catholic Christian denominations accounted for 50.1% of the population, undoubtedly ranking the riding near the top in terms of Protestants. Catholics made up only 16.6% of the population, and 31.4% claimed no religious affiliation (you will notice the irony of a conservative small town riding in Manitoba having a much larger share of irreligious identifiers than a urban riding in Montreal!).

English-Ontarian voters, at the provincial level, historically split their allegiances between the Conservatives, Liberals and Progressives and strongly resisted the NDP. Agrarian socialism carried no appeal to southwestern Manitoba’s prosperous English farmers and agrarian politics in Manitoba were steeped in Ontarian rural liberalism, extremely moderate if compared to the ‘group government’ and proto-socialist ideas of Albertan and Saskatchewan agrarianism. The Brandon-Souris area, provincially and federally, has a strong Conservative tradition. Provincially, the PCs have represented the rural ridings with almost no interruption since at least 1958, but the NDP has usually held Brandon East, the poorer part of the city.

Federally, Brandon-Souris was created in 1952 from the merger of the separate ridings of Brandon and Souris, which more or less represented the north and south halves of the current riding respectively. Since the riding’s creations, the Conservatives lost the seat only once – to the Liberals in the 1993, largely because the right-wing vote was split between Reform and the PCs, allowing the Grits to win with only 33%.

Before the 1950s, the Liberals had represented the area a few times. Clifford Sifton, Wilfrid Laurier’s Minister of the Interior between 1896 and 1905 who is most famous for promoting European immigration to Western Canada at the turn of the last century, held the seat of Brandon between 1896 and 1911. Robert Forke, the moderate and liberal leader of the Progressive Party, represented Brandon between 1921 and 1930, although he was returned as a Liberal-Progressive in 1926 and joined the federal Liberal cabinet that same year.

Brandon-Souris sticks out from other ‘rural’ ridings in Western Canada by never having elected a Reform/Alliance MP. In 1997, it was Brandon mayor Rick Borotsik, a Progressive Conservative, who won the seat with a thin 1.7% margin over the Reform Party. Borotsik, something of a Red Tory and critic of the Reform Party, was reelected in 2000 with a 5.5% majority over the Alliance. In both elections, the Liberals placed a paltry third with only 18% of the vote – Borotsik certainly ate into the Liberal potential a lot.

Borotsik only reluctantly joined the united Conservative Party in 2003 and backed Belinda Stronach over Harper for the leadership of the new party. He did not seek reelection in 2004, allowing Merv Tweed, a provincial PC MLA, to easily win the seat for the Tories with 51.7% against 24.2% for the Liberals and 19.2% for the NDP. Tweed was reelected with huge majorities in the next three elections – 34% in 2006, 39% in 2008 and 2011. The Liberal vote has consistently declined since 2004, from 18% in 2006 to only 5.4% in 2011; while the NDP has become the strongest rival to the Tories with 25% in 2011 (against 63.7% for Tweed). In 2008, the Greens placed a strong third with 15.8% of the vote, probably because their candidate spent $37,583 – much more than either the Grits or the Dippers, and only slightly less than the Tories themselves. In 2011, however, he spent only $10,000 or so and the Green vote fell to 5.7% (still ahead of the Liberals).

With redistribution, the boundaries shift slightly southwards – losing the northern parts of the riding to Dauphin—Swan River—Neepawa – but expanding eastwards a bit. The impact on the 2011 results is negligible.

Poll-by-poll results of the 2011 federal election in Brandon-Souris (source: election-atlas.ca)

Unsurprisingly, the Conservatives have tended to do far better in rural and small town polls than in Brandon itself, although the size of their margin in the last elections has lessened the divide somewhat. Indeed, in 2011, the NDP won only 12 regular polls to the Tories’ 167 – all of them were in Brandon except for the Dakota Native reserves (Sioux Valley Dakota Nation and Canupawakpa Dakota First Nation). The Tories won upwards of 70%, even over 80%, in most rural and small town polls outside the Brandon metro. In areas closer to Brandon, the Tory vote fell under 70% and stood at 40-60% in most of Brandon. In detail, the Conservatives did best in the suburban neighborhoods of Brandon, particularly the newer subdivisions and the more affluent western half of the city. The NDP and the Greens have tended to do best in downtown Brandon, near the university and in the poorer eastern half. In 2011, the NDP’s strongest results came from the downtown core while in 2008, the Greens had won the poll covering the university as well as downtown, with the NDP doing better in some poorer neighborhoods in eastern Brandon.

In 1997, the PCs won Brandon (where Borotsik was mayor), doing particularly well in western Brandon, and some small towns and rural polls while the Reform Party generally won the rural polls.

The Conservative nomination process rose quite a ruckus. Chris Kennedy, a former aide to outgoing MP Merv Tweed, was considered the favourite for the nomination until he was mysteriously disqualified or failed to hand in his nomination papers on time, depending on who you believe. The Conservative Party says that Kennedy’s nomination papers arrived in Ottawa one day after they were due, something confirmed by a tracking of the Purolator package from Brandon to Ottawa, which shows that it left Brandon on the afternoon of Sept. 11 (the day it was due in Ottawa) and arrived in Ottawa the next day. Kennedy, on the other hand, says he delivered the package on Sept. 10 for a next-day delivery to Ottawa (he might be correct, but that would mean that Purolator in Brandon sat on the package for a day) and swears that he had attached the $1,000 deposit cheque to his papers (the Tory HQ had originally told him he had not stapled the cheque to his papers). With Kennedy out and another contender dropping out, the Tories nominated (now former) Arthur-Virden PC MLA Larry Maguire by acclamation. Regardless of what went down, the shenanigans – well publicized by the media and Kennedy’s recriminations – hurt the local Tories, with reports of memberships being returned and a right-wing editorialist in the local newspaper was visibly peeved at the whole issue.

In contrast, the Liberals handled their nomination process far better and attracted a strong candidate. Rolf Dinsdale, a media executive and the son of former PC MP Walter Dinsdale (who held the seat between 1951 and 1982) won the nomination. The NDP nominated Labour Council president Cory Szczepanski, the Greens nominated greenhouse owner David Neufeld and the Libertarians ran Frank Godon, a former US Marine and briefly candidate for the Liberal nomination before dropping out.

Brandon-Souris was the most competitive of the four ridings with by-elections, according to polling by Forum Research – who were in the field five times between October and November. The Liberals led the Tories by 4 points, 40 to 36, in a first poll in October. The Liberal lead grew in each poll thereafter. On November 22, the Liberals led by 14 – 50 to 36 – and on November 24, the last poll out, the Liberals led by a phenomenal 29 points, or 59 to 30. NDP and Green support in the polls was halved over the course of the campaign, from 12% to 6% and 5% respectively.

Turnout was 44.8%, down from 57.5% in 2011.

Larry Maguire (Conservative) 44.16% (-19.57%)
Rolf Dinsdale (Liberal) 42.75% (+37.59%)
Cory Szczepanski (NDP) 7.22% (-17.96%)
David Neufeld (Green) 4.88% (-0.85%)
Frank Godon (Libertarian) 0.98%

In a major surprise – and yet another black eye for Canadian polling – the Tories managed to narrowly hold the seat, with a 1.4% majority over the Liberals. The Grit defeat will disappoint Liberals who had been keeping tabs on this race, and could be interpreted as a Grit ‘underperformance’ given polling expectations. However, Trudeau seems to have done a good job of managing expectations, and the idea that the Grit defeat here was a bad result for them has not been widespread (although I don’t follow the media blabber’s much).

Forum Research, which is not a bad pollster in general (although as a new-ish company, its track record is limited), totally bombed on this one – the Liberals up 29 points (!), in reality they lost by 1. The most likely explanation would probably be the obligatory comment on the difficulty of polling by-elections, which compound the natural difficulty of accurately polling a single riding with about 62,000 registered voters and a usual turnout of 35-36k in normal elections. Related to this is the impact of low turnout; only 27.7k voters turned out in the by-election and it’s no secret that low turnout can create weird results (although this result is not particularly weird, disregarding expectations built on polling) and lead even the best pollsters astray. Speculating further, pollsters might have some trouble accurately polling outside large built-up urban areas, in a riding which, while more urban than actually agricultural/rural, still has a significant share of voters in small towns and rural areas. Finally, some kind of shy Tory/shy government support effect might have played a role; the Tories as incumbents have underpolled in the last two federal elections (but the incumbent Liberals underpolled in 2006) and Forum also underpolled the Tories in Provencher (see later).

The Winnipeg Free Press attributed the Liberal defeat to a series of tactical errors: having a Tory mayor run for the Liberal nomination for the illusion of having a contested nomination (instead of letting him run as an independent), having Trudeau not campaign more heavily outside Brandon and Trudeau opting to spend the final weekend campaigning in the Liberal strongholds in Quebec and Ontario instead of this marginal riding.

Nevertheless, the Liberals’ defeat should not obscure the fact that this was nevertheless an excellent result for them. They won 42.8% of the vote, the highest vote share for the party since its creation (the last time it was this high was in a two-way by-election contest in 1951 in the riding of Brandon) and despite low turnout this is the highest raw vote for the Liberals since 1993, when turnout was 69%.

The Liberal vote was likely inflated some by the two-way nature of this particular by-election, which once again saw the natural propensity for third parties to be squeezed in by-elections. In a general election, I would certainly expect the NDP to do much better – at the very least, 12 or 13% like they won in the 1990s and 2000 (horrible years for the federal NDP). In this by-election with two high profile candidates for the Tories and the Grits, they found themselves squeezed and likely didn’t invest much resources into this riding either. Therefore, the Liberals likely ate into the Dippers’ vote, while other NDP voters from 2011 likely did not turn out. The NDP in Manitoba was also hurt by the provincial NDP government’s unpopularity; the long-time NDP government is trailing in the polls provincially after a decision to raise the sales tax to pay for flood mitigation.

The Conservatives won by 389 votes. The Tories lost over 10,000 votes from the last election, when they had won 22.3k votes – this year, they won only 12.2k votes. The Liberals, on the other hand, increased their raw vote by a significant amount – despite, again, turnout over 10 points lower than in 2011. In the annus horribilis 2011, the Grits won only 1,882 votes in Brandon-Souris whereas this year they took 11,816 – which is, as noted above, the highest raw vote for the Grits since 1993. On the other hand, the NDP lost 6,849 votes; the Greens lost 663 votes and overall 7,521 less votes were cast in 2013. Unlike in Bourassa, where no party gained in raw votes and likely only held its reliable voters from 2011, in Brandon-Souris, the Liberals made sizable gains (+9,934 votes) despite turnout falling by 7.5k. Poll-by-poll results would allow more detailed analysis, but it would appear as if the Liberal gains came from both the NDP and the Tories – which is, needless to say, excellent news for the Grits if they’re able to repeat such gains across Canada. Many Tory and/or Dipper voters must have stayed home as well (possibly more Tories stayed home, as often happens with demotivated and demobilized soft government supporters in by-elections/midterms, further compounded perhaps by the Tory nomination shenanigans).

The Liberal result is even more impressive if you remember how low the Liberals have sunk in Western Canada, outside of a few ‘Indian reserves’ holdouts in Winnipeg, Ralph Goodale’s personal stomping ground (Wascana) and Greater Vancouver. In 2008 and 2011, the Liberals polled single digits in most Western ridings outside urban areas (and even in some urban areas), making the NDP the strongest rivals to the Tories. Under Dion and Ignatieff, the Liberal brand in the west – already damaged by Trudeau and not durably improved by Chrétien/Martin, had become closely associated with eastern ‘elitism’ – Dion as the egghead from Quebec, Ignatieff as the vilified Harvard academic who was “just visiting” and “didn’t come back for you” – but also fairly left-leaning policies which were out of touch with Western Canada: Dion’s green shift (carbon tax) platform in 2008, and even a fairly centre-left platform from Ignatieff despite Ignatieff being closer to the party’s right. Stephen Harper’s Tories, more strongly rooted in Western Canadian conservatism of the Reform/Alliance variety than the PCs ever were (especially post-Diefenbaker), have therefore been an extremely attractive option in the region. While some Western Canadians may feel that Harper hasn’t fulfilled all he said he would or addressed the region’s old grievances fully, it is still clear that under Harper, Western Canada is stronger than it ever was under past Liberal and even PC (Mulroney) governments.

Therefore, if the Liberals are this competitive against the Tories, it is certainly excellent news for the Grits and cause of major concern for the Tories. It does not seem as if Justin Trudeau is, as of today, suffering from his late father’s deep unpopularity in Western Canada. In fact, since Trudeau won the leadership, polling in Saskatchewan and Manitoba (with small samples and large margins of error) have shown the Liberals performing surprisingly well.

Provencher, MB

Map of Provencher (source: Elections Canada)

Provencher is located in southeastern Manitoba. Unlike Brandon—Souris, where over 70% of the population lives in one metro area, only 13.7% of Provencher’s population lives in the largest community in the riding, Steinbach. Geographically, the bulk of the population is concentrated in small communities in the Prairies, while the eastern and northern halves of the riding (extending to the border with Ontario), which are in the barren Canadian Shield, are sparsely populated because the land is unsuitable for agriculture.

The seat became vacant in July 2013 following the retirement of Conservative MP Vic Toews, who had held the seat since 2000. A former provincial cabinet minister under the Manitoba PC government in the 1990s, Toews became the senior Manitoba minister in the Harper government serving as Minister of Justice (2006-2007), President of the Treasury Board (2007-2010) and Minister of Public Safety (2010-2013). Toews gained a reputation as a strong proponent of the government’s law-and-order agenda, spearheading legislative efforts to toughen detention laws for gun crimes and youth offenders and, in his last position, a very controversial bill which would have expanded law enforcement agencies’ power to monitor and track digital communications. The bill, “Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act”, would have allowed authorities to demand access to subscriber information from ISPs and telephone providers without a warrant. There was major public opposition to the bill, and Toews became a lightning rod for criticism after saying people “either stand with us or with the child pornographers” while a Twitter account (run by a Liberal staffer) leaked details of Toews’ divorce details. The legislation was withdrawn in February 2013, and the whole episode badly hurt Toews’ credibility and reputation as cabinet minister. Younger Manitoba MPs such as Shelly Glover (Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages since July 2013) and Candice Bergen (Minister of State (Social Development) since July 2013) have replaced him as the leading Tory MPs from the province in the Harper cabinet.

Provencher is a largely white riding. Visible minorities make up only 2.3% of the population but 12.3% claimed Aboriginal identity, including 9.4% with official Métis identity. The relatively large Métis population – nearly 10,000 people – is a remnant of the riding’s early settlement and history. When Manitoba joined Confederation in 1871, the province’s small population was largely Francophone and Métis. Immigration, first from Ontario or the British Isles, significantly altered the ethnic makeup of the province and had significant consequences for the province’s history. Although the Francophone and Métis presence in Manitoba has been significantly reduced since the nineteenth century, their presence is still perceptible. Provencher has the second highest Francophone population in the province outside of St. Boniface in Winnipeg (the historical centre of the Franco-Manitoban population), with 9.9% speaking French as their mother tongue and 5.4% still speaking French most often at home. French ancestry was the third most commonly reported ethnic origin in 2011, with 19.9%. Canadian, the second largest ethnic origin with 25.6%, may also include persons of French ancestry as the term ‘Canadian’ is heavily used by Francophones in Quebec and some other provinces to describe their ethnic origin.

The French history of the riding is perceptible in the toponyms of towns and villages: Ste. Anne, St-Pierre-Jolys, Saint Malo, Lorette, De Salaberry Rural Municipality or Montcalm Regional Municipality. These areas also have the largest Francophone populations: in St-Pierre-Jolys, French was the mother tongue of 47% of the population in 2011 and over 35% spoke French as their mother tongue in De Salaberry and Montcalm RMs.

Provencher, however, has an even stronger German influence. In the late nineteenth century, German-speaking Mennonites fleeing persecution in Czarist Russia settled in southeastern Manitoba, in the so-called ‘Mennonite Reserve’. There were later waves of Mennonite immigration from Prussia or Russia in the early twentieth century, in the 1920s after the Bolshevik victory and in the late 1940s following World War II. Some more conservative Mennonites emigrated to Mexico or Paraguay in the early twentieth century, a reaction to new provincial legislation which abolished instruction in languages other than English in schools. German Lutherans and Catholics also settled in the region. As far as Provencher is concerned, however, the Mennonite presence has been larger. In 2011, 35.8% of residents identified their religion as ‘other Christian’, a category including Mennonite. Roman Catholics made up 23.6%, 19.5% claimed no religious affiliation and only 6.3% identified with the United Church of Canada and 4.8% as Lutheran.

The family structure reflects the strong Mennonite presence. 60.8% of the population over 15 were married in 2011, one of the highest rates of all 308 ridings. 82.4% of the 27,440 census families that year were married couples, and only 9.1% of census families were lone-parent families. In 2006, Provencher had the lowest percentage of lone-parent families.

German was the largest ancestry declared in 2011, with no less than 35.7%. Some Mennonites began identifying as Dutch to escape association with Germany during World War I, so there is a sizeable share claiming Dutch origins (8.9%). There are also significant Ukrainian (13.8%), Russian (10.1%) and Belgian (2.5%) communities. In contrast to Brandon-Souris, a fairly WASP riding, only 28.8% of the population claimed English, Scottish, Irish or other British Isles ancestry.

Once again, the German influence can be seen in place names: Steinbach, the largest city in the riding, Hanover RM, Hochstadt, Kleefeld, Friedensfeld or Grunthal. The German Mennonite population is highest in Hanover RM (51.7% German ancestry, 72.7% other Christian) and Steinbach (51.7% German ancestry, 56.7% other Christian) but also in Franklin RM, Morris RM, La Broquerie RM and Niverville. 17.3% of residents in 2011 identified German as their mother tongue and 7.5% still spoke German most often at home.

Like in Brandon-Souris, only 9% of the labour force are employed in agriculture and related industries the riding; the main industries being construction (11.3%), manufacturing (10.1%) and healthcare (9.8%). The leading occupations in 2011 were trades/transport (22.3%), sales and services (18.3%), business/finance/administration (14.3%) and management (11.9%). The median household income was $63,156 and 15% were low income after tax in 2010. As is the case in most ‘rural’ ridings, education levels are rather low. In 2011, 29% had no certifications of any kind and 28.9% only had a high school diploma. Of the 42% with post-sec qualifications, most came from colleges or trades/apprenticeship schools as only 10.8% of the population in 2011 had a university degree at the bachelor level or above.

Provencher has existed as a riding under that name since 1871, and it has always included parts of southeast Manitoba – at the least, the areas south of Steinbach and east of the Red River. George Étienne Cartier, John A. Macdonald’s Quebec ally, was acclaimed in the riding in 1872 following his defeat in Montreal. Louis Riel, the famous Métis leader of the Red River and North-West rebellions, was elected thrice – in a 1873 by-election following Cartier’s death, the 1874 federal election and in a 1874 by-election following his own expulsion from the House. However, Riel was living in exile in the US at the time and never sat, and was finally unseated and declared an outlaw in 1875. Between 1878 and 1904, the riding was represented by Francophone Conservative MPs. The Liberals gained the seat in 1904 and held it until 1957, with two Francophone Liberals serving between 1921 and 1957. In the 1917 conscription election, Provencher was one of two ridings east of Ontario which elected a Laurier Liberal (anti-conscription) member, given the riding’s large anti-conscription/anti-war French and German populations (although Mennonites still largely kept outside of politics). In the following decades, the large Francophone/Métis and German Mennonite population made the seat a Liberal stronghold. Social Credit had a foothold with French and German voters, and won 29.7% in 1957. The Francophones’ political domination of the riding decreased in the 1950s, as German Mennonite immigrants became more politically active.

The PCs gained the riding in Diefenbaker’s first victory in 1957, and, with the exception of the Trudeaumania election of 1968, would hold it until 1993. German Mennonite, small-c conservatives to begin with, became a reliable Tory constituency as the Tories slowly transformed from the party of the central Canadian WASP elite to a broad-based party appealing to conservative voters in rural Western Canada. Jake Epp, a Mennonite, held the seat for the PCs between 1972 and his retirement in 1993. Liberal support in the riding declined, and the Grits placed third behind the NDP in 1979, 1980 and 1984.

The Liberals regained the seat in 1993, with 44% against 36.8% for Reform and 10.3% for the PCs. Liberal MP David Iftody, a socially conservative Catholic, won reelection with a 5% majority over Reform in 1997 (40 to 35.1). In 2000, however, Alliance star candidate Vic Toews, a Paraguayan-born Mennonite, defeated Iftody with a 17 point majority (52.8% vs 35.6%). Toews was reelected with even larger majorities in the last four elections. In 2011, Toews won 70.6% of the vote against 17.9% for the NDP, a 53 point majority. As in other Western Canadian ridings, Liberal support in the constituency collapsed over the course of the last four elections: a consistent drop from 24.9% in 2004 to 6.7% in 2011. The NDP placed second ahead of the Grits in 2008 and 2011.

Results of the 2011 federal election in Provencher (source: election-atlas.ca)

In the 2011 election, Vic Toews won all but one polls – the Roseau River Reserve, where the NDP won 58%. The Conservatives did best in the German Mennonite areas, where they won over 80% of the vote (and even over 90% in a few polls) in almost every single poll – and the few polls where they didn’t, they still won well over 70%. The German Mennonite areas post astounding results for the Tories, both provincially and federally. Francophone areas have shifted to the Tories since the late 1990s, and Toews also won every Francophone poll in 2008 and 2011, although by smaller margins than the German polls. For example, he won in the 50s or high 40s in polls in Lorette, Ste. Anne and St-Pierre-Jolys.

In the 1997 and 2000 federal elections, a fairly clear split is visible between the Francophone areas – which voted Liberal by large margins – and the German areas – which voted Reform/Alliance by large margins as well. The Liberals also did well in the remote town of Pinawa in the Canadian Shield, which was home to a nuclear research facility which was decommissioned beginning in 1998. Even in 2004, the Liberals still won a handful of polls in Franco-Manitoban towns such as Ste. Anne, St-Pierre-Jolys, Lorette or Saint-Malo; while Toews was already scoring over 80% in the Mennonite Reserve (Steinbach/Hanover). In 2008 and 2011, a lot of Liberal voters in these towns shifted over to the NDP. In 2011, the NDP managed decent second place showings in most of these towns, especially in Ste. Anne and Lorette, where the Dippers took over 30% in most polls.

The socially conservative right-wing Christian Heritage Party won 1.3% in 2011 and 3.2% in 2008; they did quite well in the Mennonite Reserve areas in 2008, placing distant seconds or thirds behind the Tories but ahead of the Grits and/or Dippers.

The riding was the least interesting of the four by-elections. The Conservatives nominated Ted Falk, a Mennonite credit union president from Steinbach. The Liberals nominated their 2011 candidate, retired public servant Terry Hayward. The NDP candidate was Natalie Courcelles Beaudry, the Greens ran Janine Gibson.

Forum Research showed the Tories leading the field by reduced but comfortable margins in their four polls between October and November, but the Tory advantage dropped from 27% in their first poll in mid-October to only 11 points in their final poll on November 22. The Conservatives fell from 56% to 48%, while the Liberals increased from 29% to 37%.

Turnout was only 33.9%. Unlike in Brandon-Souris, where turnout dropped by about 13 points, turnout in Provencher collapsed by 27.9%. In Brandon-Souris, only 7,521 less votes were cast in 2013 than in 2011, but in Provencher, there were 17,021 less votes.

Ted Falk (Conservative) 58.20% (-12.40%)
Terry Hayward (Liberal) 29.94% (+23.23%)
Natalie Courcelles Beaudry (NDP) 8.22% (-9.67%)
Janine Gibson (Green) 3.64% (+0.69%)

Unsurprisingly, the Tories held the seat without any trouble. Like in Brandon-Souris, however, the Tories underpolled significantly in Forum’s polls – an 11 point lead in the final poll, while they ended up winning by no less than 28 points. My observations and speculation as to why the polls fumbled these two Manitoba by-elections so badly while doing a slightly better job at predicting the two other (urban) by-elections likely apply in this case as well.

Again, as in Brandon-Souris, the Tories’ victory shouldn’t hide the fact that the Liberals performed very well – their best % share since 2000 and their highest raw vote since 2004 (despite much lower turnout than in 2004). The Liberals gained 4,066 votes from their meagre harvest in 2011 – despite turnout dropping by over 17,000 votes. The Conservatives were the main losers, naturally, with 14,774 less votes than in May 2011. The NDP also lost 5,208 votes from their 2011 result. It would certainly appear as if a lot of the Liberal gains came directly at the expense of the Tories and the NDP, like in Brandon-Souris but unlike in the two other by-elections. It is worth repeating that it is a rather spectacular performance for the Liberals, who had been obliterated in this (and similar) ridings in the last two elections and who didn’t even a prominent star candidate like they did in Brandon-Souris.

Toronto Centre, ON

Map of Toronto Centre (source: Elections Canada)

Toronto Centre covers the heart of downtown Toronto, including neighborhoods such as Cabbagetown, St. James Town, Regent Park, Church and Wellesley, the Garden District, the eastern portion of the University of Toronto (UofT) and the affluent ‘enclave’ of Rosedale.

The riding became vacant following the resignation of Liberal MP Bob Rae, the former interim leader of the Liberal Party (2011-2013) and NDP Premier of Ontario (1990-1995), on July 31, 2013. Rae entered politics for the NDP in the late 1970s, as a federal NDP MP between 1978 and 1982 before switching to provincial politics to become the leader of the Ontario NDP. Rae’s NDP supported Liberal Premier David Peterson’s minority government between 1985 and 1987 and became Leader of the Opposition following the 1987 provincial election, when the Tories dropped to third place. Rae’s NDP won a surprise majority government in the 1990 election, making Rae the first – and, to date, only – NDP Premier of Ontario. His premiership remains negatively perceived, a result of the government’s inexperience, a major recession and backtracking on several policies such as public auto insurance. His austerity policies to tackle the recession (the Social Contract) caused huge strains with organized labour, historic allies of the CCF/NDP. The ONDP was crushed by Mike Harris’ PCs in the 1995 election, and Rae retired from politics. Howard Hampton, a left-wing rival of Rae who was critical of some Rae policies, replaced him as NDP leader and dissociated the NDP from the Rae years. Rae returned to politics for the federal Liberal Party, running for the party leadership at the 2006 convention, ending third on the third ballot. He was elected to the House from Toronto Centre in a 2008 by-election and reelected in 2008 and 2011. As a leading Liberal MP, Rae gained a reputation as a competent and intelligent member and was selected as interim Liberal leader in May 2011 following the election defeat. Originally, the interim leader was barred from running for the leadership in 2013, but as Rae turned out to be a strong leader who placed the Liberals as leading opponents of the government after Layton’s death and before Mulcair’s election, there was widespread speculation that the rules would be changed and Rae would run. In a surprise turn, he declined to run and resigned a few months after Trudeau’s victory to become a First Nations negotiator.

Toronto Centre is a diverse riding, with marked contrasts. It includes both poor immigrant neighbourhoods with high-rise apartment and social housing, gentrified professional middle-class neighbourhoods, Toronto’s gay village but also Rosedale, one of the wealthiest neigbourhoods in all of Canada.

Taken as a whole, the riding stands out on a number of census measures, reflecting its cosmopolitan, downtown nature. It has a high percentage of working-age adults, with relatively few children or seniors – in 2011, 91% of the population was aged 15 or over, one of the highest in Canada, while the median age (37.8) was fairly low, indicating a large presence of younger adults. Most residents were actually single and never married (45.3%) while only 29.2% were married and not separated, some of the highest and lowest numbers in the country. Households in the riding, on average, have few children (the average number of children per census family was 0.8) and a majority (62% in 2011) were actually one-person households. However, immigrant-heavy lower income neighborhoods and Rosedale both have a higher proportion of children; for example, in low income Regent Park only 78% of the population was older than 15.

Toronto Centre is a diverse, multicultural riding – 40.8% of residents in 2011 identified as visible minorities, which is high by Canadian standards but many GTA ridings have much higher numbers. The leading visible minority groups were South Asians (9% of the population), Chinese (8.3%), black (7.7%) and Filipino (4.6%). While the wealthy enclave of Rosedale remains very much a ‘white English’ neighbourhood, poorer areas have huge non-white populations – 81.4% in Regent Park or 73.4% in St. James Town, to name only two.

The largest ethnic origin declared in 2011 was English, but with only 19.8% of the population. Other major ancestries included Irish (15.2%), Scottish (14.8%), Canadian (13.3%), Chinese (9.3%), German (7.3%), French (7.3%) and East Indian (5.2%). Similarly, while English was the mother tongue for 59.9% of residents, 34.5% said their mother tongue was a non-official language – the leading such languages being Chinese/Mandarin/Cantonese, Bengali, Tagalog and Spanish.

Unsurprisingly for this kind of riding, 34% in 2011 had no religious affiliation – the middle-class professional areas showing the highest rates, while affluent Rosedale and some of the immigrant areas had lower levels.

Toronto Centre is one of the most educated ridings in Canada, with 50% holding a university degree at the bachelor’s level or above and only 8.9% without any certifications of any kind. As a nice indicator of the kind of riding we’re dealing with, Toronto Centre has some of the highest percentages across Canada’s 308 ridings of degrees in social and behavioural sciences and law (13.5% of the 15+ population), humanities (6.8%) and visual and performing arts, and communications technologies (6.1%) There is a significant percentage of business, management and public admin degrees (17.3%) but comparatively few in architecture or engineering (7.5%).

On a similar note, occupations in social science/education/government service (15.5%) or in art/culture/recreation and sports (8.5%) were overrepresented compared to both the provincial and federal averages. Business/finance jobs, the second largest occupational category following sales and services (which were underrepresented compared to Ontario or Canada), employed 19.2% of the labour force and 14.3% had management occupations. The major industries, according to the NAICS categories, are professional, scientific and technical services (15.9%); finance and insurance (11.6%); healthcare (8.9%) and educational services (8.5%). Retail trade, which employs 11.3% of Canadian workers, in contrast employed only 7.8% of residents in this riding.

Individuals by income decile in Toronto Centre, Ontario and Toronto CMA (2011 NHS)

Individuals by income decile in Toronto Centre, Ontario and Toronto CMA (2011 NHS)

The riding’s major contrasts are best seen when looking at income. Although it is a well educated, fairly young, highly mobile and cosmopolitan riding, there are significant pockets of deprivation contrasting with wealthy enclaves. The median household income of $49,773 in 2010 was significantly below the Canadian level ($61,072) and Toronto CMA level ($70,365). On the other hand, the average household income – $95,451 – was slightly above the Toronto CMA and significantly higher than the Canadian average household income ($79,102). The prevalence of low income, 26.4%, was over ten points higher than the Canadian average. In poor neighbourhoods, up to 50% of residents may fall under the low income cutoff rate while in Rosedale, that proportion drops to low single digits.

There are there major wealth gaps in Toronto Centre. According to the 2011 NHS, 20% of individuals were in the bottom decile while an almost identical number were in the top decile – that makes 40% of the population living at the extreme ends of the income scale. The graph to the left clearly shows the income disparities in the riding compared to the province and the Toronto CMA.

In economic, social and political terms, Bloor Street forms a sharp boundary between the ‘north’ and ‘south’ of the riding. North of Bloor, the neighbourhoods of Rosedale, Moore Park and Yorkville are all very affluent (Rosedale, it is worth repeating, is one of the wealthiest places in all of Canada) with leafy, secluded residential streets with single-detached homes and sprawling lawns. Yorkville, a more central neighborhood, is a high-end shopping district with some of the most expensive real estate (condos) in Toronto.

South of Bloor offers a wide mix of neighborhoods. Regent Park, St. James Town, Trefann Court and parts of Moss Park are low-income neighborhoods, with large immigrant (visible minority) populations and a significant share of the population living in poverty. These areas have historically been low-income, originally home to Irish or ‘ethnic white’ working-class immigrants, and today home to immigrants from Asia, Africa or the Caribbean. Regent Park has a large South Asian (Bengali) population while St. James Town, the most densely populated area in Canada, has a large Filipino population. Housing largely consists of older high-rise apartment towers or social housing projects.

Other parts of the riding, along Yonge Street near Ryerson University, UofT and further south towards the waterfront, are bustling commercial, business or retail downtown areas. Church and Wellesley, in the centre of the riding, is known as Toronto’s gay village.

Cabbagetown, formerly an Irish working-class neighborhood, has been at the forefront of gentrification since the 1970. Rowhouses have been refurbished and have attracted well-off and highly educated professionals – lawyers, doctors, journalists – but also artists, musicians, academics and social workers. Corktown has been gentrifying in the past decade or so.

The riding was historically something of a Conservative stronghold, as much of Toronto was prior to World War II and mass immigration. The riding of Rosedale, an elongated riding similar to the present-day seat, was created in 1933. The Tories represented predecessor seats for the bulk of the period since Confederation, and held Rosedale between 1935 and 1949, when the Liberals gained the seat and held it by narrow margins until Diefenbaker’s victories in 1957 and 1958. Liberal candidate Donald S. Macdonald went on to hold the seat between 1962 and 1978, serving in cabinet under Trudeau and famously chairing a Royal Commission which recommended a free trade agreement with the US. David Crombie, an urban reformist who served as mayor of Toronto between 1974 and 1978, gained the seat for the PCs in 1978 and held it until 1988. While the Tories held the seat by a hair in 1988, the Liberals, with Bill Graham, won the seat in 1993 with a 28% margin over the PCs. Graham, who later served as Minister of Foreign Affairs (2002-2004) and Minister of National Defence (2004-2006), was reelected with large majorities four times. The NDP became the Liberals’ main (distant) rival in the riding after 2004 (they also placed second in 1997), winning around 24% in 2004 and 2006 against over 50% for the Liberals.

Graham, who briefly served as Liberal interim leader after 2006, stepped down in 2008, allowing Bob Rae to win the seat in a by-election with a 46-point majority over the NDP (who won only 14%). In 2008, he was reelected with 53.5% against 18% for the Tories and 15% for the NDP. The Greens performed well in both the earlier by-election and the October 2008 general election, taking 13% and 12% respectively.

The 2011 election was the closest race since 1988, as the Liberals suffered heavy loses largely at the NDP’s expense. Rae was reelected, but with a much thinner (but nevertheless fairly comfortable) 10.8% majority, taking 41% to the NDP’s 30.2%. The Conservatives won 22.6%, their best result in years. However, the Conservatives are now rather weak in the riding. The Harper Tories, too closely tied to the Western right-populist tradition of the Reform/Alliance and perceived as socially conservative, are a poor fit for this riding, even in the affluent areas which should normally provide a solid base for the Tories. The quip about the Liberals’ 2011 voters being “too smart to vote Tory, too rich to vote NDP” holds some weight in Toronto Centre, and other similar ‘urban core’ ridings.

The Liberals’ much-reduced majority made for a very interesting map in the 2011 election. In their previous landslides in the 1990s and 2000s, the Liberals had won almost every single poll, north or south of Bloor, masking the differences between the northern and southern halves of the riding. Indeed, one of the main reasons behind the Liberals’ strength in this riding since the 1990s has been their ability, unmatched by the Tories or NDP, to ‘bridge’ the two halves of the riding and win substantial support both in affluent polls and in the high-rise, multiethnic neighbourhoods. The 2011 election did not break that pattern, but the Liberals suffered loses to the Tories in the affluent polls and to the NDP in the yuppie/artsy downtown polls and the low-income immigrant areas.

Results of the 2011 federal election in Toronto Centre (source: election-atlas.ca)

In 2011, the NDP won slightly more polls than the Liberals (125 regular polls vs. 108, 22 for the Tories). However, they did not win any poll north of Bloor – in fact, the NDP only placed second (ahead of the Tories) in one poll north of Bloor, a small poll covering high-rise apartments. In the most affluent parts of Rosedale and Moore Park, the NDP won less than 10% of the vote. On the other hand, the NDP were very strong south of Bloor. The Dippers won low-income immigrant areas such as Regent Park, St. James Town and Trefann Court; but also the areas around Ryerson University, the socioeconomically diverse Garden District and Moss Park, housing coops near the waterfront and the trendy cosmopolitan Church and Wellesley area. The Liberals had done well in all of these areas prior to 2011, in fact Regent Park had usually been one of the Liberals’ strongest neighbourhoods, with over 60% (if not 70%) support in years such as 2006 and 2008. There were large swings to the NDP in Regent Park, but also in most areas south of Bloor, including in more middle-class parts of neighbourhoods such as Moss Park, where the Greens had done very well in 2008.

North of Bloor, the Conservatives won the wealthiest parts of Rosedale, Moore Park but also the high-end downtown Yorkville area. In between the two, the Liberals’ best results came from Cabbagetown, a place where the line “too smart to vote Tory, too rich to vote NDP” might really apply; the NDP doesn’t do all that well there – in 2008, they placed behind the Greens in most polls – and the Conservatives are very weak. The Liberals did well in the Old Town, a bustling downtown area where most votes are probably cast in new condo developments. That area is also one of the few places south of Bloor where the Conservatives do decently well, often placing second behind the Liberals.

The 2011 maps show a clear contrast between north and south, and explain why the Liberals have the upper hand. The NDP, in 2011, was able to record major swings south of Bloor, but it failed to make any inroads in the riding’s affluent northern end. The Conservatives’ hopes of actually winning the seat are even lesser, given that the bulk of votes are cast south of Bloor, where the Conservatives place third in almost every single poll. The Liberals, in contrast, placed first or second in just about every poll in 2011, regardless of location, and effectively did just as well in affluent homeowner areas of Rosedale and Moore Park than in poor(er) renters areas south of Bloor.

Toronto Centre was the most closely watched race, even though it wasn’t the closest battle. It received so much attention from the media because of its location (by-elections in Toronto tend to draw far more media coverage, at least in English Canada, than by-elections in some far-off rural place nobody knows about) and because the Liberals and NDP both recruited high-profile candidates. Both Trudeau and Mulcair invested significant political capital in the riding: for Trudeau, holding the highly mediatized riding was a must, while for the NDP, winning a seat from the Liberals would be a huge boost. However, the NDP likely understood that winning the seat as it stands was an uphill battle given the NDP’s challenges mentioned above. Instead, the NDP was more realistically aiming for a strong result in preparation for 2015. The 2015 federal election will be fought on entirely new boundaries across Canada, in 338 ridings instead of 308. Toronto Centre, which saw significant population growth (with condos and whatnot) since 2003, was overpopulated with over 130,000 residents in 2011.

The final report of the boundary commission shrank the riding of Toronto Centre, removing everything north of Bloor (and also the area around UofT) and the waterfront area. Rosedale and the other areas north of Bloor were merged with the northern half of the neighbouring riding of Trinity-Spadina to create the seat of University-Rosedale. The University-Rosedale riding, the two-thirds of which come from NDP MP Olivia Chow’s riding of Trinity-Spadina, has a solid NDP notional majority of 12.3% (43.2% vs. 30.9% for the Liberals). The new Toronto Centre is still notionally Liberal, but with a small 3.1% majority. Therefore, it’s understandable why the Dippers wanted to hit the ground running with a strong campaign, even if ultimately unsuccessful, in the old riding before the 2015 election. A solid run would provide the NDP with solid footing for the next federal election.

% vote for the NDP by poll in Toronto Centre, 2011 federal election (source: election-atlas.ca)

The Liberals nominated Chrystia Freeland, a journalist who worked for the Financial Times and later The Globe and Mail. Freeland moved to Toronto in the summer of 2013, having previously lived in New York City. She published a book on income inequality, Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else, in October 2012. The NDP nominated Linda McQuaiq, a former journalist, columnist and writer. As a columnist (often for the Toronto Star) and a writer, McQuaiq has focused on issues such as universal social programs, ‘big oil’, progressive taxation and income inequality. Indeed, like her Liberal rival, McQuaiq published a book on income inequality, The Trouble with Billionaires, in 2010.

The Tories nominated corporate lawyer Geoff Pollock and the Greens nominated John Deverell, another journalist. Seven other candidates also ran, including John Turmel, who ran in his 79th election.

The battle between Freeland and McQuaig was rather bloody. McQuaiq accused her rival of not seeing inequality as a problem in her book (referring to it as part of the ‘creative destruction of capitalism’), although Freeland insists she does see it as a problem – but mostly because of the ‘hollowing out’ of the middle-class. Freeland’s rhetoric in the campaign mostly focused on the middle-class, an issue at the forefront of Trudeau’s pitch and a major problem in Toronto, where researchers have pointed to the ‘disappearing’ middle-class and the polarization of the city between rich and poor – a gap very much visible in Toronto Centre, which might have one of the highest Gini indexes in all of Canada. Freeland said that McQuaiq and the Dippers subscribe to the ‘outdated’ “simple take-from-the-rich, give-to-the-poor” solution. In her book, McQuaig advocated for steep marginal tax rate increases of 60% for those earning about $500,000 a year and 70% for those earning $2.5 million. NDP leader Thomas Mulcair having ruled out income tax increases, McQuaig was forced to fall in line with NDP policy. Freeland said she opposes the income tax hikes backed by her rival but also the corporate tax increases which form part of NDP policy, arguing that taxation is part of the middle-class ‘squeeze’ and that corporate tax increases would hurt Canada’s competitiveness in the global economy. She is critical, however, of new tax credits introduced by the Conservative government, which many feel offer tax breaks for the wealthy.

The two candidates and their campaigns threw mud at one another and tried to play on wedge issues. Freeland was attacked for spending too much time outside Canada and only moving back to the country this summer; the NDP also said she admired Margaret Thatcher and she drew flack for referring to Sarah Palin as a ‘feminist hero’ in a newspaper column once. The NDP tried to capitalize on potential unease about Trudeau with left-wing progressive voters by drawing attention to Trudeau’s support for the Keystone XL pipeline and criticizing Freeland for campaigning with Liberal MP John McKay, one of the few Grit MPs to vote against same-sex marriage. The Liberals, on the other hand, drew attention to a column by McQuaig praising Hugo Chávez (and a photo of her shaking hands with Chávez) or to her former opulent home in suburban Oakville.

Forum Research confirmed the Liberals were the favourites, although the NDP made inroads as the campaign progressed. In June, before candidates were known, Forum found the NDP in third with 20%, against 49% for the Grits and 25% for the Tories. However, in October, Forum showed the Liberals leading the NDP by 15 (45-30), a lead which narrowed to 8 in the last poll on November 24, which had the Liberals up 47-39 to the NDP. While the Liberals and NDP increased their standings, the Tories and the Greens saw their support decline over the course of the campaign.

Turnout was 38.2%, down 24.7% from 62.9% in 2011.

Chrystia Freeland (Liberal) 49.38% (+8.37%)
Linda McQuaig (NDP) 36.30% (+6.09%)
Geoff Pollock (Conservative) 8.63% (-14.01%)
John Deverell (Green) 2.97% (-2.05%)
Dorian Baxter (PC) 1.3%
Judi Falardeau (Libertarian) 0.68% (+0.18%)
Kevin Clarke (Ind) 0.24%
John Turmel (Ind) 0.16%
Leslie Bory (Ind) 0.15%
Michael Nicula (Online) 0.12%
Bahman Yazdanfar (Ind) 0.07% (-0.12%)

The Liberals held Toronto Centre with an expanded majority of 12.8% (up from 10.8% in 2011). Both the Liberals and the NDP made gains, however – as far as percentages of the vote are concerned. The Liberals won 49.4%, up about 8.4% from 2011, while the NDP expanded their share of the vote by about 6 points, winning 36% – which is certainly their best result since I don’t know when. In contrast, the Tories were very much squeezed by the extremely polarized contest and depressed turnout, and their vote share dropped to only 8.6%, an horrible result. While the Tories have been on a downwards trend compared to the 1980s, the Tories have always been able to maintain a decent vote (their lowest being 12% in another by-election, in 2008), even during the days of the divided right when the PCs nevertheless polled between 21% (1993, with an incumbent) and 17% (2000). It is of course worth remembering that this is not unusual for by-elections: they tend to turn into two-way races far more than general elections (when a favourable national trend for the party may lift the local candidate up, even if the local candidate’s campaign is weak) and the Tories have a record of ignoring by-elections which they know are unwinnable (to focus their resources on defending seats or attacking winnable seats).

Winning was always an uphill battle for the NDP given the current make-up of the seat. However, they ran a strong campaign and won a good result, which kind of makes up for the terrible results in Manitoba and the flat result in Quebec. The NDP, perhaps with McQuaig as their candidate, will stand a good chance of winning the redistributed riding of Toronto Centre in 2015. PunditsGuide.ca tweeted that her rough calculations on election night still gave the Grits an edge in the redistributed riding, with 48% to the NDP’s 43% – up from 39.6% and 36.5% on the 2011 notional results. According to these same rough numbers, the Liberals also made substantial gains in the portion of the new University-Rosedale in the current riding, from 45% in 2011 to 59% in the by-election (the Tory vote collapsed from 35.8% to about 19%, tied with the NDP).

It is important to temper the talk of “Liberal gains” or “NDP gains” or stuff about the NDP or Liberal building on/solidifying their 2011 vote. In reality, neither the Liberals or NDP made substantial gains when it came to raw votes: the Liberal vote fell by 5,638 ballots and the NDP shed 4,178 votes. Of course, the Conservatives were much heavier – they lost 9,600 votes compared to the 2011 election (the Greens also lost substantially, polling a full 1,762 votes less than in 2011). While there were likely voters who turned out in both 2011 and 2013 who switched their votes from one party to another (for example, there were likely some 2011 Conservative voters in Rosedale who voted Liberal; the Liberals apparently swept Rosedale, like in pre-2011 elections), the more likely explanation of the results overall is that the Liberals and NDP did the best job at retaining their votes from 2011 while the Tories and Greens did a terrible job at it.

Conclusion

By-elections remain by-elections: trying to draw nationwide conclusions from them will always remain a complicated, futile and often silly exercise. By-elections have different dynamics than general elections: the local ‘can’t win here’ parties are squeezed in more polarized races and poll less than they would in a general election, turnout is in almost all cases down rather significantly from the last general election (and in almost all cases the turnout in the next general election is higher than in the by-election) and some races may be more affected by local factors and candidate notoriety/strength than in general elections. That being said, it’s obviously not impossible or completely useless to draw some conclusions from the results. And, at the very least, by-elections offer an often reasonably accurate snapshot of what certain people in certain parts are thinking.

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The table above shows the results expressed in raw votes rather than percentages, which is arguably just as important to look at than raw percentages in a by-election scenario.

The Liberals are the clear winners of these four by-elections: they made gains, in percentage terms, in all four riding; they held their two seats; they made major gains in two hitherto Conservative citadels where the Liberal brand had been dead in the last two elections (at least) and they increased their raw vote across all four ridings by 1,637 votes despite turnout being much lower than in 2011 (-65,499 votes). Of course, the Liberals fell short of winning what had been looking to be a likely gain (Brandon-Souris) and underperformed the polls in Provencher. In Bourassa and Toronto Centre, while the Liberals expanded their majority and their share of the vote, they lost votes from 2011 and their share of the vote was – while higher than in the annus horribilis 2011 – still on the lower end of historical Liberal results in those seats since 1993 (the same wasn’t true, of course, for the two MB seats where the Liberal result was the best in years if not decades). Still, those are fairly minor issues. The Liberals had the best retention of any party in Bourassa and Toronto Centre and they directly gained at the Tories and Dippers’ expense in Manitoba. These elections confirm that, for the time being, Trudeau’s Liberals are being seen as the strongest alternative to Harper’s Conservatives for 2015. That may change, especially in a fickle country like Canada. Trudeau is still showing clear signs of weakness when it comes to being coherent with policy and a knack for saying or doing boneheaded things. On election night in Toronto, he somewhat disgracefully attempted to claim Jack Layton’s mantle by presenting the Liberals as those showing that ‘hope is stronger than fear, that positive politics can and should win out over negative’ and saying that the NDP is now a negative, divisive party and no longer Layton’s hopeful and optimistic party. In the heat of a gruelling federal election campaign – one which is shaping up to be close to a three-way toss-up – Trudeau’s really going to need to step up his game against two strong opponents.

The NDP, on balance, were net losers of the by-elections. Their major bright spot was Toronto Centre, where their strong and high-profile candidate won a solid 36% of the vote and held about three-quarters of the NDP’s 2011 votes. That places them on solid footing for 2015 in the new riding, and might be interpreted as a sign that the progressive base in downtown Toronto isn’t all that enamoured by Trudeau. Their result in Bourassa wasn’t too shabby either, although they only retained 47% of their 2011 ballots. Still, it does show that the NDP is still in the game in Quebec, where its ability to defend its 2011 Orange Crush results might be make-or-break for the party come 2015. In Manitoba, however, the NDP was crushed – squeezed by Lib-Con battles, worn down by the unpopularity of the provincial Dipper government and hurt by low turnout.

The main losers were the Conservatives, who had a bad night. The only bright spot proved to be the surprise hold in Brandon-Souris, a relief for many Tories and salvation from a near-death experience in a Tory stronghold. They also overperformed their polling numbers in Provencher. On the whole, however, there are few silver linings for the Tories in these numbers. They ignored Bourassa and Toronto Centre, so understandably they were crushed, but even the size of their shellacking they got in those seats was surprising. Unlike in past by-elections, the Conservatives were not able to go on the offensive in any of these by-elections, a strategy which had worked for them in by-elections under the 39th and 40th Parliaments (seat gains in Quebec, Ontario). In the two Manitoba ridings, despite Tory holds, the Conservatives lost over 10,000 votes in each and their share of the vote fell drastically from 2011. The Liberals proved to be a threat to the Tory hold on hitherto solid Tory citadels in the Prairies, and if that’s repeated across Western Canada in 2015 that is very bad news for the Tories (who are already facing some trouble in Ontario, the other part of the winning formula from 2011).

As mentioned in the introduction, the Tories are perhaps at their lowest ebb since 2006. Harper’s teflon is wearing off and there is rising unease within Tory ranks about PMO centralism in his governance. Although Harper insisted over the summer that he will be a candidate in 2015, but an informed comment piece by John Ivision in the National Post on December 4 indicated that there is speculation that Harper may actually resign after returning from an Israel-Mid East trip pushed up to early 2014. In the past few days, there have been cracks in the Conservative cabinet. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Employment Minister and potential leadership contender Jason Kenney confronted one another over Toronto’s embattled right-wing mayor Rob Ford, with Flaherty offering an angry response (“shut the fuck up”) to Kenney’s call on Ford to resign – and it apparently almost got physical. Ivision commented on simmering divisions between cabinet ministers.

The Bloc Québécois was unlucky that the first post-2011 by-election in which it had a chance to prove itself was held in a Liberal stronghold where the Bloc has been increasingly weak. With a poor candidate adding to the Bloc’s troubles across the province, they had a poor showing. Bloc leader Daniel Paillé stood down as leader of the party on December 16 for health reasons (he has epilepsy); but it’s also perhaps partly because he knew that the Bloc is increasingly going nowhere. The party has a tiny caucus, an anonymous leadership, low coverage in the media and little interest from the public. They will have a tough time recruiting a leader who feels that they can take the Bloc somewhere in 2015, and be able to successfully challenge the NDP and the Liberals for the attention and support of Quebec Francophone voters.

The Greens had a poor run as well, losing votes in every riding and increasing their vote share in only a single seat (and not by much). Elizabeth May’s ill-advised decision to promote Laraque in Bourassa in a futile attempt to give the Greens a beachhead in a province where the party is dead fell flat on its face and may have hurt the financially cash-strapped party a lot. In other ridings, the Greens had little-known candidates and the national party did not target any of those seats. In Toronto Centre, the Greens, who have potential in the riding, found themselves squeezed even more by the high-profile Liberal-NDP contest. There, the Greens’ vote suffered the most – falling 2.1% and retaining only 37% of their 2011 ballots (compared to 60-70% in the 3 other seats). Elizabeth May’s micro-targeting/beachhead strategy yielded positive results in 2011 (the first Green MP, May herself) and 2012 (strong results in Victoria and Calgary by-elections), but on the other hand that strategy will not increase the Green vote in ridings not targeted – in 2011, the Greens’ support nationally fell and the Greens have done poorly in by-elections where they weren’t campaigning hard.

The table confirms my observations on the by-election dynamics which create two-way battles and squeeze third parties out. The Tories retained the most votes – 55% and 47% respectively – in the two seats where they were competitive while in the two other ridings they held only 25% and 24% of their 2011 ballots. The NDP similarly held 47% and 75% of its votes in those seats where they were strong seconds in 2011 but held only 23% and 26% in the two Manitoba seats where they were not competitive and squeezed by the Grits.

These by-elections ultimately yielded a status-quo result. But they also confirmed that the 2015 federal election is looking to be one of the most exciting in recent history, especially if it does turn out to be a three-way race for first and second.

Ontario (Canada) by-elections 2013

Five provincial by-elections were held in Ontario (Canada) on August 1, 2013 in the ridings of Etobicoke-Lakeshore, London West, Ottawa South, Scarborough-Guildwood and Windsor-Tecumseh. These seats fell vacant between early February and late June 2013, after their incumbent MPPs – all five Liberals, including a former Premier and three other former provincial cabinet ministers – resigned their seats.

The timing of the by-elections raised a few eyebrows. Elections rarely fall during the heat of the summer months, so many thought that Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne deliberately scheduled by-elections in early August to ensure low turnout and so that voters don’t have too much time to read into the results of the by-election while they’re on vacation or prepping for vacation. Besides, August 1 fell on a Thursday right before a long weekend (the first Monday in August is Ontario’s provincial holiday).

Poll-by-poll maps of the 2011 provincial election results are available on the Blunt Objects blog or the Canadian Election Atlas blog. Interactive maps of the results of federal elections since 1997 to the polling station level are available on the awesome Canadian Federal Election Atlas. My riding profiles integrate the results of the voluntary 2011 National Household Survey, which replaced the mandatory long-form census. Results of the NHS are available on Stats Can’s website.

Context

In October 2011, Premier Dalton McGuinty’s provincial Liberals won a third straight term in office; but unlike in 2003 and 2007, they fell short – by a single seat – of winning a majority government. Therefore, for the first time since gaining power in 2003, the Liberals have been forced to work with other parties to pass legislation.

Ontario’s economy has been struggling in the past few years, a far cry from the days where Canada’s most populous province was seen as the country’s economic/industrial powerhouse. Indeed, Ontario’s manufacturing-driven and export-oriented economy has been badly hurt by subdued domestic activity and declining demand from the US. Economic growth slowed to 1.5% in 2012 and is forecast to remain low in 2013, although growth could increase by 2014 if US growth accelerates. The provincial government has been forced to deal with, since 2008-2009, a very large deficit and ballooning public debt. The 2013-2014 deficit projection is $11.8 billion, up from a $9.8 billion deficit in 2012-2013; the province’s debt stands at 37.5% of GDP and should increase to 40% by 2015-2016. The size of Ontario’s debt and deficit has led some fiscally conservative economists to liken Ontario to California and Greece.

The Liberal government introduced a severe austerity-minded budget in 2012, including major cuts in government spending and services and a two-year pay freeze for public sector employees (including teachers and doctors). The opposition Progressive Conservatives (PCs), led by Tim Hudak, rejected the budget out of hand, claiming it did not do enough to curb “runaway spending” and debt. The Liberals were forced to reach a compromise with the centre-left New Democrats (NDP), led by Andrea Horwath. In April, the NDP agreed to prop up the government in return for the inclusion of a tax on high incomes, although in June the province seemed to be on the verge of an election when the NDP and the PCs started voting against key planks of the budget. McGuinty threatened to call an election until the NDP blinked and abstained on the final vote, allowing the Liberal government to survive its first supply vote.

The Liberal government’s decision to impose a two-year pay freeze on public employees was met by strong opposition from teachers and their unions. In September 2012, the Liberals – with PC support – passed the very controversial Bill 115 (‘Putting Students First Act’) which severely limited teachers’ right to strike and imposed the two-year pay freeze (along with less benefits). There were rolling one-day strikes by elementary school teachers throughout the province in early and mid-December. The government and the unions finally reached agreement shortly after the bill’s December 31 deadline, and Bill 115 was repealed in January 2013. However, elementary and high school teachers promised province-wide one-day walkouts until the Ontario Labour Relations Board ruled the walkouts illegal.

To make things worse, McGuinty’s Liberals were constantly dogged by various high-profile scandals which have seriously undermined the government’s legitimacy and popularity. The Liberal government has faced various scandals since taking office in 2003, but after 2011, it was as if all the most crippling scandals came raining down. In December 2011, the government was drawn into the Ornge (the province’s air-ambulance service) scandal, after allegations of financial irregularities, cost overruns, huge salaries for managers and kickbacks. It was later shown that the McGuinty government had wasted thousands of taxpayer dollars in Ornge and had turned a blind eye to earlier reports of corruption.

However, the most damaging scandal has been the power plants scandal. In 2009, the Liberal government, which had closed down two polluting coal-powered power plants in southern Ontario approved the construction of two new natural gas-fired power plants in Oakville and Mississauga, two suburban communities in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) – and also key electoral battlegrounds. However, the plants faced the opposition of local residents, which forced the Liberals to cancel the Oakville plant in October 2010. In September 2011, a month before the elections and facing a strong challenge – notably in Mississauga – from the Tories and the NDP, the Liberals cancelled the Mississauga power plant. The Oakville cancellation cost $40 million and the Mississauga cancellation cost $190 million. Today, the total cost for the cancellation of two plants – which includes the need to build two new plants to replace them – could be $600 million.

The Liberals were reelected in October 2011, and held seats in Mississauga and Oakville. In the summer of 2012, the emboldened PCs and New Democrats called on Liberal energy minister Chris Bentley to hand over all documents related to the gas plant cancellations, which he refused to do, until September 2012. In early October, Bentley was facing an opposition motion which would hold him in “contempt of Parliament” – a very serious and rare offence which might have meant jail time for him.

The power plant scandal was one of the major factors which led Premier McGuinty to announce his surprise resignation on October 15. However, at the same time, the outgoing Premier prorogued Parliament – effectively killing off the opposition’s contempt motion.

The Liberal leadership election on January 26, 2013 opposed six candidates – the top three being former MPP and cabinet minister Sandra Pupatello, incumbent cabinet minister Kathleen Wynne and former provincial cabinet minister and former federal Liberal MP Gerard Kennedy. Kathleen Wynne, considered as being on the left of the party, won on the third ballot at the convention, with 57% against 43% for Pupatello.

The Liberals, who had dropped to third place and oscillating in the low-to-mid 20s, saw their support increase considerably after Wynne’s election, shooting into second or first place and over 30% – in some cases over 35%. There were rumours – unfounded – that Wynne would seek a mandate of her own and take advantage of her honeymoon.

In May 2013, the NDP once again backed the Liberals’ 2013 budget, which included a few NDP-influenced goodies (15% cut in auto insurance, new funding for youth jobs etc) while continuing with the government’s stated intent to achieve a surplus in 2017-2018. Two of the NDP’s three post-budget demands were satisfied by the Liberals. The gas plant scandal has continued to hurt the Liberals, with recent revelations of Liberal cover-ups or attempts to intimidate the speaker. Wynne has been unable to shake off the perception that she is only a new face on the McGuinty Liberal government, rather than a clear break with McGuinty’s tainted legacy.

Etobicoke-Lakeshore

Etobicoke-Lakeshore (source: Elections Canada)

Etobicoke-Lakeshore covers the southern portion of the former city of Etobicoke in western Toronto. The riding, which borders Lake Ontario to the south and the Humber River to the east, includes neighborhoods such as Mimico, New Toronto, Long Branch, Alderwood, The Queensway or Eatonville.

The seat fell vacant in July when the Liberal incumbent, former education minister Laurel Broten resigned, apparently to move to Nova Scotia. Broten, who first won her seat in 2003, served as McGuinty’s Minister of Education between 2011 and 2013, and became closely associated with the government’s push against teacher’s unions over pay, benefits and Bill 115. She was shuffled to Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs after Wynne became Premier, but she resigned effective July 2.

Taken as a whole, Etobicoke-Lakeshore is a fairly middle-class and white-collar riding. It has a high percentage of residents with a university diploma or degree (33.5%), a high percentage of residents employed in managerial occupations or business/finance/administration (34%) and a fairly high median household income ($58,088 in 2005). Only 7.9% of the riding’s labour force is employed in manufacturing. Demographically, 23.8% of the riding’s inhabitants are visible minorities, a rather high proportion by provincial or national standards, but the lowest of all Toronto ridings. South Asians (4.6% of the population) form the largest single visible minority group. That being said, a significantly larger percentage of the riding’s residents are immigrants – 39.5% (27.7% of which immigrated after 2001).

Etobicoke-Lakeshore is home to one of the largest Eastern European populations in all of Canada: 21.7% of the riding’s residents are of Eastern European ancestry, most of them Polish (10% of the population) or Ukrainian (7.6%). As a result, it has a large Catholic (40.8%) and Eastern Orthodox (5.9%) population and a small but significant share of the population claim languages such as Polish or Ukrainian as their mother tongues.

In 2005, 60.1% of dwellings were owned.

At a more micro level, the riding present a diverse mix of neighborhoods. Traditionally, the communities lining the lake have been more industrial and working-class: Mimico, New Toronto or Long Branch (but especially the first two) – and to this day, these neighborhoods remain slightly less affluent and more lower middle-class/working-class in character. That being said, the coastal stretch of the riding has been changed by the construction of a large number of high-rise condo towers on the Humber Bay Shores, which has attracted some wealthier residents.

In contrast, the neighborhoods north of the Gardiner Expressway between Mimico Creek and the Humber River (The Kingsway, Lambton Hills etc) are upper middle-class, high-income and well educated. The Kingsway is one of Toronto’s most affluent neighborhoods.

Other neighborhoods such as Alderwood, Sunnylea, Norseman Heights and Eatonville are post-war middle-class suburban communities, with single family homes but also their share of apartments or condos along main arteries. Alderwood and Sunnylea have a particularly high Polish and/or Ukrainian population. These areas were identified as some of the last remaining ‘middle-income’ neighborhoods in a 2010 study about income polarization since 1970 in Toronto.

Islington-City Centre West, a densely populated neighborhood at the intersections of Bloor and Dundas streets (two of the city’s main avenues), includes a number of lower-income high-rise apartment buildings and has a fairly large visible minority population.

Finally, the riding includes large swathes of industrial land, including a large rail yard in New Toronto and a major industrial/business district north of the Gardiner Expressway.

Politically, all three parties have a history in the riding. What would become Etobicoke-Lakeshore flipped between the Liberals and the Conservatives until the 1940s, at which point the socialist CCF – and their successor, the NDP – became a major force, fighting with the Tories over the riding. The CCF/NDP’s strength was concentrated in the industrial and working-class areas of Mimico and New Toronto, while the northern half of the present-day riding was more reliably Conservative. Provincially, the NDP’s Patrick Lawlor held the seat between 1967 and 1981, the Tories gaining the seat when he retired. In 1985, the NDP’s Ruth Grier regained the seat from the PCs and held it until 1995, when Morley Kells, a Conservative, took the seat. Kells was defeated in 2003 by Liberal candidate Laurel Broten, who increased her majorities not only in 2007 but also in 2011 (when she won by 21.8%). In 2011, she won a third term with 51% against 29% for the PCs; the NDP took only 15.5%, the new suburban nature of the riding has made it progressively more hostile to the NDP.

Federally, the seat has a longer Liberal history. Most famously, it was former federal Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff’s seat between 2006 and his surprise defeat at the hands of Conservative candidate Bernard Trottier in 2011. The Liberals, who had held the seat since 1993 with about 45-50% of the vote in every elections, fell to only 35.1% in 2011, against 40.4% for the Tories. The NDP increased its support to 20.3%.

In October 2011, Liberal incumbent Laurel Broten swept most of the riding, winning polls throughout the riding, in both the urban and lower-income south and the more suburban, middle-class north. The Conservatives won a few scattered polls throughout the riding, their strongest results coming from The Kingsway, a traditional Tory bastion. A few months prior in the federal elections, the Conservatives had won most of the polls, doing best in The Kingsway but also in Humber Bay Shores and swingy middle-class suburbs such as Eatonville, Alderwood, Sunnylea, The Queensway or Long Branch which had previously been more or less solidly Liberal. Ignatieff managed to keep a few lower-income polls red, notably in Islington, New Toronto and parts of Mimico. The NDP polled quite well in the southern half of the riding and other apartment-laden areas, but did poorly in the affluent neighborhoods.

The PCs recruited a very strong candidate, Toronto Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday. Holyday was the city of Etobicoke’s last mayor between 1994 and 1998, when it was amalgamated with other municipalities to form the single-tier city of Toronto. He has been a Toronto city councillor since 1998, although his current ward covers part of the riding of Etobicoke Centre, not Etobicoke-Lakeshore. In council, he had a reputation as a staunch fiscal conservative, but he seems to be respected across ideological lines for his honesty. Holyday is a close ally of Toronto’s bombastic (and embattled) conservative mayor, Rob Ford. Etobicoke as a whole, Ford’s stomping grounds, is a core part of the so-called ‘Ford Nation’. In the 2010 election, Rob Ford won over 55% in both wards covering Etobicoke-Lakeshore, and took well over 60% in middle-class suburbs such as Alderwood, Eatonville, Stonegate or The Queensway. Interestingly, Ford didn’t do as well (comparatively) in the most affluent and well-educated polls, even the solidly Conservative Kingsway (although he still won it comfortably).

There was some limited controversy about how Hudak more or less dumped the original PC candidate, a lesser known guy named Steve Ryan, in favour of his star candidate, Holyday. Officially, Ryan dropped out because of injuries sustained in a car accident.

The Liberals nominated Peter Milczyn, another Toronto city councillor whose ward covers the northern half of the riding. Like Holyday, Milczyn is a right-leaning councillor and is generally pro-Ford.

Although one might have expected that a race between two right-leaning candidates might have opened up some wiggle room on the left for the NDP, that wasn’t the case. The NDP nominated Pak-Cheong ‘P.C.’ Choo, a Malaysian-born Canadian and formed public school board trustee. The race quickly turned into a highly polarized and acrimonious contest between the PC’s Holyday and the Liberals’ Milczyn. Mayor Rob Ford publicly endorsed Holyday, and even ‘recommended’ that anti-Conservative/anti-Ford voters vote for the NDP rather than the Liberals.

The first polls, in the last week of June and then in the second week of July, showed the Liberals with a strong leader – a 25% point lead in June, reduced to a 6% lead in early July. Holyday’s candidacy was great news for the PCs, who shot into the lead in mid-July, leading the Liberals by as much as 7% according to a Forum Research poll on July 24. Two polls on July 30, however, showed a very close race: Forum had the PCs up by 4%, one ‘Campaign Research’ had them trailing by one.

Turnout was 38.6%, down from 50% in 2011:

Doug Holyday (PC) 46.94% (+17.4%)
Peter Milczyn (Liberal) 41.96% (-9.06%)
P.C. Choo (NDP) 7.82% (-7.63%)
Angela Salewsky (Green) 2.26% (-0.42%)
Hans Kunov (Libertarian) 0.45% (+0.06%)
Dan King (Special Needs) 0.45%
Kevin Clarke (People’s) 0.25%
Wayne Simmons (Freedom) 0.16% (-0.24%)

Tim Hudak’s Tories scored an impressive gain in Etobicoke-Lakeshore, turning a 22-point deficit in the last election into a comfortable 5-point victory over the Liberals. In 2011, Hudak’s PCs, widely seen as being too right-wing, did poorly throughout the city of Toronto – oftentimes doing worse than they had in 2007, under a less successful (but more moderate) leader. Therefore, Holyday’s victory, is a major coup for Hudak’s PCs – as we’ll see, probably their brightest spot on an otherwise mediocre night. This is the first time a provincial Tory has won a seat in Toronto proper since Mike Harris’ victory in the 1999 provincial election, and while Hudak could win the next election while still being shut out (or nearly shut out) of Toronto proper (he’d need to win big in Toronto’s suburbs, however), the ability to win a seat in Toronto is very good news for the PCs – and bad news for the Liberals, whose 2011 reelection was, in part, due to holding up very well in Toronto proper.

Of course, the PC gain does owe a lot to Doug Holyday. The Tories recruited a very strong star candidate in Holyday, a popular city councillor. With a lesser known, less prominent candidates, it is quite possible that the Liberals could have held the seat, although the PCs would likely have made some gains on their paltry 2011 showing.

Squeezed by two strong and polarizing candidates for the Liberals and the Tories, the NDP’s P.C. Choo did poorly, winning only 7.8% of the vote – a low point for the NDP, which last won in the single digits in the 2000 federal election and had managed to garner between 15% and 20% in most provincial elections since 1999. That being said, many Canadian by-elections – both federally and provincially – in recent years turned into polarized two-party contests with the third party, which might have managed a rather decent showing in the last general election, being totally squeezed by the two main parties and ending up with a poor vote share. In this sense, while the NDP’s result in Etobicoke-Lakeshore is disappointing for the party, it probably doesn’t have any longer-term consequences: the NDP didn’t put much effort into this race, and a higher-turnout general election will probably be less polarized between the top two parties.

London West

London West (source: Elections Canada)

London West, as you might have guessed again, covers the western end of the city of London in southwestern Ontario. The riding is divided in two by the Thames River; it includes neighborhoods such as Oakridge, Hyde Park, Byron, River Bend, Westmount, Southcrest, South London and Medway Heights.

The seat became vacant on February 14, 2013 when Liberal MPP Chris Bentley, (in)famous since the power plants scandal, resigned. Bentley was a McGuinty loyalist and sometimes seen as a potential successor. He held several high-profile portfolios during his ten years in government: labour (2003-2005), colleges and universities (2005-2007), Attorney General (2007-2011) and – of course – energy (2011-2013).

London West is the most suburban, affluent and white-collar riding of the city of London’s three core ridings. Its median household income, $56,859 in 2005, land it right smack in the middle of all Ontario ridings when ranked by that measure. 13.5% of residents in 2005 were low on income (before tax), again the lowest of London’s three ridings. It is not, however, the most educated riding of the three: London North Centre, which includes the University of Western Ontario, takes that honour; however, it is still quite educated: 28.1% have a university diploma or degree, and only 13.8% lack a high school diploma, the lowest out of the three ridings. Sales and services (24.6%) and business/finance/administration (15.7%) are the top two occupations; not all that surprising for a largely suburban and residential riding. However, it does stand out by the large percentage of the labour force employed in health (8.6%) and “occupations in education, law and social, community and government services” (15.1%) – both significantly above the provincial average. In terms of ‘industry’ (NAICS classifications), healthcare and social services (14.7%), retail trade (11.6%) and ‘educational services’ (10.9%) are the top three industries; again, on healthcare and education, London West’s percentages are significantly above the provincial average. These numbers likely reflect the presence of London’s general hospital in the riding and the proximity of Western U (I’m guessing university staff including profs, rather than students, are more likely to live in London West).

For a urban/suburban riding, London West has a small non-white population; only 15.1% are visible minorities, the leading such groups being Latin Americans (2.9% of the total population) and Arabs (2.4%). Therefore, the leading ancestries are European: English (32.1%), Scottish (22.3%), Irish (21.5%) but also ‘Canadian’ (25%).

In 2005, 62.2% of dwellings were owned and 37.8% were rented.

London West is a mixed urban and suburban riding, which includes both very recent suburban housing developments and urban neighborhoods which were first developed in the late nineteenth century as early suburbs of London. Located south of the Thames River opposite the city’s downtown, South London is very much a urban area, with old houses – ranging from smaller bungalows to some post-war constructions and larger (old) properties. On the north of the river, and just across downtown, the Blackfriars area is similarly urban, with a large student population.

Other neighborhoods, however, tend to be more suburban, although they tend to vary in terms of affluence. At the western end of the riding, River Bend, the Hunt Club part of Oakridge and other small neighborhoods on either side of the Thames are some of the most affluent areas in the city, with very large houses (of the ‘McMansion’ type). The Southcrest and Manor Park area, located south of the Thames, have more ‘urban’ demographics: less families, more renters and slightly lower incomes. Neighborhoods such as Westmount, Byron (both south of the river), Oakridge Acres, Medway Heights or White Hill (all north of the river) are typically suburban areas; more families, most houses being owned and single houses (although there quite a few small apartment blocks, row houses or community housing projects too) and more affordable property prices. A lot of areas have older properties, likely post-70s, but there has been rapid housing development in new cookie-cutter subdivisions in parts.

Politically, the western end of London has tended to be a closely disputed Liberal/Conservative marginal, and something of a bellwether (with an imperfect track record). The provincial Liberals have held the seat since 2003, but the federal Tories came within a hair of picking it up in 2006 and they have held it since 2008. At the provincial level, the seat was only created in 1999 when provincial ridings were lined up with federal ridings; prior to that, provincial ridings were divided north to south, cut by the Thames River. The PCs were generally strong in both ridings, Tory Premier John Robarts represented the area between 1951 and 1971. The Liberals gained London North, the more suburban of the two, in 1977 and held it until a 1988 by-election (the PCs then held that seat until its demise). They held London South between 1975 and 1977 and again between 1985 and 1990, when the NDP gained London South for a single term. The very right-wing Bob Wood, a ‘maverick’ social conservative within the Harris PC caucus, gained the seat in 1995 and was reelected in London West in 1999, although only by a tiny margin. Chris Bentley, a lawyer and former prof, gained the seat for the McGuinty Liberals in 2003, defeating Wood by nearly 21 points. He was reelected with a 28% majority in 2007 and defeated the PCs by a 16% margin in 2011. The NDP did quite well in October 2011, winning 21.7%.

Federally, the seat has voted with the national winner in every election except 1979 (when it reelected its Liberal MP) and 2006 (same story). London West was, however, always the top Tory target of the three urban ridings in London. In 2006, when Harper first won power, they lost it by only 2.2% to the incumbent Liberal MP, Sue Barnes. The Conservatives, with Ed Holder, gained it with a 3.7% majority over the Liberals. In the 2011 election, Holder had no problems holding his seat; he won by nearly 18 points, taking 44.5% to the Liberals’ 26.8% and the NDP’s 25.9% (a record high for the Dippers).

The October 2011 results map is largely a sea of red, with a good number of orange polls and a rather small number of blue polls. Indeed, Bentley, who won by 16 points, won polls throughout the riding, breaking the urban-suburban split which candidates (especially Liberals) need to breach in order to win. He did well in the urban South London and Blackfriars neighborhoods, but also just as well in suburban Westmount, Byron, Oakridge and – to a lesser extent – Southcrest and Medway. The PCs did best in River Bend and the Hunt Club part of Oakridge; basically, the PCs performed best in the McMansion neighborhoods and the very affluent ‘executive’ neighborhoods near golf courses – for example, the Tories took 55% in Riverbend Golf Community, a 50+ gated community/country club. The NDP won more polls than the PCs, and won a number of polls scattered throughout the riding. They won consistently solid numbers in the less affluent (bungalow-type housing) parts of urban South London, and in Manor Park. Outside those areas, the NDP’s best numbers came from apartment complexes, small row houses or community housing projects.

The 2011 federal election is a totally different picture: the Conservatives winning most of the polls, with the NDP winning almost all its polls in the ‘urban’ part of the riding – and also winning more polls than the Liberals, despite the Grits doing a tad better overall. The race for second shows a pretty stark urban-suburban divide: the NDP placed first or second in the eastern end of the riding (South London, Southcrest, parts of Westmount, Manor Park etc), the Liberals placed second in suburban neighborhoods such as Oakridge, most of Westmount and Byron. The Conservatives, unsurprisingly, did best in the very affluent neighborhoods, generally well in other suburban areas and poorly in South London. However, while the NDP showed to be strongest in urban parts of the riding, its performance in more suburban areas wasn’t all that bad (outside very affluent and solidly Tory polls): again, they tended to do best in suburban areas with apartment complexes, row houses or community housing projects but they also put up some solid numbers – second place even – in more traditionally suburban areas, even ‘cookie-cutter’ new subdivisions.

The provincial Liberal candidate in this race is the story of a star candidate turned awry. The Liberals were excited about having recruited Ken Coran, the former president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation – hey, look at us, the teachers’ unions don’t hate our guts any longer; it would also have made a good symbol for Wynne, breaking free from McGuinty’s anti-union drive in his final year in office. The problem was that the same Ken Coran, just last year, was angrily denouncing the Liberals for Bill 115 and endorsed the Ontario NDP in the Kitchener-Waterloo by-election. Coran’s “star candidacy” quickly turned into a disaster for the Liberals. The Tories nominated their 2011 candidate, Ali Chahbar, a lawyer. The NDP had a fairly prominent candidate as well: Peggy Sattler, a Thames Valley District School Board trustee. The Freedom Party, a small Randian libertarian party, nominated Al Gretzky, the uncle of Canadian hockey legend Wayne Gretzy and the federal Tories’ 2006 candidate.

The polls show how Coran’s candidacy turned into a disaster for the Liberals: from 30% in February, they collapsed to 15-19% on July 30. The PCs led all polls in the riding, from February until the end. Chahbar led the Grits by 4 (and the NDP by 6) in February, the NDP moved into second by early July, trailing the PCs by 7. They made substantial gains in the final stretch: Campaign (Jul 30) had the NDP down by 3, Forum (Jul 30) down by 2.

Turnout was 38.9%, down from 53% in 2011.

Peggy Sattler (NDP) 41.88% (+20.16%)
Ali Chahbar (PC) 32.74% (+3.26%)
Ken Coran (Liberal) 15.85% (-29.81%)
Al Gretzky (Freedom) 4.96% (+4.36%)
Gary Brown (Green) 4.25% (+1.84%)
Geoffrey Serbee (Libertarian) 0.31%

London West was probably – with Ottawa South – the most surprising result of the night. The NDP’s strong performance was to be expected, given that it was clear that with the Liberal collapse that the race had turned into a two-candidate battle between the NDP and the PCs. What was not expected, however, was the NDP defeating the Tories – thought of as the favourites – by 9 points. A bad result both for the PCs and the pollsters who had predicted a PC win.

Provincial polling in the last few months has been showing that the NDP has been on the upswing throughout southwestern Ontario; I’m not sure if this is due to any regional factors or if it’s something else. The NDP’s big win in the Kitchener-Waterloo by-election showed that, London West (and Windsor Tecumseh) confirmed that – meaning that the NDP gained three seats in SW Ontario since the last provincial election.

For the Tories, a rather disappointing result, especially considering that they were seen as the favourites. Their result, no matter how disappointing it is, doesn’t compare to the Liberals’ result: an unmitigated disaster. Coran’s “star candidacy” turned awry likely further aggravated matters for the Liberals, rather than helping them. By reading the polls, the Liberals had already conceded London West to the PCs or Dippers before polls even opened. Nevertheless, London West is an important swing riding, and one in which the Liberals have no business collapsing to an horrible third with barely 15% of the vote. If the Liberals win such results in ridings like London West outside the 416 and Ottawa, then they’ve lost the election and probably lost official opposition as well.

Ottawa South

Ottawa South (source: Elections Canada)

Ottawa South, as you might have guessed it, covers the southern end of the urbanized core of Ottawa. It includes neighborhoods such as Alta Vista, Riverview, Elmvale Acres, Hunt Club, Greenboro, South Keys, Heron Gate and Blossom Park. The riding also includes two of the main entry points into the city: the airport and the train station.

The seat became vacant on June 12 when former Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty resigned his seat a few months after he stepped down as Premier. McGuinty was Premier of Ontario between 2003 and 2013 and leader of the Ontario Liberal Party since 1996.

Ottawa South is a largely suburban constituency, with a large industrial park in the north of the district. The riding’s median household income in 2005, $60,667, places it in the upper half of Ontario ridings in terms of wealth (40th out 107). That being said, the riding still includes a few pockets of deprivation – the percentage of residents low on income before tax in 2005, 22%, is the 21st highest in the province. Like most of the Ottawa region, residents in this riding tend to be highly educated – 33.2% have a university diploma or degree, which probably places it in the top 20 Ontario ridings by that measure. This being the federal capital, the federal government remains a top employer in this riding like in neighboring ridings: 21.4% of the labour force were employed in public administration, making it – by far – the single largest industry. Furthermore, the NAICS ‘public administration’ category does not cover all fields in which public servants may be employed; so the overall percentage of federal government employees is higher. In contrast, the percentage of the labour force employed in manufacturing (2.7%) or construction (3.8%) is one of the lowest in the entire province.

Ottawa South has the highest visible minority populations outside the GTA – 36.3%. The largest minorities are blacks (10.2% of the total population) and Arabs (9.6%). The riding has the second largest Arab population in Canada, and the largest in Ontario. Most blacks are of African, not Caribbean descent. Indeed, Ottawa South has one of the largest – if not the largest – Somali communities in Canada, making up 3.1% of the total population (overall, 10.2% of the riding’s population claimed African origins). Most Arabs are Lebanese, with 6.3% of the riding’s residents in 2011 claiming Lebanese origins.

Most of Ottawa’s Francophone population lives in Ottawa-Vanier or Ottawa-Orleans. Ottawa South has a small Francophone community, with 12.2% of residents identifying French as their mother tongue. A much larger percentage – 30% – said their mother tongue was a non-official language (Arabic and Somali being, obviously, the top two non-official languages).

In 2005, 59.5% of dwellings were owned.

Ottawa South is, with some exceptions, a largely suburban riding; a mix of post-war suburbs and newer developments, further south. Alta Vista, in the centre-north of the riding, is an older leafy middle/upper middle-class suburban neighborhood with single houses. Located north of Alta Vista, Riverview is slightly less affluent, with some apartment complexes or social housing projects, as well as a larger visible minority population (in parts).

There are pockets of deprivation – mostly consisting of large apartment complexes or social housing projects – scattered throughout the riding. The Heron Gate area, which is nearly 80% non-white, is the poorest part of the riding. There are other low-income areas, notably the Hawthorne Meadows neighborhood located east of Urbandale and Elmvale Acres.

Hunt Club, Greenboro and South Keys are more recent suburban developments, located to the south of the riding and consisting of a mix of single houses or rowhouses. Hunt Club and Greenboro both have a rather large (45-50%) visible minority population, and while most dwellings are owned, it is generally a lower middle-class area.

At the provincial level, what is today included in the riding of Ottawa South was a reliably Conservative seat – the Tories held the seat without interruption between 1948 and 1987. Prior to 1926 (and for quite some time after that, at the federal level), Ottawa South – which was probably sparsely populated countryside back then – was included in Russell, a riding which included solidly Liberal Francophone areas in eastern present-day Ottawa. In the 1985 provincial election, PC MPP Claude Bennett saw his majority (over the Liberals) sharply reduced from 21% to only 4%. In the 1987 Liberal landslide and with Bennett’s retirement, Liberal candidate Dalton McGuinty Sr., a former University of Ottawa lecturer, won handily, with 51% to the PC’s 31%. McGuinty the elder only served a single term – he died of a heart attack in 1990. In the general election that year, his son, Dalton McGuinty Jr., held his father’s seat by a 20 point margin over the NDP and was the only freshman Liberal MPP to win in that ‘Dipperslide’ election. From that point on, McGuinty held on to his seat with similarly large – and remarkably stable – margins in every election. The Liberal vote has since oscillated between 45 and 50%; the PCs, save for 1999 when they managed 42%, generally in the low 30s and the NDP, very weak in the riding, in the high single digits/low double digits. In 2011, McGuinty was reelected with a barely reduced majority, taking 49% to the PC’s 33% – this despite some predictions that he could lose his seat.

At the federal level, the riding of Ottawa South was created in 1987, before the 1988 election. That year, John Manley, a Liberal lawyer, defeated incumbent PC MP Barry Turner (from Ottawa-Carleton), 51% to 35%. Manley went on to hold the seat until his retirement in 2004, winning each year by massive margins. Manley served as Minister of Industry, Minister of Foreign Affairs and even Deputy Prime Minister as one of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien’s top lieutenants. He was a candidate for the Liberal leadership in 2002 against Chrétien’s longtime rival Paul Martin, but seeing Martin’s inevitable win he dropped out and then retired from politics in 2004. David McGuinty, then-Premier Dalton McGuinty’s brother, holding the seat by a 9% margin over the Tories. In 2006, the Tories put some serious effort into the riding, nominating sponsorship scandal whistle-blower Alan Cutler. Sign of the riding’s remarkably static nature, the Tories only increased their vote share from 35% to 37%, while McGuinty improved his own vote share by a few decimals, winning reelection with a 6.7% majority. In the 2008 election, despite a sizable anti-Liberal swing that year, McGuinty increased his majority to a solid 16.5%, winning just short of 50% to the Tories’ 33%. In the 2011 federal election, McGuinty’s vote fell sharply, from 49.9% to 44%, but largely to the NDP’s benefits, who, with 18%, won their best ever result in Ottawa South. Counter cyclical to the rest of the country but in line with most Ottawa-area ridings, the Tory vote fell by one decimal point.

The Liberals tend to be strong throughout the riding, with the exception of the more exurban/rural southern end of the riding. The Liberals have tended to do best in Alta Vista, a middle-class neighborhood with a large portion of residents employed by the government or in health/education; the Grits have usually managed between 50 and 60% in most polls there. The Liberals also do similarly well in Elmvale Acres, Riverview, Billings Bridge, parts of Riverside Park and Hawthorne Meadows. When the NDP is weak, the Liberals may do tremendously well in Heron Gate, winning upwards of 60-65% of the vote; however, in elections like May 2011, the NDP can do well enough in Heron Gate – and other lower-income apartment complexes or social housing projects – to win a few polls or place a strong second. This was the case in May 2011, when the NDP won or placed a solid second (almost always behind the Liberals) in lower-income polls. In contrast, the NDP does poorly in suburban single house/row house-type neighborhoods, such as Alta Vista, Hunt Club or Greenboro.

The Liberals often do well (40-55%) in Hunt Club, Greenboro, and, to a lesser extent, South Keys. The PCs put up some respectable showings in these neighborhoods, as well as other neighborhoods such as Urbandale or Confederation Heights (or the condos overlooking the Rideau River in the north of the riding). In both the federal and provincial elections in 2011, the only neighborhood the Tories won was Blossom Park, at the far southern end of the riding, and more exurban in nature. The Tories also do very well in a the polls around Macdonald-Cartier International Airport, specifically military housing polls at CFB Uplands.

The Liberals nominated John Fraser, McGuinty’s constituency assistant for 14 years. There’s some significance in that pick, as the Liberals nominated somebody closely tied to McGuinty – and, by extension, his tainted legacy – and Fraser campaigned on his record as McGuinty’s aide (having built up, it seems, a solid reputation, as McGuinty’s local voice in the riding for so long). McGuinty still casts a long shadow over his former riding – in part because the McGuintys are a major ‘clan’ in the riding, with Dalton’s nine siblings; and while he probably isn’t all that popular even in his old riding, it is probably the one riding where voters might be a bit more generous with him than elsewhere. The PCs nominated a little-known defense contractor, Matt Young. The NDP, weak in the riding, nominated probably their strongest possible candidate: the vice-chair of the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, Bronwyn Funiciello, whose zone covers Alta Vista Ward (as well as another ward, outside the riding).Everybody’s favourite candidate – and the definition of ‘perennial candidate’ – John Turmel, contested his 78th election since 1979 here.

The early polls out the gates showed a tight race between the Liberals and the PCs, with the latter leading by 3 in an early June poll but then trailing the Grits by 4 in early July. A poll in mid-July showed a statistical tie, with the PCs up 1. However, the Tories surged ahead in the last stretch of the campaign: Forum on July 24 had them up 14; the two July 30 polls showed the PCs up 7 (Campaign) or 16 (Forum); with the NDP low, at 12% and 9% respectively.

Turnout was 40.8%, the highest of all five by-elections, down from 51.2% in 2011:

John Fraser (Liberal) 42.34% (-6.51%)
Matt Young (PC) 38.67% (+5.24%)
Bronwyn Funiciello (NDP) 14.27% (+0.88%)
Taylor Howarth (Green) 3.14% (-0.09%)
Jean-Serge Brisson (Libertarian) 0.06% (+0.04%)
John Redins (Special Needs) 0.29% (-0.24%)
Daniel Post (Ind) 0.26%
David McGruer (Freedom) 0.24%
John Turmel (Paupers) 0.18%

In one of the night’s most surprising results, the Liberals managed to hold Ottawa South with a 3.6% majority. It was also one the worst performance, of all five ridings, by pollsters. The Liberals have to be happy that they held this seat; a loss would have been all the more difficult to swallow because losing McGuinty’s old riding would mark a harsh repudiation of McGuinty and his government in his own riding, and a very poor result for Premier Wynne’s new government. Additionally, Ottawa South is one of the eleven seats still held by the federal Liberals after the May 2011 shipwreck; the provincial Liberals – who are still a stronger machine than the federal Liberals – losing a seat which even their hapless federal counterparts held on to in May 2011 would be extremely bad news and make for some really bad symbolism.

The PCs did well, being able to break out of the low-30s trap they were stuck in since the 2003 Liberal landslide, and also performing better than the federal Tories did in the past four federal elections. Despite low name recognition, Tory candidate Matt Young was successful – but only incompletely so – in riding a wave of dissatisfaction with McGuinty/Liberal governance and the associated scandals.

The Liberals, under McGuinty, built up a very strong GOTV operation/machine in Ottawa South, and that’s probably what made the difference on election day and explains why the Liberals beat the polls. They were able to mobilize people who had voted Liberal in recent elections, and turn them out to the polls – something which, seemingly, the Liberals weren’t as successful in the other four ridings. The relatively high turnout – 40% – is probably the result of that relatively strong Liberal GOTV op.

The NDP will probably be disappointed by their performance. 14.3% isn’t bad – it’s on the upper end of their range in the riding – but it’s still lower than their federal record (18%) and they probably would have expected something better considering that they nominated their strongest possible candidate in Bronwyn Funiciello. Low turnout probably hurt them; turnout tends to be lower in those places, like Heron Gate, where the NDP does best.

Scarborough-Guildwood

Scarborough-Guildwood (source: Elections Canada)

Scarborough-Guildwood covers the south-central portion of Scarborough, a large former municipality in suburban western Toronto. The riding, named after and centered on the neighborhood of Guildwood, also includes West Hill, Scarborough Village, Woburn and Morningside.

The seat became vacant on June 27 when Liberal MPP Margarett Best resigned due to “undisclosed health reasons”. Of the five Liberal MPPs who stepped down in 2013, Best was the only one who wasn’t a member of ex-Premier Dalton McGuinty’s inner circle – she was elected for the first time in 2007, and she was only a minor cabinet minister as Minister of Health Promotion (2007-2011) and Minister of Consumer Services (2011-2013).

Scarborough-Guildwood, like most of the former municipality, is a suburban neighborhood; but not particularly affluent at that. The median household income in 2005, $47,963, made it the ninth poorest riding in Ontario. With nearly 30% of residents low on income before tax (in 2005), it was the fourth riding in Ontario in terms of low-income citizens. Education levels are significantly lower than in Etobicoke-Lakeshore, with 20.4% lacking a high school graduation certificate, although at the other end, 20.6% do have a university diploma or degree. Most of the riding’s labour force work in sales and services (26.1%) or in business/finance/administration (17.5%). Unemployment is quite high, it was 13.2% in the 2011 National Household Survey.

Like most of Scarborough, Scarborough-Guildwood is an extremely ethnically diverse riding. Nearly two-thirds of the riding’s residents (65.8%) are visible minorities, the largest visible minority groups being South Asians (30.6% of the overall population), blacks (14.7%) and Filipinos (7.4%). Nearly 20% of the riding’s population immigrated to Canada after 2001.

Most South Asians in Scarborough and this riding tend to be Tamils from Sri Lanka or India – 27.8% of residents claimed Tamil, Sri Lankan or East Indian ancestry; and 7.5% claimed Tamil as their mother tongue. Most blacks are from the Caribbean (Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago) or Guyana.

There doesn’t seem to be huge differences, either income-wise or demographically, between the various neighborhoods in the riding. The one exception might be Guildwood, which is more affluent and whiter than other parts of the riding, but not dramatically more so. Housing in the riding is split between apartment buildings (43% of dwellings) and single-detached homes (35.6%), about nine in ten of dwellings were built more than 20 years ago. In 2005, 55.6% of dwellings were owned.

There are several large apartment complexes, which tend to be poorer and more ethnically diverse, concentrated along the main thoroughfares – Lawrence Avenue, Markham Road, Eglinton Avenue, Kingston Road or the Mornelle Crescent area in Morningside.

The riding’s strong Liberal lean only dates back to the 1990s, at most. Provincially, the Liberals held the much more extensive riding which included all of present-day Scarborough-Guildwood between 1867 and 1905, but the Conservatives went on to hold the seat – with only three one-term interruptions, between 1905 and 1985. The CCF’s Agnes Macphail, who had been Canada’s first woman MP in 1921, won the riding of York East in 1943 and again in 1948. Liberal Timothy Reid won the seat from the PCs in 1967, but the Tories regained it in 1971 and held it until David Peterson’s Liberals formed government in 1985. Up until the 1970s, Scarborough was a largely white/English middle-class post-war suburban area, with small pockets of deprivation or immigration.

The NDP won the riding of Scarborough East in their 1990 landslide, although only narrowly over the Liberals. In 1995, PC candidate Steve Gilchrist handily won the seat, taking nearly 56% of the vote. Gilchrist, who was reelected with a reduced majority in 1999, briefly served as Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing in Mike Harris’ cabinet, and became most famous for spearheading the controversial forced amalgamation of Hamilton, Ottawa and Sudbury. Within a few months, he was forced to resign from cabinet following a scandal of some kind. He was defeated in a landslide by Liberal candidate Mary Anne Chambers in 2003, taking only 34% of the vote to the Liberals’ 51.5%. Chambers served only one term and was succeeded in 2007 by Margarett Best, who held the seat with a 14.5% majority in 2007 and an even larger 20% majority in 2011.

Federally, the riding of Scarborough-Guildwood (and before that, Scarborough East, about three-fifths of which were redistributed to create the current riding in 2003) has been held by the Liberals since 1993, and by Liberal MP John McKay since 1997. Prior to that, the seat was closely disputed between Liberals and Tories, with a small edge to the former. After 1993, rising immigration and the changing demographic character of Scarborough helped the Liberals, who came to dominate Scarborough-Guildwood and its neighbours with huge majorities – a 44% majority in 2000, and a still hefty 20% majority in 2008. The 2011 federal election marked a sea change in the riding’s politics: McKay was reelected with a tiny 1.8% (691 vote) margin over the Tories, taking 36.2% to 34.4% for the Tories and a solid 26.5% for the NDP.

The poll-by-poll results of the October 2011 provincial election do not show any clear-cut political divides within the riding: the Liberals won almost all polls, while the Tories’ few polls were scattered throughout the riding.

The May 2011 federal election shows a much closer race – and also a rather messy map, with ‘random’ patches of blue, red and orange scattered across the riding. That being said, some kind of patterns can be worked out. The Liberals and the NDP clearly dominated apartment polls, which are concentrated along the main roads or in large complexes in Morningside (near the UofT-Scarborough uni campus) or in the Woburn Park area. Most of the NDP’s polls, for examples, are either apartment buildings or polling stations covering large apartment complexes. In October 2011, the Liberals’ majorities were again higher in apartment polls.  Similarly, the Liberals did better in apartment polls or in neighborhoods – such as Golfdale Gardens, which was the only solidly Liberal cluster in the riding in May 2011 – where most houses are rented rather than owned. Apartment polls, as aforementioned, tend to be poorer and have a larger visible minority population. The Liberals also did well in single-house polls across the riding, specifically those with a large South Asian or black population. In contrast, Tory support is higher in more leafy, suburban and single-house neighborhoods, such as parts of West Hill, Morningside or Curran Hall.

That being said, the picture (from the federal election) remains all quite patchy. With a few isolated exceptions, neither the Tories nor the Liberals thoroughly dominated any one part of the riding, and the Liberals managed to win scattered polls in more affluent middle-class neighborhoods, including parts of Guildwood which are whiter (and, historically, more solidly Tory) and Scarborough Village, which is – in parts – a tad more affluent.

The Liberals nominated Mitzie Hunter, a community activist and the CEO of the Greater Toronto CivicAction Alliance. Like the past two Liberal MPPs – Hunter was born in Jamaica and immigrated to Canada in her youth. The PCs nominated Ken Kirupa, a realtor and Sri Lankan immigrant. While both the Grits and the Tories went for locals with ethnic ties, the NDP nominated an ‘outsider’ star candidate – Adam Giambrone, the former Chair of the Toronto Transit Commission, a former president of the federal NDP and a former Toronto city councillor (for Davenport) between 2003 and 2010. Giambrone was forced to drop out of the 2010 mayoral election after a sex scandal, which also cut short his career in municipal politics. His nomination in Scarborough-Guildwood was somewhat controversial, the local community activist he defeated threatened a legal challenge after alleging that 12 of the 32 who voted at the nomination meeting might not have been eligible to vote under NDP rules.

Polling throughout the short campaign showed a close race between the Liberals and the PCs, with the NDP a solid third. In the last two polls published – again on July 30 by Forum and Campaign – the Liberals by 7 and 5 points respectively, with the NDP at 27% and 24%.

Turnout was 36.2%, down from 47.7% in 2011.

Mitzie Hunter (Liberal) 35.83% (-13.10%)
Ken Kirupa (PC) 30.79% (+2.14%)
Adam Giambrone (NDP) 28.37% (+8.95%)
Nick Leeson (Green) 2.15% (+0.86%)
Jim Hamilton (Ind) 0.79%
Danish Ahmed (Special Needs) 0.75%
Heath Thomas (Libertarian) 0.48% (-0.8%)
Raphael Rosch (Family Coalition) 0.42%
Matthew Oliver (Freedom) 0.32% (-0.1%)
Bill Rawdah (People’s) 0.1%

Scarborough-Guildwood was seen as the Liberals’ best shot at holding on to one of their five seats up for grabs, and they did. The polls, for a change, were almost spot on – the Liberals held the seat by a 5% margin, which is obviously a much reduced majority compared to Best’s 20% majority in October 2011. Unlike in Etobicoke-Lakeshore, the main winner in Scarborough-Guildwood was the NDP, not the PCs. Adam Giambrone, a strong candidate for an increasingly popular party, won the NDP’s best result in any election – federal or provincial – since 1990. Giambrone finds his political career rehabilitated, and we should probably count on him to return as a top NDP candidate in a future provincial or federal election. Additionally, this result is more confirmation that the NDP is an increasingly powerful actor in Scarborough, something which we saw in 2011 (the NDP picked up heavily Tamil Scarborough-Rouge River by a wide margin with a Tamil candidate in May 2011, and came very close to upsetting the Liberals there again in October 2011 with another Tamil candidate). Traditionally fairly weak in Scarborough, particularly with historically Liberal visible minority voters, the NDP – at both levels – has made significant inroads, notably with South Asian voters.

While the Liberals can take comfort in that they held the seat and that the Tories’ showing was nothing spectacular, they should beware that the NDP has been confirmed as a serious threat to some of their seats in Scarborough, which was an impregnable Liberal fortress until 2011.

Windsor-Tecumseh

Windsor-Tecumseh (source: Elections Canada)

Windsor-Tecumseh basically covers the eastern half of the city of Windsor, as well as the entirety of the neighboring suburban town of Tecumseh. Within Windsor, the riding includes Walkerville, East Windsor, Riverside, Forest Glade and parts of Fontainebleau.

The seat became vacant on February 14 when incumbent Liberal MPP Dwight Duncan resigned his seat. Duncan, first elected to the Ontario legislature in 1995 and an unsuccesful candidate for the party’s leadership in 1996, served in several important cabinet positions in McGuinty’s cabinets: energy (2003-2005, 2006-2007) and finance (2005-2006, 2007-2013). Originally seen as a frontrunner for the Liberal leadership after McGuinty’s resignation, Duncan chose to retire from provincial politics after Wynne’s victory.

Windsor-Tecumseh is a mixed urban and suburban riding. The riding’s median household income in 2005 was $58,189, not particularly affluent but still not all that poor – additionally, only 13.4% of residents in 2005 were low income (before tax). I would, however, expect 2011 numbers (which come out on August 14) to show a significant drop in the median HH income in this riding; with the recession, income levels have dropped pretty sharply in Windsor.

Education levels are similarly average: 31.7% of Windsor-Tecumseh’s residents highest qualification is a high school diploma – it is one of the province’s top ridings in terms of residents with a HS diploma as their top qualification. 17.5% have no diploma, and, at the other end, 17.6% of residents have a university diploma or degree.

Windsor is a major industrial city, located across the border from Detroit. Like Detroit, Windsor’s economy has long been driven by the auto manufacturing industry (awful pun) – American car manufacturers such as Ford and Chrysler have manufactured cars or car parts across the border in Canada for decades now. The 1965 Auto Pact between the US and Canada, which removed tariffs on automobiles and automotive parts, was a major boon for Windsor’s auto industry, creating many new blue collar jobs as American manufacturers set up branch plants to produce generic car models or provide auto parts. Although job loses in the auto manufacturing sector, particularly in the recent recession, have hurt Windsor’s economy and given it a somewhat bad reputation elsewhere in the country as “Ontario’s armpit”, manufacturing remains the top industry in the city. In 2011, 17.5% of Windsor-Tecumseh’s labour force was employed in manufacturing, one of the highest percentages in Canada. In 2006, manufacturing was even more important – it employed 24.9% of the riding’s labour force. Other major industries in the riding include healthcare and social assistance (12.2%), retail trade (11%) and educational services (7.4%). The leading occupations, in 2011, were sales and services (26.4%), ‘trades, transport and equipment operators’ (13.3%), business/finance/administration (13.3%). Manufacturing and utilities occupations, which employed over 14% in 2006, employed only 9.6% in 2011.

The riding has a 13.2% visible minority population, the leading groups being blacks and Arabs. The city’s ethnolinguistic mix and background is rather interesting. The Windsor area has a large population with French ancestry; the French first settled the area in 1749 and the city’s French heritage is still perceptible in parts. 25.7% of the riding’s residents claimed French origins in 2011, although only 3.6% of the riding’s population is Francophone. ‘Canadian’ (25.6%), English (22.9%) and Irish (14.9%) were the next three leading ancestries in 2011.

There’s a fairly important split between the more ‘urban’ western end of the riding and the more suburban neighborhoods of Windsor as well as the town of Tecumseh. Walkerville, located just east of downtown Windsor (which is in Windsor West for electoral purposes), is an urban neighborhood and former ‘company town’ founded in 1890 by whisky distiller Hiram Walker. Ford opened its first factory there in 1904, and the Windsor engine plant is located just outside Walkerville, in East Windsor (and the Chrysler plant is nearby as well). Walkerville is an urban neighborhood, with a mix of old bungalows and larger houses in leafy streets. It has some pockets of deprivation and incomes are fairly low; . East Windsor, newer and more residential in nature, includes a large Ford plant. Most houses are bungalows, although there are large social housing projects in the area as well. Forest Glade, located in the southeast of the city of Windsor, is a post-war (1960s-1970s) planned community/suburb, largely lower middle/middle-class.

Riverside is a large post-war (1950s) neighborhood, which includes some of the most expensive homes in Windsor, concentrated along the waterfront (which also has condo towers now) or in leafy backstreets; although it also includes some less expensive bungalow-type suburban properties and a few social housing projects. East Riverside, on the outskirts of the city, is a very recent suburban development, of the cookie-cutter type.

Saint Clair Beach, at the eastern extremity of Windsor-Tecumseh, is the most affluent in the riding and certainly one of the most affluent in Essex County as a whole. It includes golf courses, a gated community and sprawling suburban houses.

The Windsor area, now an NDP stronghold federally, was traditionally disputed between the Liberals and the NDP, with an edge to the former – especially in federal elections. The area’s French Catholic heritage has given it a strong Liberal tradition, while the area’s industrial makeup and the strength of unions – notably the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) has given the NDP a strong base since the 1960s/1970s.

Provincially, like London West, the riding is a recent creation – it dates back to 1999, when Mike Harris compacted 130 provincial ridings into 103, which line up – with a few exceptions (in northern Ontario) with federal ridings. Before that, it was divided between Windsor-Riverside, which included the eastern end of the current riding centered around, I believe, Riverside and parts of Tecumseh; and Windsor-Walkerville, which included the western end of the current riding centered around Walkerville. Windsor-Riverside was held by the NDP without interruption between 1967 and 1999. Windsor-Walkerville, in contrast, was a Liberal stronghold: the Liberals held it continunously between 1959 and 1990 and Dwight Duncan regained it from the NDP in 1995. The 1999 election featured a fight between two incumbents: Dwight Duncan, the Liberal from Windsor-Walkerville; and Wayne Lessard, the NDP MPP from Windsor-Riverside (he had represented Windsor-Walkerville between 1990 and 1995 and returned to the legislature following a 1997 by-election in Windsor-Riverside). Duncan defeated Lessard 45% to 34%, and went on to win three more terms by comfortable margins. Duncan won by 26 in 2003 and by 25 in 2007. In 2011, he was reelected with a reduced 10 point majority, 42.9% to the NDP’s 32.8%. Duncan clearly built up a solid personal vote in the riding, winning voters which voted NDP federally since 2000/2004. The PCs have been irrelevant in the riding for decades now; the last time they placed second was in 1985 in both former ridings.

Federally, the NDP’s Joe Comartin, has held the riding since 2000. Having lost a 1999 by-election to the Liberals by only 91 votes, he returned to defeat the Liberals by 401 votes in the 2000 election, a bright spot in an otherwise bleak year for the NDP. Since then, the Liberal vote has collapsed – from 34% in 2004 to 13% in 2011. In this regards, the federal Tories have been much more successful at coalescing anti-NDP voters than their provincial counterparts. Comartin won by 16 points in 2011 and by an even wider 25 points in 2008, so the seat is an NDP fortress for the foreseeable future. However, the Tories did manage to poll an excellent 33.6% in 2011. However, the NDP’s success federally is more recent – until 1984, the seat was a Liberal stronghold. Former Prime Minister Paul Martin’s father, Paul Martin Sr, who was a prominent Liberal cabinet minister and leadership contender at one point, represented the area between 1935 and 1968 and the Liberals continued to hold the seat until 1984, when the NDP won it. The Liberals defeated the incumbent Dipper MP by 34 points in 1993 but held it by a much tighter 5.5% in 1997.

The October 2011 provincial election results showed an interesting geographic division between the Liberals and the NDP. The NDP won heavily in East Windsor, and also carried the poorer parts of Walkerville and Riverside, including social housing projects. The Liberals, who won the election by 10 points, won the bulk of Riverside and Forest Glade by varying margins, doing best in new subdivisions or the affluent parts on the waterfront. Similarly, the Liberals won the more upscale parts of Walkerville. The NDP’s worst results came from, you might have guessed, St. Clair Beach.

The 2011 federal election is, obviously, a rather different. Joe Comartin won the vast majority of polls in Windsor-Tecumseh, putting up huge margins in East Windsor and other traditional NDP strongholds, but basically doing well across the riding, including most of Riverside and Forest Glade. The Conservatives won by big margins in St. Clair Beach, but besides that they only won a few of the newer suburban subdivisions in East Riverside and a few waterfront polls scattered throughout Riverside. The 2000 federal election, however, has a geography very similar to that of the October 2011 vote.

The NDP went into this race as the favourites. They had, by far, the strongest candidate of the three parties: Percy Hatfield, a Windsor city councillor representing Ward 7, which East Riverside and Forest Glade, two neighborhoods where the NDP struggles in competitive races. The Liberal candidate was Jeewin Gill, apparently a businessman/’community leader’ married to a CAW member. In general, this seems to indicate that the Liberals conceded the race long ago. Without Dwight Duncan, the Liberals are at a major disadvantage against the NDP here. The only strong candidate the Liberals could have gotten was Sandra Pupatello, who held Windsor West between 1999 and 2011. But after losing the Liberal leadership, she said that she had no interest in seeking elected office again, despite Wynne’s urging. The PCs renominated their 2011 candidate Robert de Verteuil, an automotive consultant.

The polls confirmed that this was a NDP shoe-in. Although the Liberals were at 32%, 10 points behind the NDP, in a poll back in early February, when the race settled down with the three candidates in July, the NDP maintained a huge leader, over 50% and leading the PCs and/or Liberals by about 30 points. The last polls showed the PCs in second with between 22% and 28%, and the Liberals in third with 16% or 12%.

Turnout was 30.1%, down from 44.7% in 2011:

Percy Hatfield (NDP) 61.31% (+28.47%)
Robert de Verteuil (PC) 20.12% (-0.7%)
Jeewen Gill (Liberal) 11.94% (-30.89%)
Adam Wright (Green) 3.65% (+1.42%)
Dan Dominato (Libertarian) 1.55% (+0.28%)
Lee Watson (Family Coalition) 0.94%
Andrew Brannan (Freedom) 0.48%

Unsurprisingly, the NDP picked up Windsor-Tecumseh with a phenomenal 41% majority over the Tories. The NDP had been the overwhelming favourites to win, and the race was uninteresting compared to the other four, much closer, contests, but such a huge majority was even bigger than expected. The PCs did poorly, underperforming their polling numbers, and ending up roughly with the same paltry result they had gotten in October 2011. Finally, the Liberals were the biggest losers of the night – hell, they got even less than what the federal Liberals had won in May 2011! Obviously without Duncan (or Pupatello), the Liberals had little to no chance of holding this riding in a by-election anyway, but still, 12%?

While one might argue that the NDP might face a tougher fight to hold on to their big gains in Kitchener-Waterloo and London West, there’s no doubt that this seat will be established as an NDP stronghold for years and years to come – and there’s little doubt that the NDP will be able to pick up Windsor West, the last holdout of Windsor-area Liberal-ism in the next provincial election. The Liberals have, as far as I know, no ‘star candidate’ who could threaten the NDP here now.

Conclusions

The major winner of these five by-elections was the NDP, no question. The NDP not only won Windsor-Tecumseh, as widely expected, but also managed a surprise gain in London West (with a surprisingly large margin to boot). To cap it off, the NDP won a very strong third place in Scarborough-Guildwood, which confirms that they’re an ever-more important force in Scarborough, a direct threat to the provincial Liberals’ fledgling hegemony in that area.

Their main disappointments are Etobicoke-Lakeshore (Etobs for short) and Ottawa South. Etobs isn’t surprising – this is, as I mentioned above, another of those by-elections which turn into closely fought contests between the top two parties in that riding, effectively squeezing out whoever is the third party. A great example is the 2010 federal by-election in Vaughan: it became a hard fought battle between a Tory star candidate (who eventually won) and a fledgling Liberal Party trying hard to save a former Liberal stronghold. In the process, the NDP, weak in the riding, collapsed from 9.6% to 1.7% while the Tories and Liberals both won in the high 40s. In the 2011 federal election, when the Liberals just collapsed and the Conservatives won handily, the NDP vote jumped back up to 11.6%. Etobs was the same thing: two strong candidates fighting it out, with the NDP being irrelevant in all this.

Ottawa South is more disappointing. The NDP knew it never had a shot there and probably doesn’t have a shot unless they win a 1990-landslide all over again (and even then); but they ran their strongest possible candidate and they certainly would have expected that with a strong candidate they could come close/beat the 18% record set by the federal NDP in 2011. That wasn’t the case.

The NDP’s strong performance isn’t all that surprising. At a micro level, they ran strong candidates with fairly strong local ties (through local politics or school boards) in all ridings (except perhaps in Etobs). The Liberals’ unpopularity with teachers’ unions since 2011-2012 also guarantees the NDP a motivated base of supporters and activists throughout the province. Provincially, the NDP remains in a very favourable position. NDP leader Andrea Horwath has been the most popular of all three leaders for quite some time, coming off as a likable and pragmatic politician. That being said, she’s received criticism from various quarters for effectively propping up the Liberals two budgets in a row.

For the time being, however, the NDP are in a very strong position. They have a popular leader, an energized and motivated base and a lot of voters in the middle who like them best for the time being. The NDP can both claim to be a progressive alternative for dissatisfied left-Liberal voters, and “the lesser of three evils” to other voters. They can appear more pragmatic than the PCs because they didn’t reject the budgets out of hand and got some form of compromise with the Liberals on the budgets; they’re also not tainted by damaging scandals like the Liberals and not associated with a divisive former Premier (Mike Harris) like the PCs. The NDP will need a lot more to be able to win the next election, but the prospect of the NDP actually winning the election is now a very serious one.

The PCs had mixed results, and by failing to live up to expectations (created by inaccurate polling, to be fair), they’ve been identified by a lot of commentators as effective ‘losers’ in this string of by-elections. The PCs – who were seen as the favourites in three of the five seats – ended up winning only one of them, and a good case could be made that they only won that seat because they had a very strong candidate. The PCs ran weaker candidates in London West and Ottawa South, the other two ridings were they were thought of as favourites. They banked on the Liberal government’s unpopularity and voters’ disgust with Liberal governance and the Liberal scandals to ride a wave of opposition in those seats, notwithstanding their rather weak candidates with lower name recognition.

Nevertheless, the PCs can certainly be happy with their victory in Etobs. The PCs have been shut out of the city of Toronto (the 416) since the 2003 McGuinty landslide, and they did very poorly in most urban Toronto ridings in the 2011 election, suffering from a perception that Tim Hudak was too right-wing. With the same leader, they showed that they could still be competitive to the point of winning within the 416, and that can only be good news for them. It remains to be seen, however, if their win in Etobs is largely the result of a strong, local candidate or if the the PCs are truly on the upswing in the 416 (Scarborough-Guildwood results would, however, tend to disprove that idea).

Besides, even though the PCs did poorly and only increased their popular vote results by a few points at best outside of Etobs, they can argue (and they would be correct, in good part) that just gaining those ‘few points’ province-wide in the next provincial election would be enough for them to gain enough seats to form government. However, if the PCs are to be forming government, they would certainly need to win seats like London West across the province. These by-elections kind of show that they’re still unable to do that.

The PCs poor showing has led to a new round of leadership speculation about Tim Hudak. Hudak didn’t do a very good job in the 2011 election – he could have won that election, but largely through his own poorly-managed and orchestrated campaign, he lost although he did significantly improve on the Tories’ horrible 2003 and 2007 results. Those improvements allowed him to survive a leadership review in 2012 with 79% approval.

However, the poor by-election results has reopened rumblings. Many argue that these results, along with Kitchener-Waterloo/Vaughan in 2012 and the 2011 election, show that Hudak doesn’t have what it takes to win: he’s too conservative for some (too close to Mike Harris/the Common Sense Revolution and that controversial legacy), others say that, alas, he doesn’t have Harris’ political acumen and charisma. Indeed, it is true that Hudak has had trouble communicating his party’s message since 2011, and the election results show that. He doesn’t seem to be able to connect with voters. Even by continuously pounding on the Liberals for the corruption and perceived mismanagement/incompetence, he hasn’t been able to hit a chord with voters outside the Tory base.

Ten London-based PC members have apparently signed a petition asking for an amendment to party bylaws to allow for a leadership review this year; they claim that they’re supported by a few PC MPPs – Frank Klees and the very conservative ‘maverick’ Randy Hillier have openly supported those ‘grassroots’ efforts to force a leadership review. Both of them ran in the 2009 PC leadership convention against Hudak. Neither is openly hostile to Hudak’s leadership, but they argue that having an impromptu leadership review now would defuse tensions. Hudak has rejected all calls for a leadership review, spinning the by-election results by playing up the win in Etobs and downplaying the NDP’s upset over his party in London West as the result of ‘union muscle’. Hudak, despite some grassroots rumblings, does remain in a fairly solid position as leader. It’s very unlikely that he’ll be toppled by the malcontents within the PCs. He retains strong support within the PC caucus, and even from federal Tory MPs from the province (such as foreign minister John Baird).

It’s clear that the big losers are the Liberals. They can take solace in the fact that they won two instead of one or even zero of the five ridings up, and that the official opposition – the PCs – still fell flat on their faces, in large part. Indeed, the Liberals did manage to beat the extremely low expectations set for them. They held Ottawa South, hence escaping a very symbolic defeat in their longtime leaders’ home turf. They did fairly ‘well’ in both 416 ridings, although they lost one to the PCs.

Nevertheless, the Liberals remain the big losers of the by-elections. It’s a bad start for Kathleen Wynne’s government, showing that voters haven’t really warmed up to her after souring on McGuinty, and that voters haven’t dissociated her government from McGuinty’s government. They lost three ridings, and they placed extremely poor thirds in two of those ridings (even if they had won both of them by over 10 points in 2011). Basically, on these by-election results, we could assume that the Liberals are dropping like flies outside of Ottawa and the 416/GTA. If they place third with such horrible numbers throughout SW Ontario (and probably northern Ontario and most of central/eastern Ontario), especially in must-win ridings like London West, then they’ve almost certainly lost the next election and probably lost official opposition as well. To be fair, however, the Liberals wrote off Windsor-Tecumseh nearly from the get-go and they realized in July that their ‘star candidate’ Ken Coran was a shipwreck and they conceded that race too, throwing it all on the two 416 ridings and Ottawa South.

Furthermore, even if the Liberal results in Etobs and Scarborough were not bad, comparatively, they face a strong threat from both the PCs and NDP in their ‘Toronto fortress’. If the PCs can repeat their Etobs results elsewhere in the 416 (and 905), then they would pick up seats like York Centre, Willowdale, Etobs Centre or Eglinton-Lawrence. If the NDP can repeat their Scarborough-Guildwood performance, they could pick up seats like York South-Weston, Scarborough-Rouge River and Scarborough-Southwest. Even the Liberals’ so-called Toronto fortress is showing some pretty fatal cracks on these by-election numbers.

Part of this is of the Liberals’ own making. After all, they’re the ones in government – and they’ve been there for ten years, and even Liberal supporters are forced to admit that, especially since 2011, their party has had a big share of serious, damaging scandals and governance screw-ups. Wynne hasn’t been able to shift focus away from those scandals either. On the other hand, they’ve been also been dragged down by the knock-on effects of the recession and Ontario’s economic woes, and by inevitable voter fatigue after ten years in government.

The Liberals certainly face a huge uphill battle in the next election, which will probably be sometime in 2014. Winning a fourth term, which hasn’t been done since the bygone days of the Big Blue Machine, will be extremely tough. Scandals, economic woes, a strong sense that the Liberals have had too many screw-ups in government and voter fatigue will drag down the Liberals like never before. Even with a new face at the helm, it will hard to resist what is perhaps inevitable after ten years in power. That being said, the provincial Liberals are not in the same dire straits as their federal counterparts were in back in 2011. Dalton McGuinty was supposed to lose the 2011 election, and spring/summer polling in 2011 was particularly brutal for the Liberals. Yet, he defied the odds and won, although with a much reduced mandate.

Besides, by-elections are what they are – by-elections. Especially by-elections in early August. Low turnout creates different dynamics and forces than in regular general elections, where turnout is at least a bit higher (considering how low even general election turnout has been as of late). Those more likely to vote in by-elections often tend to be particularly worked up voters eager to vote with their middle fingers and send a mid-term message to the government of the day. While by-elections still remain good predictor of popular opinion between elections, they’re only imperfect guides.

For example, Pierre Trudeau’s federal Liberal government scheduled no less than fifteen by-elections on the same day in October 1978, a few months before the May 1979 federal election. His government being quite unpopular, the Liberals lost all but one of the seven constituencies out of those 15 which they held (and gained one, in Quebec). The PCs gained all but one of those seven lost seats. One might have thought that the Liberals would lose the 1979 federal election in a landslide. They lost, but it was close (thanks to a strong campaign and a weak PC leader); Joe Clark’s PCs only won a minority government, infamously ill-fated.

The table below shows the results of August 1st’ five by-elections – looking at raw votes, not percentages. Looking only at percentages in by-elections can be misleading because of significantly lower turnout.

Table 1: Results of the August 1, 2013 Ontario provincial by-elections by raw votes and turnout

byelections ON Aug 1 2013

This alternative look at the results allows us to nuance our conclusions a bit. The NDP are the clear winners here, given that they increased their raw vote in 3/5 ridings despite much lower turnout in all five ridings. In London West, for example, although turnout was 12.7k votes lower than in 2011, the NDP gained over 4,700 votes from their performance in the 2011 election.

The chart also shows that the Greens had a not a too-shabby night on the whole. They’re not a relevant force, and they didn’t seem to put much attention (or resources) on any of the five by-elections considering that none of these ridings (except perhaps London West) are promising for the Greens. They likely managed to gain a few hundred votes from 2011 Liberal voters. I’m not sure if the Ontario Greens have adopted the federal party and the BC Greens’ rather lucrative micro-targeting strategy which is, with FPTP, their best shot at winning seats (although not their best shot at maximizing their popular vote share throughout the province).

The chart also shows that the PCs did indeed have a mediocre night, at best. They only gained votes in one riding, Etobs. Elsewhere, even if their popular vote went up in three of those four ridings, they lost over 1,000 votes from their 2011 results. In London West, the PCs lost over 2,400 votes despite increasing their percentage by 3.3%. Therefore, with the exception of Etobs where PC star candidate Doug Holyday was likely able to directly win (‘switch over’) a good number of 2011 Liberal voters (this isn’t surprising – Etobs has more elastic voting patterns, and a lot of middle-class suburbanites switch their votes between Tories and Grits on a regular basis – after all, Rob Ford certainly won a good number of provincial Liberal voters in Etobs and elsewhere in the city in 2010!), the PCs most likely held on to their base in the other ridings. Of course, it’s impossible to prove this – it’s quite possible that a lot of 2011 PC voters stayed home, partially compensated by some Liberal malcontents voting PC, although I don’t think such behaviour was massive in these five by-elections.

We didn’t need this chart to tell us that the Liberals were the major losers. They bled a huge amount of votes in all five ridings, losing the least in the two seats they held and losing the most in London West and Windsor-Tecumseh. However, from this chart and comparing Liberal loses to gain/loses by the PCs/NDP and fall in turnout, we can come to a tentative conclusion that the Liberals lost not so much because their voters directly went to the PCs or NDP, but rather because they stayed home. The Liberals obviously lost some 2011 supporters to the PCs in Etobs and to the NDP in London West, Windsor-Tecumseh and Scarborough-Guildwood.

An unpopular party’s voters opting to stay home in a by-election or other off-year/mid-term election is not uniquely Canadian nor even remotely surprising. It is also slightly less fatal than an unpopular party’s voters opting to turn out for another party in a a by-election or off-year/mid-term ballot; they can always be re-motivated to show up when stakes are high in the regular election. They’re dissatisfied with their party of choice, but the other parties haven’t convinced them enough to ditch their old party for them instead, or they’re not ready (or dissatisfied enough) to ditch their former partisan home.

Again, correlation isn’t causation and I don’t want to firmly conclude that Liberal voters stayed home en masse and just didn’t vote for other parties. There’s no way for me to find out who exactly turned out and who didn’t, and who those ‘lost voters’ had voted for in 2011. Besides, five ridings isn’t close to being a scientifically valid sample. But, just for kicks, there’s a 0.92 correlation (very strong) between Liberal vote loses and fall in turnout from 2011.

Regardless, these mid-summer by-elections were exciting, interesting and still pretty relevant to Ontarian provincial politics. And congratulations for making it all the way through this post.

Canadian federal by-elections Nov 2012

Three federal by-elections were held in Canada on November 26, 2012. These three by-elections were to fill vacancies in the federal constituencies of Durham (Ontario), Calgary Centre (Alberta) and Victoria (British Columbia).

Durham (Ontario)

Durham is a large exurban constituency east of Toronto which includes the municipalities of Clarington, Uxbridge and Scugog (plus a small first nations community). Major communities include Courtice and Bowmanville, two major towns along the 401 east of Oshawa, and the smaller towns of Uxbridge and Port Perry in the north of the riding. Durham is nearly homogeneously white (95%) and predominantly Protestant (52.5%).

There are some local industries and employers in the constituency, including a nuclear power plant in Darlington, but the demographics of the constituency reflect a largely exurban population, which commutes to work in Oshawa or Toronto. The constituency has a large percentage of married individuals (57.2%, 31st in Canada), a lower percentage of people aged over 15 (79.9%), a fairly high median household income ($77,210 – 19th in Ontario) but a fairly low percentage of highly educated residents (12.7% of residents have a university certificate or degree) and a very high proportion of homeowners (88.2%). Only 22.5% of residents work in the municipality where they live, the 9th lowest in Ontario.

White, English and Protestant, Durham has historically been fairly Conservative. The Uxbridge and Scugog (Port Perry) areas, historically part of Ontario County, have a Liberal tradition while parts of former Durham County were more Conservatives. The Tories won handily in 1988, but throughout the 90s (from 1993 to 2004), the Chrétien Liberals held the seat with comfortable majorities although only because of the division of the right. The Liberals never won over 50% of the vote, and in all three elections the combined right-wing vote was higher than the Liberal vote. In 2004, Conservative journalist Bev Oda regained the seat, earning a small 2.5% majority over the Liberals. With the slow collapse of the Liberal Party in the exurban GTA in 2006, 2008 and 2011 Oda was reelected with larger majorities -17% in 2006, 31% in 2008 and 33% in 2011. In 2011, the NDP – which had placed fourth behind the Greens in 2008 – placed a distant second, ahead of the Grits.

Oda, who served as Minister for International Cooperation in the Harper government between 2007 and 2012, was compelled to resign in June 2012 after ethics scandals (in 2011, she had directed staff to add a handwritten annotation to a CIDA memo which resulted in a funding request from an NGO being ignored; in 2012, at a conference she turned down staying at the conference hotel and preferred a more costly hotel).

Oda won every poll in 2008 and she lost only one poll in 2011 (a mobile poll covering seniors’ residences). The Tories tend to perform best in the more rural parts of the riding, while the Liberals and NDP find some stronger support in urban areas – especially Courtice and Bowmanville, where the NDP broke 30% in a few polls in 2011 (including, interestingly, some newer middle-class subdivisions). The Liberals, in 2011, performed best in Uxbridge.

The Conservatives nominated Erin O’Toole, a local lawyer whose father is the incumbent PC MPP for Durham. The NDP unearthed a strong candidate, Larry O’Connor, the former mayor of Brock (a township which is outside of the riding) and a NDP MPP for the area between 1990 and 1995. The Liberals renominated their 2011 candidate, Grant Humes, while the Greens nominated Virginia Mae Ervin, who had run in 2006 and 2004.

Erin O’Toole (Con) 50.72% (-3.83%)
Larry O’Connor (NDP) 26.26% (+5.16%)
Grant Humes (Lib) 17.28% (-0.57%)
Virginia Mae Ervin (Green) 4.07% (-1.32%)
Andrew Moriarity (CHP) 1.28% (+0.49%)
Michael Nicula (OP) 0.39%

The Tories held Durham with a large, although slightly reduced, majority, as was expected. Turnout was 35.8%. The results in Durham are good for the Tories, who broke 50% and especially for the NDP, which maintained and improved on its second place showing in the riding. Prior to the Orange Crush in 2011, the NDP could only dream of finishing second in a riding like Durham (although it did have a few good results in the 70s and 80s). The next NDP breakthrough obviously won’t come from the exurban GTA, which remains a wasteland for the NDP; but that such ridings which had previously been Tory-Grit battles are becoming Tory-NDP places is good news for the NDP.

Calgary Centre (Alberta)

Calgary Centre covers downtown Calgary south of the Bow River. Major neighborhoods in the riding include the Beltine, Mount Royal and some surrounding suburban neighborhoods. Calgary Centre remains largely white (78.8%), with the largest visible minorities being Chinese (5.9%). Religiously, Protestants make up a narrow plurality (32.6%) of residents while 24.5% are Catholics and 30% claim no religion.

There is a fairly big contrast between the downtown core areas of the riding – neighborhoods such as Beltline, Cliff Bungalow, Connaught, Downtown East Village or Lower Mount Royal – and the suburban parts of the riding. The downtown, particularly the aforementioned neighborhoods, have a younger, more ethnically diverse and less affluent population. Most downtown residents are renters, living in apartments or some of the newer high-rise condos close to the Bow River. The downtown neighborhoods, particularly the Beltline, have pockets of deprivation and have struggled with poverty and social problems. On the other hand, the suburban portions of the riding tend to be more affluent. Upper Mount Royal, Scarboro, Elbow Park, Rideau Park, Britannia, Bel-Aire and Mayfair are all very affluent and educated residential suburban neighborhoods. Some of the riding’s outer suburban neighborhoods (Glenmorgan, Glenbrook, Rosscarrock, Killarney etc) are slightly less affluent, made up in good part of older post-war lower middle-class bungalow housing. The riding’s demographics reflect its diverse social makeup. It is the Albertan riding with the highest percentage of never married individuals (48.4%), there are not many households with children (only 14%, one of the lowest in all of Canada), it is highly educated (33.6% with a university certificate, diploma or degree) but not extremely affluent (median HH income is $49,042, the second lowest in Alberta) and a narrow majority of individuals rent their household (53.8%, the second highest in Alberta).

It has been said that a riding like Calgary Centre, if located anywhere outside of Alberta, would vote Liberal or NDP. In the context of Albertan federal politics, heavily dominated by the Conservatives (and their predecessors) due to the toxicity of the Liberal Party post-NEP, Calgary Centre is solidly Tory. The last time the seat went Liberal was in 1963, for a single term and the last time parts of the ridings were represented by a Liberal was in 1968. The Tories have held the seat with large majorities since then, taking over 50% of the vote in the 1970s and 1980s. The Reform Party won the seat in 1993 and 1997. The riding was closely contested in 2000, when former Prime Minister Joe Clark, a Red Tory who was the leader of the remnants of the PCs in the 2000 election, ran in Calgary Centre against the Canadian Alliance. The Liberal vote, which fell to only 9.8%, coalesced around Clark, allowing him to win 46-38.5 over the Alliance.

In 2004, former PC MP Lee Richardson won the seat for the new Conservative Party, with a 21% majority over the Liberals. Richardson, who had a moderate and pragmatic reputation as a Tory MP, retained the seat in subsequent elections with ever-larger majorities. In 2011, he won a 40% majority taking 57.7% against a paltry 17.5% for the Liberals and 14.9% for the NDP. The Greens have been strong in the riding, taking second with 16.6% in 2008 but dropping to right below 10% in 2011. At the provincial level, Liberals have been more successful – they hold the seat of Calgary-Buffalo. Richardson did very well in the suburban parts of the riding, especially the most affluent residential suburbs – where he took about 70% of the vote. The non-Tories (Liberals, NDP, Greens) have done best in the downtown area – the NDP won 2 polls there in 2011, the Greens won 3 polls in 2008 and the Liberals won a bunch of downtown polls in 2004 and a few in 2006 (and one in 2008).

Lee Richardson’s retirement to take up a job with Alberta Premier Alison Redford led to a crowded contest for the Tory nomination. Ultimately, Joan Crockatt, a journalist who was viewed as Prime Minister Harper’s favourite candidate and one of the more right-leaning candidates, won the Tory nod. For some reason, her choice went down pretty badly in Calgary Centre – was it because she was perceived as the candidate imposed by the PMO, because of her proximity to the Wildrose Alliance rather than the PCs in provincial politics or just other unsuccessful CPC nomination candidates who were particularly bitter? Polls showed the Liberal candidate, Harvey Locke (a conservationist and former provincial party president), within striking distance of the Tories and the Greens (their candidate was Chris Turner, a journalist and author) pulling over 20%. Crockatt retained a small lead in later polls, but this was the most closely watched by-election of the three. Liberals feared that their momentum might have been brutally halted late in the campaign, following the comments made by Liberal MP David McGuinty (he said that Alberta Tories should “go back to Alberta” and that they have a ‘protectionist’ view of the energy industry) and even Liberal leadership candidate Justin Trudeau (in 2010, he said that Canada was not doing well because Albertans control “our community and socio-democratic agenda”).

Joan Crockatt (Con) 36.89% (-20.79%)
Harvey Locke (Lib) 32.67% (+15.14%)
Chris Turner (Green) 25.64% (+15.73%)
Dan Meades (NDP) 3.84% (-11.02%)
Antoni Grochowski (Ind) 0.51%
Tony Prashad (Libertarian) 0.44%

The Conservatives retained the seat, although with a 4.2% majority which is a very far cry from Lee Richardson’s 40 point margin in May 2011. However, what counts for them is that they retained the seat and averted a huge PR disaster – which the Harper government is always very keen on avoiding. Of course, the fact that they came within 4% of losing a seat which has been solidly Conservative for ages should be worrying for the Tories, though it would still be risky to extrapolate any provincial (let alone) national trends from this result. Crockatt was probably a bad candidate, despite being rather well known on the Calgary media circuit, and she is probably to the right of her fairly socially liberal and ‘Red Tory’ constituents. The Tories will need to dissect what happened, but I would wager that this by-election is one of those fluke by-elections which don’t portend any future trends.

The Liberals had a good result, but because they had focused their sparse resources on the riding to the exclusion of the two other ridings, a defeat – even if it is by a very close margin – will be disappointing for them. The Liberals have shown that, under particular circumstances and low turnout, they can come close to the Tories even in solidly blue Calgary. With such a close race, Liberals will be left wondering if they could have won the seat if McGuinty had not said what he said and the 2010 Trudeau tape had not been put back in the front light. However, no polls showed the Liberals actually leading in CC – even prior to the McGuinty/Trudeau comments – and their 32-33% of the vote on November 26 is basically where the polls had placed them.

Yet, the Liberals are not on the verge of breaking through Harper’s “Alberta Firewall”. Polls do show that Tory support has dropped from the 67% they won in the province in May 2011, but at 58-60%, it’s not really catastrophic for them and the fact that both the Liberals and NDP have definite problems in reaching out to Albertans makes it easier for the Harper Tories in Alberta. The Greens were the true winners, taking a very big 25% of the vote.

The NDP did very badly, which could be a reflection of the local unpopularity of Thomas Mulcair’s comments about the “Dutch disease” in relation to Alberta’s oil sands, but it is probably more a reflection of the fact that the NDP didn’t bother contesting the by-election, certainly not with a strong candidate like the Grits or the Greens.

Interestingly, turnout in CC was the lowest of the three by-elections at only 29.4%. As a urban core riding, it has always tended to see lower turnout levels, but one would have expected heavier turnout considering the high stakes and close contest. Did Tories unhappy with Crockatt choose to stay home? This seems likely a good explanation, considering the Tory raw vote dropped from 28.4k in 2011 to 10.1k in this by-election while the Liberals won about 400 more votes and the Greens took an extra 2.2k votes. The Greens, who have proven that they can attract ‘Red Tory’ voters with some success in the past, likely took votes away from the Tories and the NDP (they lost about 6.2k votes). This is one of those by-elections where poll-by-poll data will be warmly welcomed.

Victoria (British Columbia)

The riding of Victoria includes the city of Victoria, the provincial capital, the suburban district of Oak Bay and parts of the district of Saanich. The riding is predominantly white (85%) with the largest visible minorities being Chinese (4%). In Victoria, the largest religion is the lackthereof: in 2001, 40.5% of residents claimed no religious affiliation while 35.4% were Protestant.

Victoria is a popular tourist destination and an attractive city, with a growing lucrative high-tech sector. Home to the University of Victoria (UVic), the city has a large non-local student population. Like most of coastal Vancouver Island, the Victoria region is particularly attractive for affluent retireees who enjoy the temperate climate and the city’s usually relaxed pace. The city of Victoria itself has a diverse mix of unionized civil servants in neighborhoods such as James Bay and Fairfield, artists and students in Fernwood or downtown and young professionals who were drawn by the new high-tech sector in the city. Despite being a popular tourist destination and largely white-collar city, Victoria has pockets of deprivation and homelessness, loitering, panhandling and drug use continue to cause problem in some lower-income areas in downtown Victoria. Oak Bay, an old streetcar suburb, is wealthier and older. Parts of Oak Bay, notably Uplands and Ten Mile Point, are very affluent and popular with retirees. Some other parts of Oak Bay have some students, academics and public sector professionals. Parts of Victoria have seen pricey high-rise condo towers spring up, attracting more previleged retirees.

Demographically, this is a fairly old riding with the median age being 45 and the percentage of individuals over 15 being one of the highest in Canada (90%). Victoria has high percentages of widows and divorcees, but also a fairly large percentage of singles who never married (39%). There are relatively few households with children. The riding, unsurprisingly, falls in the upper tier of ridings in terms of education: 31% of residents have a university degree. In terms of income, however, the riding is generally ‘poor’ with a median HH income of $43,045, the second lowest in BC. 52% of residents rent their household.

Once upon a time, the famously monarchist and old English Protestant city of Victoria was a Tory stronghold. The Conservatives held both seats in the two-member riding between 1882 and 1902, in 1878 Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald won the seat (despite having never even been to Victoria) following his defeat in his native riding of Kingston. The Tories held the seat again between 1908 and 1937. In later years, the Liberals and Conservatives played back-and-forth over the seat, with the Liberals holding the seat from 1937 till 1957 and again between 1963 and 1972. The Tories held the seat under Diefenbaker and then between 1972 and 1988, when they lost it to the NDP.

In the space of six years, Victoria has become a solid NDP seat, but 1988 was the only time prior to 2006 that the NDP held the seat. Between 1993 and 2006, David Anderson, a popular Liberal who served as Minister of the Environment between 1999 and 2004 held the seat with comfortable majorities. In 2004, Anderson defeated David Turner (NDP), the former mayor of Victoria, by 4 points. However, the Liberals failed to hold the seat in 2006, when the NDP’s Denise Savoie won the seat with an 11% majority over the Liberals. Since then, the Liberal vote has collapsed in Victoria, bleeding votes left and right. Savoie was reelected in 2008 and 2011 (with a 17% and 27% majorities respectively) but in both elections, the Tories placed second while the Liberals were relegated to third (with only 14% in 2011). The Greens have polled strongly in Victoria since 2004, most recently winning 11.6% in 2011.

In the 90s and early 2000s, the Liberals were dominant throughout the quasi-entirety of Oak Bay, doing very well in the most affluent areas, but they also had strength in parts of Victoria – including Fairfield and parts of James Bay. The NDP’s base was and remains the lower-income neighborhoods of Fernwood or North Park. Since then, however, the Liberals lost votes to the Conservatives in the affluent parts of Oak Bay and in the condo polls along the coast, while the NDP has secured very strong support throughout Victoria. In 2011, the Tories won the Uplands and Ten Mile Point neighborhoods of Oak Bay along with a few condo polls, while the NDP won practically everywhere else.

This by-election followed Denise Savoie’s resignation for health reasons. The NDP candidate was Murray Rankin, an environmental lawyer. The Liberals nominated Paul Summerville, who had ran for the NDP in St. Paul’s (Toronto) in 2006. The Conservative candidate was Dale Gann. Victoria is next door to Saanich-Gulf Islands, held since May 2011 by the Green leader, Elizabeth May. The Greens nominated Donald Galloway, a UVic professor. The Greens have targeted Victoria as a potential riding for a “second Green MP” in the 2015 election, and ran a strong campaign in this by-election.

Murray Rankin (NDP) 37.23% (-13.55%)
Donald Galloway (Green) 34.28% (+22.67%)
Dale Gann (Con) 14.44% (-9.19%)
Paul Summerville (Lib) 13.06% (-0.92%)
Art Lowe (Libertarian) 0.50%
Philip Ney (CHP) 0.49%

The NDP held the seat, but with a 2.9% margin it is too close for comfort. The NDP had been expected to retain the seat despite a strong Green challenge, but the Greens got closer to actually winning the seat (on election night, early results had the Greens leading) than anyone had expected. The NDP had likely not invested as much in this campaign as it should have, while the Greens – boosted by the presence of their colourful and energetic next door in SGI – targeted the seat and apparently ran a very strong campaign locally. The Conservatives and Liberals, who in the past had fought for the seat, fought for distant third and fourth place in this by-election. We should not read too much into the horrible Conservative result, given that the Tories generally see their vote share collapse in by-elections which they do not bother seriously contesting all while being able to poll very strongly in by-elections which they invest significant resources in. The Liberals should be worried by their result, but they too did not run a very active campaign.

Victoria had the highest turnout of the three seats contested, at 44%.

We hoped that a clear message could be drawn from these 3 by-elections on November 26, but as in so many by-elections it ended in an inconclusive night and mixed messages for all parties.

The one thing which is clear is that the Greens won the by-elections. Their vote share dropped in Durham, but they did extremely well in both Calgary and Victoria. Since 2011, the Greens have abandoned their old strategy of contesting every single seat and spreading their sparse resources across Canada. In the 2011 federal election, the Green Party’s campaign was basically all about electing Elizabeth May in SGI, and they were successful – but it was at the cost of losing support in almost every single other riding in the country. That strategy worked in 2011, and the Greens have opted to prioritizing and focusing their resources in the seats where they feel that have a solid shot at winning, even if that means seeing Green support drop even further in the other seats which they do not seriously contest. The Greens ignored Durham – their vote dropped – but they focused on Calgary Centre and especially Victoria. In both of these cases, their investments paid off. Victoria is now a prime Green target in the 2015 election, and Calgary Centre could potentially be promising. These by-elections will not lead to a sustained Green surge in the polls (besides – there’s no federal election until 2015), but the fact that the Greens have chosen to focus their efforts in a few ridings could be bad news for Harper’s opponents, who could see the centre-left/anti-Harper vote divided even further.

Could we count the Tories or the Liberals as ‘winners’ in these three by-elections? On the one hand, the Tories did well in Durham (showing that Fortress Rurban Ontario is still very solid) and they averted a PR disaster in Alberta but on the other hand, their vote collapsed in Victoria and CC was unacceptably close for them. Similarly, while the Liberals can pride themselves in a (very) strong result in CC, but on the other hand they did horribly in the other two seats and considering that CC had turned into a must-win for them, a loss stings. The Conservatives remain in a relatively solid position, even if Harper’s government is fairly unpopular and Tory support nationally is only a bit above their traditional floor (30-33%). The Liberals have lots of work ahead of them if they want to regain second place, let alone win power.

The NDP had a tough night. Victoria almost created a PR disaster for them, while their support fell off in CC. On the other hand, they did do quite well in Durham – maintaining a respectable second in a seat where second place for the NDP would have been unimaginable prior to the 2011 Orange Crush.

Ontario (and Manitoba) provincial by-elections 2012

By-elections were held in the provincial constituencies of Kitchener-Waterloo and Vaughan on September 6 in Ontario (Canada), following a by-election in the provincial constituency of Fort Whyte in Manitoba (Canada) on September 4.

Kitchener-Waterloo (Ontario)

Map of Kitchener-Waterloo (source: Elections Canada)

In the 2011 Ontarian provincial election, Premier Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals were returned to power for a third straight term but they won a minority government with 53 seat, one short of the “magic” 54 seats needed to form a majority government (the speaker is a Liberal, giving the Liberals an effective 52 votes against 54 votes for the opposition).

Governing in a minority environment for the first time, the Liberals have been forced to work with the other parties. With a struggling economy and huge deficit, the government introduced an austerity-minded budget earlier this year which includes a two-year pay freeze for public sector employees, including teachers and doctors. The budget also included cuts in government spending and government services.

The opposition Progressive Conservatives (PCs), led by Tim Hudak, rejected the budget out of hand, claiming the Liberal budget did not do enough to curb “runaway spending” and debt. The New Democrats were more open to compromise, and in April the NDP agreed to prop up the government in return for the inclusion of a tax on high incomes proposed by the NDP. However, Ontario was almost thrust into a snap election in July when the NDP – unexpectedly backed by the PCs – started voting down key planks of the budget in June. McGuinty threatened to call an election until the NDP finally blinked and abstained from the final vote on the budget, allowing it to pass in late June.

The PC MPP for Kitchener-Waterloo, Elizabeth Witmer, resigned on April 27 following her appointment to head the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB). Her resignation created a vacancy in the riding which she has held since 1990. Witmer was a fairly high-profile moderate “Red Tory” who served in Premiers Mike Harris and Ernie Eve’s cabinets. As a moderate and fairly consensual Tory, she built up a strong personal vote which allowed her to win reelection in her fairly swing-y riding in 2003, 2007 and 2011 despite the PCs losing at the provincial level.

Kitchener-Waterloo was created in 1996 and is composed of the northern parts of the city of Kitchener and the entirety of the city of Waterloo in southwestern (or midwestern) Ontario. Waterloo forms part of a larger urban conglomeration which includes the slightly larger cities of Kitchener and Cambridge.

Historically, Waterloo County had a large German population – the city of Kitchener was known as Berlin until World War I and was the centre of the German population in Ontario during the first decades of Confederation. According to the 2006 census, 27% of Kitchener-Waterloo’s population claimed German ancestry. Politically, this German influence in Waterloo County made Waterloo North a Liberal stronghold, at least at the federal level. The federal riding of Waterloo North was held by the Liberals between 1917 and 1958. With a few short exceptions, the provincial riding of Waterloo North was held by the Liberals between 1929 and 1990.

While Kitchener and Cambridge were historically major industrial centres, the city of Waterloo does not have a blue-collar industrial past. Today, Waterloo has developed a strong high-tech and knowledge-based economy. It is home to the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University, but also high-tech giant Research in Motion (RIM), the developer of the Blackberry. The riding’s has a predominantly middle-class, white-collar professional population. Median household income is in the upper tier provincially and nationally and 29% of the population has a university education.

In the past two decades, the Liberals have had the upper hand in Kitchener-Waterloo. Federally, K-W was represented by Andrew Telegdi, a maverick-y Liberal, between 1993 and 2008. In the 2008 election, Telegdi was surprisingly defeated by Conservative Peter Braid by a tiny 17-vote margin (36.1% to 36%). The 2011 results in Kitchener-Waterloo were skewed by the fact that Telegdi ran a strong campaign which coalesced the anti-Tory vote around his name. Even if the May 2011 election was a disaster for the federal Liberal Party, Telegdi, who hadn’t stopped running since his 2008 defeat, managed to increase his vote share to 37.6% but Braid simultaneously increased his vote share to 40.9%.

Provincially, Witmer won by relatively tight but still quite comfortable margins in the past three elections. Her most decisive victory was in 2007, she took 40.8% against 31.2% for the Liberals and 17.5% for the NDP. In 2011, she won by a slightly tighter margin, 43.8% against 36% for the Liberals and 16.7% for the NDP.

The NDP represented the federal riding of Waterloo (which included the city of Waterloo but also surrounding areas) between 1964 and 1979 with Max Saltsman. Provincially, however, the last time the riding had a New Democrat MPP was in 1943, when the present-day NDP was known as the CCF. That being said, the riding in its current incarnation would likely have been won by the provincial NDP in the 1990 election.

The NDP has usually been confined to a range of 15-17% support in the riding in the past eight years. The Greens have a strong potential in the riding, they took 9.3% in the 2007 provincial election and 12.1% in the 2008 federal election. However, their vote fell to only 2.6% and 4.8% in the last provincial and federal elections respectively.

The Liberals are usually strongest in downtown Waterloo and around the University of Waterloo in the centre of the riding. The downtown part of Waterloo is a largely middle-class young professional, highly educated and relatively affluent area. Telegdi dominated there in the 2008 and 2011 federal elections, and the Greens usually placed strong seconds or thirds in most polls in downtown Waterloo in the 2008 federal election. The Conservatives, on the other hand, have been strong the outskirts of the riding – largely upper middle-class suburban neighborhoods, a mix of both older developments and newer subdivisions. Federally, it was strong Tory inroads in these neighborhoods which had previously been reliably Liberal (until 2006) which allowed them to defeat Telegdi in 2008 and again in 2011. At the provincial level, Witmer won these areas easily in 2011 and certainly in 2003 and 2007. The New Democrats have found their strongest support in more blue-collar and lower-income neighborhoods of north Kitchener which are included in the riding, along with a handful of polls around social housing projects or apartment blocks.

Given the riding’s swing-y nature, Witmer’s resignation got the provincial Liberals excited at the opportunity for a gain, which would have given them a working majority of sorts in the Legislative Assembly. However, the by-election came in a tough climate for the governing Liberals. According to polls, the Liberals are languishing in the 26-28% range, in third behind the NDP (at roughly 28-30%) and the PCs (36-38%). In the past few weeks, the Liberal government has crossed swords with teacher unions, who have fought against the government’s two-year pay freeze for provincial employees, including teachers.

The Liberals had a contested nomination fight in the riding, but eventually re-nominated Eric Davis, a lawyer and their 2011 candidates. The PCs nominated Tracey Weiler, a local businesswoman. The NDP nominated their strongest possible candidate, Catherine Fife, the chair of the local school board and the president of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association. Fife had run for the NDP in the 2007 provincial election, running a strong campaign and placing a decent third with 17.5%.

This election turned out to be a close three-way battle in which all three parties invested lots of resources. The Liberals heavily targeted this riding in order to win a working majority, the NDP fancied its chances with a strong candidate and favourable provincial circumstances while the Tories needed to maintain their hold on this key swing seat.

Forum Research polled the riding thrice. Right when the seat became vacant, they saw the Liberals ahead. A few months later, they showed the PCs on top with a 4% edge over the NDP and the Liberals, who were tied at 30% apiece. Right before September 6, their last poll showed the NDP surging way ahead of both the Tories and the Liberals.

The results were as follows:

Catherine Fife (NDP) 39.84% (+23.17%)
Tracey Weiler (PC) 31.82% (-11.95%)
Eric Davis (Liberal) 24.05% (-11.99%)
Stacey Danckert (Green) 3.25% (+0.61%)
Allan Detweiler (Libertarian) 0.33%
David Driver (Freedom) 0.2% (-0.05%)
Elizabeth Rowley (Communist) 0.19%
Garnet Bruce (Ind) 0.17%
Kevin Clarke (People’s) 0.1%
John Turmel (Pauper) 0.05%

The result was a major upset, one of those memorable by-elections which will be (or ought to be) remembered down the road. The NDP, usually weak in this riding, came out of a distant third place to win by a large 8% margin, handing both the Tories and Liberals disastrous results.

The NDP upset in Kitchener-Waterloo is the result of a number of factors, some local and others more general. At the local level, Catherine Fife was undeniably a strong candidate and she ran a strong campaign. The provincial NDP organization invested tons of resources into the contest, NDP leader Andrea Horwath visited the riding numerous times over the past few months and Fife’s campaign received the enthusiastic and influential backing of the teachers’ unions, which are locked in a fight with the Liberal government over the government’s controversial two-year pay freeze. The union apparently bused down tons of volunteers to help out with Fife’s campaign.

Fife was further boosted by ‘national’ factors. Premier Dalton McGuinty is unpopular and voters were in no mood to give him a majority, but PC leader Tim Hudak hardly has a better image with the wider electorate. During the budget shenanigans, the PCs received negative media coverage, highlighting their steadfast opposition to the budget (and their refusal to work with the government), while their decision to back the NDP in voting down key planks of the budget was fairly hypocritical given that in doing so they went against parts of their own platform.

Hudak is also a fairly mediocre leader. He could easily have won the 2011 election, but the PC campaign derailed as Hudak allowed McGuinty to paint him as a radical. Hudak lacks the charisma or political talent of his federal counterpart, Stephen Harper. During the campaign, Hudak tried to downplay expectations for his party, saying that K-W was more of a “Witmer seat” than a “PC seat”, which is correct but which isn’t a very savvy thing for a party leader to say during a by-election campaign. Following the by-election, Hudak blamed the defeat on “union bosses”.

While both Hudak and McGuinty have terrible approval ratings, NDP leader Andrea Horwath has, by far, the strongest ratings of the three leaders.

K-W is not weak territory for the NDP, but it is not easy ground for them either. While the NDP’s base in K-W is likely larger than recent election results might indicate, K-W kind of fits the “too rich to vote NDP, too smart to vote Tory” mold (the phrase has been used since 2011 to describe residual pockets of Liberal strength, primarily federally). However, Kitchener-Waterloo and similar ridings are the kind of places which the NDP must win if they are to form government, both federally and provincially.

To win in a what is traditionally a really longshot riding for the NDP, Catherine Fife likely assembled a coalition of core NDP supporters in lower-income areas, left-leaning Liberals (middle-class young professionals, students) in neighborhoods such as downtown Waterloo and around the universities and certainly some moderate “Witmer Tories”. Fife might have been helped by local economic concerns about the future of Waterloo’s top employer, RIM, which has recorded major financial loses in recent months.

The result is an unmitigated disaster both for the PCs and the Liberals, perhaps more so for the Liberals. Tim Hudak has been placed under some pressure to step down following this embarrassing defeat for the PCs, and at any rate it is unlikely that the PCs will be as eager to force a snap election following this disaster. The Liberals clearly invested tons of energy, resources and manpower into this campaign and they presented this as their top chance to win a majority government, but voters resoundingly rejected the idea of giving McGuinty a working majority. While this isn’t quite the end of the road for the Liberal government, McGuinty and his government are in really dire straits. They have been hit by scandals, the budget has generally been unpopular and his fight with the teachers’ union doesn’t seem to be doing them any favours. A snap election anytime soon for the Liberals would certainly be tough for McGuinty, especially given that Horwath and the NDP would have momentum. The Liberals, after nearly 10 years in power, are really starting to be hit by voters’ fatigue.

Vaughan (Ontario)

Map of Vaughan (source: Elections Canada)

There was another by-election on the same day in Ontario, in the provincial riding of Vaughan. Liberal MPP Greg Sorbara resigned his seat on August 1.

The riding covers most of the municipality of Vaughan, one of the fastest-growing municipalities in Ontario located just outside Toronto. Vaughan is a very affluent suburban community – it has one of the highest household incomes in Canada. It has a fairly young population made up, in very large part, of middle-class families. On the 2006 census, Vaughan topped all Canadian federal constituencies on the percentage of houses which are owned (94.3%) and built within the last 20 years (80.5%). It also had the highest national percentage of married couples (87%) and second generation immigrants (37.3%).

Vaughan (especially the neighborhood of Woodbridge) is notable for its large Italian population. In the 2006 census, a full 54.4% of the riding’s population claimed Italian ancestry, and the riding had the highest Catholic population of all ridings in Ontario in 2001 at 77%. However, the riding’s character is changing somewhat. A quarter of the population are visible minorities, including a significant South Asian population (9.3% of the total population).

Politically, Vaughan has traditionally been a Liberal stronghold both at the provincial and federal level. However, since 2011, politics in Vaughan have been marked by a stark contrast between the federal and provincial levels. After longtime Liberal MP Maurizio Bevilacqua resigned his seat in 2010, former Toronto police chief Julian Fantino gained the seat for the federal Tories in a 2010 by-election. In May 2011, he was reelected with a huge majority (26.5%), painting the entire riding Conservative blue. At the provincial level, Greg Sorbara has held the seat since 2003. Sorbara, who served in the David Peterson and later the McGuinty governments had originally represented the Vaughan region between 1985 and 1995, when he was defeated by the PC’s Al Palladini. Sorbara staged a comeback in the 2003 election, taking back the seat with 56% of the vote. He took 61.9% in 2007 and won 53% in the 2011 election. At the provincial level, the riding is still solidly Liberal red.

The seat’s voting patterns are rather homogeneous. In 2011, Fantino basically swept the entire riding, with the Liberals barely holding on to some decent showings in Woodbridge and Maples. In the provincial election, Sorbara, in contrast, painted almost all of the polls in Vaughan Liberal red.

The Liberal candidate was Steven Del Duca, director of public affairs for the Carpenters’ District Council of Ontario. The PC candidate was Tony Genco, the PC candidate in October 2011, who had previously run for the federal Liberals in the 2010 by-election and for the provincial Liberals in 1999. The NDP candidate was Paul Donofrio.

The results were:

Steven Del Duca (Liberal) 51.2% (-1.82%)
Tony Genco (PC) 33.39% (+2.15%)
Paul Donofrio (NDP) 11.32% (-0.01%)
Paula Conning (Green) 1.78% (+0.37%)
Paolo Fabrizio (Libertarian) 0.96% (-0.92%)
Bart Wysokinski (Family Coalition) 0.45%
Stephen Tonner (Ind) 0.37%
Erin Goodwin (Freedom) 0.28%
Phil Sarazen (People’s) 0.24%

In contrast to the disastrous Liberal rout in K-W, the Liberals held up very well in Vaughan, holding the seat by over 17 points and losing only 1.8% off their October 2011 vote. However, the Vaughan by-election was much lower on the radar for all parties (besides, maybe, the Liberals, who in the closing days saw Vaughan as a good opportunity to save face). Tony Genco is pretty much a terrible candidate, and it does not seem as if the PCs invested much resources into this contest.

Affluent Toronto suburbia is still very difficult ground for the NDP, and it ignored this by-election to focus all it had on Kitchener-Waterloo. Therefore, considering that this is a by-election in a constituency with zero NDP groundwork and that the NDP ignored this by-election, the NDP can certainly be very pleased that it held on to its 2011 vote share. However, maybe, just maybe, this indicates that K-W was a result influenced primarily by local circumstances and that there is not (yet?) a massive Orange Crush in the works at the provincial level.

The greater 905 region is must-win country for Tim Hudak (as it was for Harper) if he wants the Tories to win the next provincial election, but Vaughan itself is not a must-win constituency. It remains, despite Fantino’s popularity federally, a structurally Liberal riding which is, at best, a long-shot target for the PCs unless they get some star candidate and the Liberals have a crummy candidate.

The overall results of these two by-elections in Ontario is a major victory for the NDP and a defeat for both the Liberals and the PCs. While the Liberals can be pleased by their very strong resistance in Vaughan, the result in K-W is still an unmitigated disaster for them which they can difficultly spin. The PCs had a terrible showing in K-W and a very underwhelming, mediocre result in Vaughan, two results which will place Tim Hudak’s hold on the PC leadership in question, even if he himself shows no willingness to step aside.

Fort Whyte (Manitoba)

Location of Fort Whyte within the city Winnipeg (source: Manitoba Elections)

A provincial by-election in the constituency of Fort Whyte was held in Manitoba on September 4. Fort Whyte’s incumbent MLA since 2005, former provincial Progressive Conservative (PC) leader Hugh McFayden, stepped down from the PC leadership and resigned his seat earlier this year.

Fort Whyte is located in southwestern Winnipeg, covering the suburban neighborhoods of Linden Woods, Linden Ridge, Bridgwater Forest, Fort Whyte and Whyte Ridge. The seat was created in 1999 from parts of Fort Garry and St. Norbert, the result of strong population growth in suburban southwestern Winnipeg. The riding is made up quasi-exclusively of newer affluent upper middle-class suburbs of Winnipeg. The riding has the second highest average family income in the province and some 30% of the population hold university degrees, once again one of the highest in the province.

Fort Whyte has been a PC stronghold since its creation in 1999, and this part of Winnipeg has been represented by PC MLAs since at least 1958. Between 1999 and 2005, Fort Whyte was held by John Loewen, a moderate Red Tory who resigned in 2005 to run for the federal Liberals in the 2006 federal election. In a by-election he was succeeded by Hugh McFayden, who became the leader of the PCs and leader of the opposition in 2006. McFayden led the PCs into the 2007 and 2011 provincial elections, but both times the PCs were defeated by the NDP, which has been in power since 1999. Following his defeat in the 2011 election, in which the PCs failed to increase their representation, McFayden announced his resignation from the party leadership.

In the absence of any other candidates, former provincial cabinet minister and federal Conservative MP Brian Pallister was acclaimed as the new PC leader. Brian Pallister served in Gary Filmon’s provincial Conservative government as Minister of Government Services between 1995 and 1997, resigning to run in the 1997 federal election for the federal PCs. A “Blue Tory” within the federal PCs, Pallister ran for the PC leadership in 1998 on a right-wing platform aimed at appealing to Reform Party supporters, placing fourth on the first ballot. In 2000, he left the party to run for the Canadian Alliance in the 2000 federal election in the constituency of Portage-Lisgar. He held that seat until 2008, and was a fairly unremarkable Alliance and later Conservative backbencher.

Pallister was the PC candidate in Fort Whyte. The Liberal candidate was Bob Axworthy, who is apparently the brother of former federal foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy. The NDP candidate was Brandy Schmidt. The results were:

Brian Pallister (PC) 55.18% (-7.29%)
Bob Axworthy (Liberal) 31.56% (+23.64%)
Brandy Schmidt (NDP) 11.25% (-18.36%)
Donnie Benham (Green) 1.72%
Darrell Ackman (Ind) 0.29%

There isn’t much to say about this by-election, except that Pallister, as everybody expected, held a Tory fortress by a landslide and that the Liberals did really well. Pallister did considerably worse than McFayden in the 2011 election, though he still beats the 52% which McFayden won in the 2005 by-election and 2007 election. Pallister doesn’t strike me as a particularly wise choice for the PCs, given that the NDP probably don’t like anything better than running against a guy who served in the government they always love to criticize.

The Liberals did really well, winning their best result on record in the riding since its creation in 1999. In the 2011 election, the Liberal vote had taken a major hit in the riding compared to previous elections, when the Liberals had managed to pull in around 15-20% of the vote in Fort Whyte. McFayden seemingly gained a good part of the 2007 Liberal vote in his 2011 reelection bid in his seat. Some of this vote likely returned to the Liberal fold, but given that Axworthy – a starlet candidate given his last name – likely was the most visible anti-Tory candidate in the by-election and managed to coalesce most of the anti-Tory vote around his name. In this vein, I don’t know how to interpret the NDP’s pretty terrible result. Is this a bad sign for the Greg Selinger government, or is it, as I suspect, because the NDP really didn’t put any effort in this by-election?

The NDP has been in power for 13 years, since 1999. Since 2009, Manitoba has been governed by Premier Greg Selinger. In the 2011 election, the NDP won reelection with a huge majority – 37 seats against only 19 for the PCs and a lone Liberal holdout – but the popular vote was relatively narrow, the NDP winning over the PCs by only 2%. The PCs’ problem is that their votes are homogeneously concentrated in a handful of rock-ribbed conservative rural ridings, especially those German Mennonite rural areas south of Winnipeg where the PCs win with majorities well over 40-50%. In contrast, the PCs have found themselves nearly shut out of Winnipeg, taking only four seats in the city in the last two elections. If the PCs are to win the next election (after 16 years in power in 2015, the NDP might  be hitting voter fatigue), they will need to make some significant gains in urban Winnipeg, notably in more middle-class suburban ridings in the south of the city which have voted for Harper’s Conservatives by solid margins but narrowly reelected NDP incumbents in 2011. If they are not able to make some gains in Winnipeg, then they will confined to the opposition benches for another term. It is, of course, too early to say if Brian Pallister will the good leader to lead them to government, 16 years after Gary Filmon lost reelection in 1999.

Tired of Canada? The Netherlands votes on Wednesday, September 12.

Toronto-Danforth by-election (Canada) 2012

Map of Toronto-Danforth (source: Wikipedia)

A federal by-election was held in the Canadian constituency of Toronto-Danforth in Ontario on March 19, 2012. The downtown Toronto seat fell vacant following the tragic death of NDP leader and newly-elected opposition leader Jack Layton on August 22, 2011. Jack Layton, the emblematic leader of the NDP who had just led the party to an historic victory in May 2011, forming the official opposition to Stephen Harper’s Tory majority, died after a fight with cancer in the summer of 2011.

Toronto-Danforth, which took its current boundaries in 2003, is located east of the riding of Toronto Centre and covers an area between the Don River and Coxwell Avenue, and between the lakefront of Lake Ontario and the Don River East Branch/Taylor Creek. The core of the riding, one of the most left-leaning in Toronto, was covered by the old riding of Broadview-Greenwood in the 1970s-1980s, a riding which elected current Liberal leader Bob Rae when he was a federal NDP MP.

The riding is ethnically diverse, with a 33% non-white (visible minority) population, including a large Chinese population (16%) which is concentrated in the southern half of the riding in the neighborhoods of Leslieville and East Chinatown. The north of the riding is noted for its large Greek population, located in Pape Village and Greektown. In 2001, at 11%, the riding had the highest percentage of Greek Orthodox in the province of Ontario (it also had the highest provincial percentage of Buddhists, 5.7%). Historically a fairly working-class or lower middle-class riding, Toronto-Danforth has seen its share of gentrification in recent years with traditionally low-income working-class neighborhoods such as Leslieville, Riverside (Queen-Broadview Village) and The Pocket becoming attractive areas for young professionals, artsy types and more middle-class inhabitants. The Studio District near the lakefront has become a magnet for artists, young professionals and film makers. Other areas, such as Blake-Jones, are poorer and more working-class. The India Bazaar and The Pocket have a large South Asian and Muslim population,

A good indicator of the riding’s gentrified nature is the irreligious-ness of the riding: at 31% in 2001, the lack of religion was the largest ‘religion’. The most irreligious areas were located in the southern half of the riding (Danforth Avenue acts as a divide between a fairly clearly defined north and south), especially in parts of Riverdale and the Studio District. The northern half of the riding concentrates the bulk of the riding’s Orthodox population (in the Greek areas of Greektown, Pape Village and Broadview North). Affluent, residential neighborhoods such as Old East York or parts of Riverdale (Playter Estates) has sizable concentration of mainline Protestants or Catholics.

Toronto-Danforth’s predecessor ridings – Broadview and Broadview-Greenwood (see the boundary history here) have a long NDP tradition. Broadview elected its first NDP MP in 1965, and the party held the seat until the 1988 election. Bob Rae was elected MP in a close by-election in 1978 for the NDP and was succeeded in 1982 by the NDP’s Lynn McDonald who was defeated in 1988 by the second ever Liberal to represent Broadview-Greenwood, Dennis Mills. Mills was easily reelected in all elections until 2004. In 2004, Toronto city councillor and newly-elected NDP leader Jack Layton (elected leader while out of Parliament) defeated Mills in a close contest with 46% to Mills’ 41%. As Liberal fortunes progressively collapsed in the next three elections, the Liberals no longer posed a real threat to the NDP leader in his own seat. In 2011, as the NDP surged into the official opposition, Layton won a landslide in his home turf with 61% of the vote against a mere 18% for the Liberals. The Conservatives won 14%, which was still their best performance since 1988 in a riding where they have never been a major presence since the 1980s – despite the area’s Tory history – it elected Dief-era cabinet minister George Hees between 1950 and 1963.

The Liberals have usually performed best in the northern half of the riding, especially in the affluent right-leaning areas of Woodbine Heights in Old East York, the predominantly Greek areas of Pape Village and Greektown and some of the affluent precincts in Riverdale. In 2011, the Conservatives outpaced the Liberals in Woodbine Heights and other parts of Old East York. The NDP has tended to do well in the southern half, especially Riverside, the Studio District, Leslieville, The Pocket, India Bazaar and Blake-Jones. In 2011, Jack Layton won every single poll in the riding.

Stephen Harper delayed dropping the writ until the very last moment, the first indication that the Conservative machine would not bother wasting resources on a by-election contest they would surely lose whatever they did. The climate was also somewhat unfavourable to Stephen Harper’s governing Tories, given that their support has declined somewhat since May 2011 because of a series of controversies including electoral robocalls and mishandled kerfuffles over pensions and internet surveillance.

Thus, the contest became an unequal battle between the NDP’s Craig Scott, a law professor and distinguished scholar; and Liberal candidate Grant Gordon, a marketing firm boss. Jack Layton surely cast a long shadow over the contest, as the NDP attempted to tap into a reservoir of sympathy for the riding’s popular star MP. The Liberals wanted to make people believe that they actually stood a chance (which they never did) and did invest some resources in the riding, which was to be the first test for the Liberal Party since the party’s historic electoral annihilation of sorts in May 2011.

The results were:

Craig Scott (NDP) 59.44% (-1.36%)
Grant Gordon (Liberal) 28.51% (+10.89%)
Andrew Keyes (Conservative) 5.37% (-8.95%)
Adriana Mugnatto-Hamu (Green) 4.69% (-1.77%)
Dorian Baxter (PC) 0.64%
John Christopher Recker (Libertarian) 0.41%
Christopher Porter (CAP) 0.24%
Leslie Bory (Ind) 0.24%
John C. Turmel (Ind) 0.18%
Brian Jedan (United) 0.17%
Bahman Yazdanfar (Ind) 0.11%

Turnout was fairly solid for a by-election at 43.4%, but still down a lot from 64.9% in the federal election.

The NDP and the Liberals came out of the by-election with reason to cheer. The NDP easily held the seat, as was expected, but held the seat by a very large margin and a percentage of the vote down only a bit from Jack Layton’s landslide in May 2011, when he obviously had won personal votes from traditional Liberal or Green voters. It would be hard to take anything out of this by-election, but it is still a very encouraging result for the NDP which heads into a leadership convention next weekend to replace Jack Layton and which has seen its numbers level off or drop off a bit since the party’s victory in May 2011.

The Liberals won a result which is nearly 11% better than their terrible performance in 2011, and the party actually won more raw votes than in May 2011 despite the major drop in turnout overall. This is not by any means an historic result for the Liberals, they are only returning to a level a bit below their 2008 level in the riding which was already fairly weak. The Liberals as a third party in the House have managed to do better than anyone expected after their thumping in May, and Bob Rae has proven a good interim leader for the weakened party. The post-election talk of their imminent death has shifted into speculation about  their chances at returning to official opposition in a perfect storm by the time of the next federal election in 2015. They still have a long road to climb to return to even where they stood between 2006 and 2008, but their poll numbers have already increased a bit from the lows of May 2011.

The Liberals likely took back traditional left-Liberals who had voted for Layton himself in 2011 but also some more right-leaning Liberals or swing voters who had voted Conservative in May but shifted their votes, strategically, to the Liberals this year. The Conservatives had never put any effort into the riding, and won a terrible result at barely 5.4% – probably the lowest results for the Tories in the riding in recent electoral history. It would be hard to draw much from this, given that the Tories have proven that they can do terribly in by-elections they don’t care about and do spectacularly well in by-elections they heavily target. The weak result could be interpreted as a general decline in Tory fortunes since the highs of May 2011, which wouldn’t be entirely off the mark, but which is still a very tentative conclusion to make about such matters.

The NDP goes into a leadership convention next weekend, with the top contenders being Quebec MP Thomas Mulcair (the base’s favourite and the most Third Way-ish of the main contenders), backroom man Brian Topp (the establishment favourite, slightly to the left of Mulcair), Ontario MP Peggy Nash (fairly left-wing and backed by some unions) and Ontario MP Paul Dewar (more of a middle-of-the-road, centre-left figure). BC MP Nathan Cullen, Manitoba MP Niki Ashton and Martin Singh are the other ‘smaller’ candidates’. The NDP leader will face the task of securing the party’s orange wave gains in Quebec – by now the party’s top base – but also reaching out to win more seats in Ontario and the West.

Ontario (Canada) 2011

Provincial elections were held in Ontario on October 6, 2011. All 107 members of Ontario’s Legislative Assembly were up for reelection. Ontario, Canada’s most populous province and traditionally the political and economic heart of Canada, accounting for some 38% of the country’s total GDP and 39% of the country’s population. Ontario’s manufacturing economy once made it the uncontested economic centre of the country, but the progressive decline of manufacturing in recent years has weakened Ontario’s economic and political clout within Canada and transformed it into one of those “have not” provinces while the resource-based economies of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland rake in profits.

Ontario has been governed since 2003 by Dalton McGuinty of the Liberal Party. McGuinty won two straight majorities in 2003 and again in 2007, a feat unprecedented for a provincial Liberal leader since Mitch Hepburn in the 1930s. Ontario’s provincial politics between 1943 and 1985 were marked by the uninterrupted of the Progressive Conservatives (PCs) and their famous Big Blue Machine. Conservative Premiers in this 42-year dynastic rule in the province were moderate centrists, with progressive views on social issues, the welfare state and social programs. Following their defeat in 1943, the provincial Liberals shifted into a small, right-wing rural rump operating out of southwestern Ontario and roughly tied to the NDP in terms of popular support. However, the PCs shifted right with the election of Frank Miller to the party’s leadership in 1985 and the defeat of the Big Blue Machine’s dominance of provincial politics in the 1985 election when David Peterson’s Liberals and Bob Rae’s NDP came to a deal allowing Peterson to govern. Reelected with a huge majority in 1987, Peterson, however, went down to defeat in the 1990 election, during which the NDP surged out of nowhere to win a strong majority government. That stunning victory, however, proved a political anomaly as the NDP’s support dwindled in the course of Bob Rae’s five-year term due to the political costs of a recession and unpopular austerity policies of a government staffed with inexperienced first-termers. In 1995, it was not the Liberal opposition but rather the PCs, reborn on the right with Mike Harris, a populist conservative and fiery advocate of a “Common Sense Revolution”, who succeeded Rae in office. The neoliberal policies and NPM-style reforms of government associated with Harris’ Common Sense Revolution were not unusual to Canada, but Mike Harris became its most famous proponent of such policies because of his ‘in-your-face’ style of governance. Under Harris, the budget was balanced and income taxes were cut by 30%, at the cost of major cuts in social spending, deregulation of the energy sector, hospital closures, nurse layoffs and labour disputes with teachers (over education reforms). Reelected in 1999 over an inexperienced McGuinty, Mike Harris’ popularity wore off in the wake of the Walkerton water contamination scandal and when he stepped down, it was the moderate Ernie Eves who replaced him on a platform of slowly doing away with the controversy and conflict of Harris’ aggressive Common Sense Revolution. The moderate Eves, however, could not resist the tide of change and was defeated in a landslide by Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals.

McGuinty was not undefeatable going into the 2007 election. He had been dinged in 2004 for breaking a 2003 promise not to increase taxes, and the Liberals were weak in polls in the run-up to the 2007 election. The PCs had also gotten somebody who, initially, proved a popular and competent leader – John Tory. Tory was, like Eves, more on the party’s left and something of a Red Tory although favouring a larger role of the private sector in health care provision. However, Tory sabotaged the PC campaign when he came out in favour of extending public funding of separate religious schools to include religious schools of all denominations. In Ontario, Catholic schools are funded by the government just like public schools. The current system is unpopular, but extending the system to use tax money to fund Muslim or Jewish schools were even more unpopular. Tory misread the popular mood on the issue, and in transforming the election into a one-issue race about religious schools, he allowed the Liberals to run away with another large majority (the Liberals supported, like the NDP, the current system). Tory, who was running against a Liberal incumbent in Toronto, lost his race but did not resign the leadership of the PCs until 2009, when he was hilariously defeated in an attempt to return to the legislature in a safe Tory seat in rural Ontario.

Tory was replaced in 2009 by Tim Hudak, a Harris-era cabinet minister and a Blue Tory on the party’s right. Hudak’s strategy was to rebuild Mike Harris’ winning coalition of the 1990s uniting rural Ontario with affluent suburban voters in Toronto and the wider GTA. That same year, the NDP chose Andrew Horwath to succeed longtime leader Howard Hampton, who had failed to produce significant gains for the NDP in his three elections at the helm of the party.

At the outset of the year and after the May federal election, it looked as if it was likely that McGuinty would be defeated by Hudak’s PCs by a wide margin. McGuinty’s approval was pegged at just 16% earlier this year, and the PCs led the Liberals by over 10 points over the early summer. After eight years in power, voter fatigue was beginning to take its toll on the provincial Liberal government, and McGuinty had grown unpopular due to high taxes, a big budgetary deficit, an unpopular harmonized sales tax (HST), rising hydro bills and a eHealth scandal.

By September, however, the Liberals had managed to turn their fortunes around and transform a large deficit into a statistical tie with the PCs. Both Liberals and Tories remained statistically tied or marginally ahead of the other until the last stretch of the election, when the Liberals picked up steam and went into the final days of the campaign with a lead of 3-6 points over the PCs. McGuinty’s fightback from dead-on-arrival to a consistent lead over Hudak’s PCs lead in the final days was a pretty impressive fightback. The NDP, which won 17% in 2007, remained over their 2007 result during the course of the campaign and saw their support increase to an impressive 24-26% in the final days of the campaign after Horwath came out of the debate strengthened.

This race was Tim Hudak’s to lose. He started the pre-campaign with a wide lead, and there was no reason why he should have had trouble defeating a government with a 16% approval rating. The entire Liberal brand, furthermore, had been dealt a pretty huge blow in May (especially in Ontario), and it wasn’t outside the realm of possibilities that the provincial Liberals awaited a fate similar to that of the federal Liberals. Hudak’s campaign, undeniably, went wrong somewhere, because he turned a big lead into a tie and later into a polling deficit. Part of it might have been his past in the Harris cabinet, which is an easy target, and part of it might have been his penchant for sound-bytes rather than coherent policy. A lot of it comes from a poor platform (Liberals talked of a $14.8 billion ‘hole’ in the PC platform which would require massive cuts in health and education) and a poorly-managed populist campaign focused way too much on wedge issues like “high hydro bills”, “tax grabs” and the “tax-man” boogeyman rather than on stronger issues like a high deficit and unemployment. His insistence on transforming the Liberal pledge to give tax credits to businesses which hire new Canadians (less than 5 years in Canada) into an issue over “foreign workers” and “foreigners” went awfully wrong. A pamphlet attacking a Liberal anti-homophobia sex-ed policy was perceived as homophobic. Hudak failed to appear as a competent economic manager who could rid Ontario of a large deficit, and instead appeared as an amateurish populist who ran his entire campaign on sound-bytes and cheap catchphrases (and defending himself and his party from controversial statements). Hudak was unknown to voters before the campaign started, but he was unable to define himself before the Liberals did it for him.

To keep his party together like John Tory before him, Hudak was forced to tack right and please the most right-wing faction of the PC Party, a rural wing led by Randy Hillier. Hillier, a former boss of the very right-wing Ontario Landowners Association (OLA) had managed to get the PC nomination in the eastern Ontario riding of Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington in 2007. In the 2009 leadership race, Hillier’s votes had given Hudak a major boost on the second ballot. This year, the OLA’s Jack MacLaren had managed to defeat longtime PC incumbent Norm Sterling in a nomination battle in the Ottawa-area riding of Carleton-Mississippi Mills. Hillier and the OLA’s influence forced Hudak to take some starkly right-wing social conservative positions such as abolishing the Ontario Human Rights Commission. This in turn alienated some moderate Red Tories and led some old Tories like Norm Sterling, Ernie Eves or John Tory to worry about the PC Party’s shift to the right, perceived by some as a transformation of the PCs into a “Canadian Tea Party”.

McGuinty, in contrast, ran a generally well-handled campaign, despite his government’s wide unpopularity. The Liberals ran very much on a series of facts which McGuinty incessantly repeated in the campaign and in the debate (to the point where it grew annoying): more jobs created in Ontario than anywhere in Canada, shorter hospital wait times, more hospitals, smaller class sizes, no teacher strikes since taking office, opening more schools and leading the country in green energy jobs (which Hudak called ‘tax grabs’). In addition, in wake of tough economic times, McGuinty, like Harper in May, ran on his experience and warned voters of uncertain change in uncertain times. Like Harper’s campaign in May, thus, McGuinty’s campaign was about the need for an experienced and proven government in tough economic times. This proved a winning strategy, as it did for Harper’s Tories in May or for the recently reelected NDP government in Manitoba.

The Liberals also had two other things helping them out. Firstly, the provincial Liberals have a much stronger organization and GOTV machine than the pathetic federal Liberals have. Secondly, Ontario voters have historically shied away from electing two governments of the same colour in Toronto and Ottawa. When Mike Harris was in power in Toronto, Ontario voted solidly Liberal federally. In the later days of the Big Blue Machine, voters placed Conservatives in power in Toronto but voted Liberal federally. After reelecting McGuinty in 2007, voters in Ontario then voted Conservative federally in 2008 and 2011.

Turnout fell to an all-time low of 49.2%, meaning that over half of voters did not go out and vote. A field of three mediocre leaders, a boring campaign with no real issue and uninspiring talking points meant an historic low in turnout, which had already been an historic low of 52.6% in the 2007 election – which, similarly, was boring with no real inspiring party or issue.

Liberal 37.62% (-4.63%) winning 53 seats (-17)
PC 35.43% (+3.81%) winning 37 seats (+12)
NDP 22.73% (+5.96%) winning 17 seats (+7)
Green 2.94% (-5.08%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 1.28% (-0.12%) winning 0 seats (nc)

With a 2.2% edge in the popular vote, the governing Liberals won a third term – the first term in nearly a hundred years that a provincial Liberal government is able to do so. However, it will be a minority government and not another of the huge majority governments of 2003 and 2007. The Liberals fell one seat short of winning another majority government, so their minority will be a ‘strong minority’ where the support of only one or two opposition MPPs will be enough to carry the day. Bringing down this government would also require all opposition PC and NDP MPPs to vote against the government on a matter of confidence. Hudak’s PCs have sternly warned McGuinty that he better heed their advice or they will bring him down, but Horwath’s NDP has taken a far more conciliatory approach, saying that all parties should work together to guarantee stability and prevent a snap election too quickly.

The Liberals won this election in seat-rich Toronto and the larger GTA region. It was Conservative gains in this same region back in May which gave them a landslide victory in Ontario and guaranteed them a majority government. This election, however, the PCs remained completely shut out of the city of Toronto and failed to gain any seats in the larger GTA region. The suburban ridings in the GTA were crucial to Harris, and Hudak’s attempt to replicate the Harris coalition of 1995 and 1999 was dependent on major gains in these ridings and similar affluent suburban ridings in the Ottawa region. The PCs did put a lot of effort into these ridings, running strong candidates in their target ridings including Rocco Rossi, a former national director of the federal Liberals, in Eglinton-Lawrence. It was thus in these must-win seats like Eglinton-Lawrence, Don Valley West, Oakville, Ottawa West-Nepean or London West that the Conservatives really lost this election.

Two people can be blamed for this: Hudak himself and Toronto mayor Rob Ford. Elected in 2010, Toronto’s conservative mayor Rob Ford (although officially non-partisan, he is openly conservative) has grown quite unpopular with Toronto voters because of his controversial efforts to trim the city’s budget by cutting local library services, among other things. Stephen Harper coming out alongside Rob Ford and calling for a “hat trick” and electing Hudak provincially to “clean up the mess” didn’t help Hudak’s cause much. But Hudak himself is the one who deserves most of the blame. His amateurish populist campaign focused excessively on sound-bytes about tax grabs and foreign workers, and stuff about how Ontario is doing very badly didn’t resonate with crucial affluent, well-educated suburban voters. These voters like Harper because they believe Canada has done well in the recession, so they don’t really like Hudak’s talk about how hard life is in Ontario these days. If he had run a well-managed and coherent campaign about the deficit and the need for a more balanced budget, and in the process appeared as a moderate and competent economic manager, Hudak would likely have carried these voters. His populist campaign of sound-bytes, talking points and jumbled up ideas with little coherence didn’t appeal to those voters.

In May, Harper had done so well in Ontario because he had won those suburban voters in the GTA and traditionally conservative voters in rural Ontario – the same thing Mike Harris had done in his two elections. Hudak only managed to do one of those things: win the traditionally conservative voters in rural Ontario, a region where his social conservatism and economic populism plays out better. The PCs scored the bulk of their gains in rural Ontario, especially rural southwestern Ontario, an historically Liberal-voting block which the provincial Liberals had carried in 2007. In a lot of these ridings, they were helped by the retirement of popular long-time Liberal MPPs. The Conservatives won rural ridings such as Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry, Chatham-Kent-Essex, Elgin-Middlesex-London and Nipissing by wide margins after the retirement of incumbent Liberals. They also managed to knock off, although more narrowly, Liberal incumbents in Huron-Bruce, Perth-Wellington, Prince Edward-Hastings or Northumberland-Quinte West. They fell short, however, in the Francophone eastern Ontario riding of Glengarry-Prescott-Russell, an old Liberal fortress weakened by the retirement of the popular Liberal incumbent. In Essex, the death of the longtime Liberal MPP before the election helped the NDP gain the seat with a narrow margin over the PCs while the Liberals placed a distant third.

In must-win suburban ridings, however, the PCs often fell short. In much of downtown Toronto, there was a net swing towards the Liberals, and, by consequence, oftentimes a swing against the PCs or NDP. The PCs had not won a single seat in Toronto in 2007 either, but came within 6% in Eglinton-Lawrence and winning 11% in Don Valley West. This year, the Tories were 21% short in Eglinton-Lawrence a full 28% short in Don Valley West, both ridings in which the Liberal incumbent improved on his or her 2007 result by a significant amount. They came a bit closer in York Centre, but the swing against the Liberals and to the PCs in that riding was still below the provincial average. In Oakville, the Conservatives fell short by 10% and other targets such as London West or Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale weren’t even close. In Ottawa, the Conservatives failed to knock off incumbent Liberal MPP and former mayor Bob Chiarelli in Ottawa West-Nepean by a much closer 2.3% margin despite having a pretty high-profile former columnist as their candidate. In my own riding of Ottawa-Orleans, where the Liberals won by a bit less than 6%, the Conservatives could not defeat an incumbent Liberal despite a string of endorsements from newspapers and two local councillors. All of these ridings are held federally by Conservative MPs, and all of them are some of the must-win ridings for a Conservative majority in Ontario.

The result of this strange state of affairs is that the four best Liberal results in all of Ontario come from affluent, well-educated urban/suburban ridings: St. Paul’s (58.4), Don Valley West (58.3), Toronto Centre (54.9) and Eglinton-Lawrence (54.3). What’s more, both Don Valley West and Eglinton-Lawrence are held by the Tories federally. Urban voters were definitely put off by Hudak’s feisty rural populism, and similar voters in suburban ridings preferred to stay the course with the Liberals – just like they had preferred to stay the course with the Conservatives federally. In other similarly well-educated, generally affluent and urbane ridings such as Kingston, Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo or Ottawa Centre there was a net swing to the Liberals. This year’s Liberal coalition is thus affluent, highly educated, very urban or suburban and whiter than before.

The NDP did well in this election, gaining seven seats and improving their popular vote by nearly 6% to win the best result for the Ontario NDP since the end of the Rae years. It was perhaps not as much as they could have hoped for, with polling giving the NDP up to 26% support, but it is still a rather significant result for them. Horwath performed strongly in the debate and her “putting people first” platform appealed to some voters who disliked both McGuinty and Hudak. The NDP’s results, however, were quite interesting. They won big in rural northern Ontario, but failed to perform as well as expected in urban areas in northern Ontario such as Sudbury or Thunder Bay. They performed well in industrial Hamilton, where they won the last Liberal held seat, or in London where they picked up London-Fanshawe. In both Windsor ridings, they fell far short of winning, but they did score a surprising upset in neighboring Essex. In Toronto, they picked up Davenport, largely on the back of a collapse in the Green vote. One of their most significant gains was Jagmeet Singh’s victory in the suburban multicultural riding of Bramalea-Gore-Malton. Singh had come within 539 votes of winning the same seat in the May federal election, and managed to do so this election, in the process becoming the first NDP representative either federally or provincially from the Peel region.

There are other strong performances in the NDP’s results across the province, indicating room for growth. The NDP did well in rural Ontario, and also performed rather well in poorer, multicultural ridings in Toronto such as Scarborough-Rouge River (the NDP came within 6% of knocking off the Liberals) – a formerly solidly Liberal seat now held federally by the NDP, or York West. At the same time, poor Liberal showings in parts of Mississauga, Brampton, Scarborough and Vaughan should be cause for concern for  the Liberals. Poor Liberal showings in the bulk of rural Ontario should also concern some Liberals, but Liberal majorities without strong performances in rural Ontario are certainly not impossible.

In other ridings, however, the NDP did not do as well as expected. Former MPP Paul Ferreira failed to win back his old seat of York South-Weston, but most significantly the NDP came within 2.8% of losing the downtown Toronto riding of Trinity-Spadina to the Liberals. The Liberals also performed threateningly well in other NDP-held seats in Toronto including Parkdale-High Park and Beaches-East York. Another heartbreak for the NDP was Ottawa Centre, which is held by the NDP’s Paul Dewar federally and which the NDP came within 4% of winning in 2007 against then first-time candidate Yasir Naqvi. Despite a strong NDP effort, Naqvi increased his vote by over 11% and turned a marginal hold on his seat into a 17.7% margin. The NDP also performed poorly, when compared to its May 2011 result, in next-door Ottawa-Vanier.

Why did the NDP perform so poorly in these downtown ridings in did so well in back in May? Andrea Horwath led a very populist campaign, and her key points: taking the HST off gas/hydro or cancelling a Toronto commuter rail project because the trains are made in Quebec – did not do the NDP much favours in bobo-type well educated urban ridings such as Trinity-Spadina or Ottawa Centre. Cancelling light rail didn’t go down well in downtown Toronto, and voters in such urban ridings don’t really benefit from taking the HST off the price of gas, because most of them don’t drive to work. The NDP platform appealed much more to old manufacturing towns such as Hamilton or eastern London, and not as much to downtown urban ridings where Horwath’s shift away from the NDP’s traditional pro-environment positions left some traditional NDP voters out in the dark.

The Greens, with less than 3%, returning to the 2003 lows. The Greens were hurt by the lack of media coverage for their campaign and their exclusion from the debates. The closeness of this election likely encouraged a lot of their voters to vote strategically for either the Liberals and NDP, who both benefited from a collapse in the Green vote in various constituencies. The Greens tend to perform much better when the election’s outcome is not in much doubt or when no other party is able to connect with voters. The Green leader Mike Schreiner won only 8.8% in Simcoe-Grey and the best Green result was 14.6% in Dufferin-Caledon.

 

Canadian by-election bonanza

Three federal and one provincial (in Quebec) by-elections were held in Canada on Monday, November 29. Of the four total by-elections, three were close and one of those three was a major surprise. At the federal level, the constituencies of Vaughan (ON), Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette (MB) and Winnipeg North (MB) fell vacant following the retirement of their sitting members to run in the October municipal elections in Ontario and Manitoba. Ultimately, only Vaughan Liberal MP Maurizio Bevilacqua was successful in that race, with Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette Tory MP Inky Mark and Winnipeg North NDPer Judy Wasylycia-Leis being unsuccessful. In Quebec, the provincial riding of Kamouraska-Témiscouata fell vacant after the resignation and death (the same day) of provincial cabinet minister Claude Béchard, a Liberal who had held the seat since a 1997 by-election.

The federal series ultimately didn’t include a Quebec riding (Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia fell vacant on October 22), but given that all three major parties were defending a seat, it was seen as a good test for all three parties and especially Michael Ignatieff’s Liberals. In Quebec, the traditionally safely Liberal riding of Kamouraska-Témiscouata was seen as a test for both unpopular (understatement) Liberal Premier Jean Charest and slightly less unpopular PQ leader Pauline Marois.

Federal by-elections

Vaughan covers the rapid-growth suburbs of Toronto in the electorally crucial 905 belt. The riding is the most Catholic, least Protestant and least non-religious riding in Ontario; is largely white (25% or so non-white) and quite wealthy. Nearly 54% of residents claimed Italian ancestry according to the 2006 census, a statistic supported by the high percentage of Catholics (77%), married couples (87%) and second-generation immigrants (37% – the highest in Canada). Vaughan has seen rapid growth, a lot of it from visible minorities, with a population of 154,206 in 2006 – a full 37.6% increase on 2001. It will likely be divided into two ridings following the 2011-2012 redistricting.

Vaughan’s Italian-Catholic tradition explains its reputation as a Liberal stronghold. The Liberals, Maurizio Bevilacqua in particular, have held this riding since the 1988 election, and always with double-digit majorities and oftentimes with 50-70% of the vote. However, since 2000, as has happened in similar ‘ethnic suburban Liberal stronghold’-type ridings, the Liberals have consistenly shed votes. From a 62.6% majority in 2000 (on redistributed borders), the Liberals fell to a 14.8% majority in 2008 (in 2006, they still had a 33.7% majority).

The Conservatives nominated a star candidate in former police chief Julian Fantino, who ran a mud-slinging campaign focused around the theme of law-and-order. The Liberals, on the other hand, continuing with their knack of nominating horrible candidates, found only generic businessman Tony Genco after a long search. Certainly not the best choice against a star candidate, who turned into the frontrunner. Fantino, however, was dogged by the fact that he didn’t campaign much and seemed to lead an invisible campaign which ignored all-candidate meetings.

Julian Fantino (Conservative) 49.10% (+14.46%)
Tony Genco (Liberal) 46.65% (-2.53%)
Kevin Bordian (NDP) 1.68% (-7.94%)
Claudia Rodriguez-Larrain (Green) 1.22% (-5.64%)
Paolo Fabrizio (Libertarian) 0.64%
Dorian Baxter (PC) 0.28%
Leslie Bory (Ind) 0.28%
Brian Jedan (United) 0.14%

The media seems to have considered Fantino the overwhelming favourite, so some counted his narrow win as somewhat of a setback for the Tories. Pragmatically, it’s still an important win for the Tories and one which comes in the electorally crucial 905 belt which is key to a Tory majority government. However, sensational headlines about the fall of a Liberal stronghold are a bit off the mark. As noted above, the vote has been shifting away from the Liberals in ridings such at these at a rapid pace since 2000 and there were some massive swings in ridings like these in 2008 (Dion played really, really poorly in the 905 suburbs). Of course, there is also the high possibility that a popular long-term incumbent like Bevilacqua artificially inflated Liberal numbers and may have hid the fact that Vaughan was really a marginal riding in the end. The NDP and the Greens were crushed very badly, winning just over 1% of the vote each. A case of strategic voting if you’ve ever seen it, especially amplified because the race was covered as an exclusively Liberal-Tory affair.

The percentages may throw us off a bit, but the NDP and the Greens’ squeeze probably helped the Liberals more than the Tories. Turnout was only 32%, 20 points less than in 2008, but the Tories held on to all but 130 of their 2008 votes. That might indicate that Fantino was really good at maximizing Conservative turnout, but in the end might not have gotten a lot of votes from 2008 Liberal or NDP voters. The bottom line here is a Conservative victory smaller in size than originally anticipated, a decent Liberal defense effort and a total collapse of other votes.

Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette, a rural riding in western Manitoba, was the least interesting of the contests. It is a typical western rural riding, with 27% employed in agriculture, 24% of aboriginal ancestry with most residents claiming distant European, in this region often Ukrainian, ancestry. The Liberals won this riding in 1993, but only with 32% of the vote against a split right and a strong NDP. The CCF and NDP also held this riding in the distant past, most recently in 1980. Retiring MP Inky Mark was elected for the Reform Party in 1997, reelected for the Alliance in 2000 and for the Tories since then. Since this riding took its current form in 2000, the Tories have never won by less than 27% and Mark won by a 45% margin in 2008 over the NDP.

Robert Sopuck (Conservative) 56.73% (-4.81%)
Denise Harder (NDP) 26.26% (+9.71%)
Christopher Scott Sarna (Liberal) 10.28% (-3.59%)
Kate Storey (Green) 5.61% (-0.9%)
Jerome Dondo (CHP) 1.11% (-0.1%)

No surprises here. Despite low turnout – only 26.9% (lowest of the 3, likely caused by bad weather) – the Conservatives held on by a big margin. The NDP also won its only good showing of the night, winning nearly 10% more than in 2008. While the Liberals saved their deposit, they collapsed to a new low, which certainly isn’t a good sign. These numbers seem to show that the Liberals are becoming increasingly irrelevant in rural areas – especially those out west, where the non-Tory vote is shifting to the NDP at a rapid pace since 2004 or so. The Greens did best here, probably helped a bit by Inky Mark’s endorsement.

Winnipeg North is a inner-city urban riding in northern Winnipeg, was supposed to be safe NDP. Covering most of Winnipeg’s north-end, which is a cosmopolitan impoverished working-class area, the seat has a long CCF-NDP history. The riding has the highest percentage in western Canada of manufacturing jobs (19%) and is only 48% white with 20% aboriginal and 32% of visible minorities. Notably, Winnipeg North has the country’s largest Filipino population – 21%.

CCF founder and labour activist J.S. Woodsworth represented part of the present-day seat between 1925 and 1942, and the NDP has been dominant since then with a few exceptions. A Liberal, Ray Pagtakhan, represented a part of the current seat in the 90s. The current seat of Winnipeg North has been held by Judy Wasylycia-Leis since its 2000 creation (she represented the old Winnipeg North Centre, which makes up 73% of this riding, between 1997 and 2000). The Liberals were within 10% on redistributed results in 2000, and within 12% in 2004. But in 2008, they won only 9.2% while the Tories managed a ‘record’ 22.4%. Winnipeg North was the NDP’s second-best seat overall in 2008 with 63% of the vote. Amusingly, the Communists have always done ‘well’ here, sometimes breaking 1%. They had won 27% in 1945, but their vote collapsed shortly thereafter.

The Liberals had a star candidate, provincial Liberal MLA Kevin Lamoureux, who has managed to win rather easily in the traditionally NDP seat of Inkster for a few years. The NDP nominated Kevin Chief, an aboriginal with roots in the aboriginal community. The Conservatives nominated Julie Javier, a Filipina, in an attempt to hinder the Liberals and NDP with the Filipino vote. The Conservatives thought they stood a chance, running a law-and-order campaign, and even sent Harper to make a visit.

Kevin Lamoureux (Liberal) 46.32% (+37.11%)
Kevin Chief (NDP) 41.17% (-21.42%)
Julie Javier (Conservative) 10.45% (-11.90%)
John T. Harvie (Green) 0.72% (-4.06%)
Jeff Coleman (Pirate) 0.60%
Frank Komarniski (Communist) 0.45% (-0.22%)
Eric Truijen (CHP) 0.29%

This is a seat which the NDP had absolutely no business losing. The Liberals were going to do well no matter what because of their star candidate, but the NDP had no excuse for losing their second safest seat and the safest in the Prairies. The Liberal win was a major surprise, which almost nobody had predicted. Part of it, a lot in fact, comes from a top-notch candidate who has managed to win elections here (well, part of the riding) as a non-Dipper and has done so pretty convincingly. Another thing is that low turnout by-elections (31% in this case) here are detrimental to the NDP, whose electorate is poorer and thus more likely to turn out (but – turnout was only 43% in 2008 and the NDP still won by 40%) especially when the weather is bad (like it was on Monday, apparently). It remains to be seen if this result a by-election fluke as the NDP would like to believe, or if it is confirmed in a general election. Still, Lamoureux will be very vulnerable in a higher-turnout general election.

The overall narrative of these by-elections are favourable to the Conservatives (thought not as much as some think), mixed-bag for the Liberals and poor for the NDP. Winning Vaughan is definitely a good thing for the Tories, which proves that they are still very competitive in the 905 and that they still stand a decent chance at picking up seats there on their route to a majority. That being said, it remains to be seen if Fantino won only by a strong Tory turnout organization effort or if he genuinely broke through with ancestrally Liberal voters. If it’s the former, it’s bad for the Tories which means they still need to work on appealing beyond their base. If it’s the latter, it’s good news for the Tories overall. For the Liberals, losing Vaughan is definitely bad but they remain competitive there despite nominating an awful candidate against a star candidate. Vaughan certainly isn’t Ignatieff’s Outremont. Winning Winnipeg North cancels out the loss in Vaughan, but it remains a shaky win which is more likely than not to be a fluke, but it shows that local Liberal candidates are still very much competitive even in non-traditionally Liberal areas and in urban areas out west (where they’ve suffered a lot since 2006). For the NDP, it’s bad (with the exception of Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette) and losing Winnipeg North is beyond awful. For the Greens, it’s bad, but by-elections are awful things for them as a rule.

Provincial by-election

A by-election was also held in Kamouraska-Témiscouata on Monday. This seat had been held since a 1997 by-election by Liberal Claude Béchard who was a popular cabinet minister until his death/resignation on September 7. Kamouraska-Témiscouata is 99% French, and is a typical rural Quebec constituency. But it gave only 53% of the votes to the YES in the 1995 referendum, and has been held by the Liberals since 1985. The Bas-Saint-Laurent region is not hardcore nationalistic, especially when compared to the North Shore (and places like Lanaudière), but it isn’t a federalist stronghold either (unlike Beauce, for example). While this is not a swing riding per se, the PQ certainly needs to do well here (not necessarily win, it only won in 1976 and 1981) and in the general area in order to win provincially. The region is definitely conservative, and the ADQ did well here in the past.  Béchard did really well in 2008, winning 53.7%, perhaps a number artificially inflated a bit by sympathy over his battle with cancer. The ADQ won 36.7% here in 2007 (against 39.7% for Béchard) and managed second in 2008 with 21.6% (against 21.1% for the PQ).

The Liberals nominated Béchard’s predecessor in this seat, France Dionne, who held the seat between 1985 and 1997.

André Simard (PQ) 36.85% (+15.70%)
France Dionne (Liberal) 35.85% (-17.85%)
Gérald Beaulieu (ADQ) 23.03% (+1.47%)
Serge Proulx (QS) 2.67% (-0.27%)
Frédéric Brophy Nolan (Green) 1.60%

The PQ’s victory is certainly very bad news for the Liberals. It isn’t surprising, given that Charest has a 16% approval rating and that 77% of people want him gone, but some had thought this seat was too safe for the Liberals for them to lose it. The Liberal’s hope was that the anti-Liberal vote would split evenly between the PQ and ADQ, but in the end while the ADQ gained a bit of ground, the anti-Liberal vote coalesced around the PQ. The Liberals suffered a massive swing against them, a swing which, if repeated provincially, would kill off most Liberal MNAs except those on the West Island. The ADQ, on its side, managed to hold its head up high a bit, a respite in their collapse since 2008. They could benefit a bit of the Liberal’s collapse in ridings such as this one, but the reality is that they’re still dying (and would really die if a new centre-right party is created as the buzz says) and that the anti-Liberal vote is still coalesced around the PQ. PQ leader Pauline Marois can breathe a sigh of relief, given that a lot of people had said that if she managed to lose this by-election for the party, her leadership might be at risk. She isn’t very popular, and few people are truly enthusiastic about the prospect of having her replacing Charest by 2013, but she is more popular than Charest who is well on his way to be less popular than the plague by the New Year.

Ontario municipal 2010

Municipal elections were held throughout Ontario on October 25. Though I don’t often cover municipal elections – especially nonpartisan ones – these ones are close to home and I can offer a decent analysis and rundown of the main races with some amount of detail. This year’s electoral contests in a lot of cities were tightly contested and featured some interesting contests.

Partisan and ideological affiliations are a pain to pin-down in these nonpartisan contests, because a partisan affiliation doesn’t mean much (for example, a Conservative can vote to the left of a Liberal, and even an NDPer can become a right-winger) and candidates campaign on issues like transit, nice parks, low taxes and accountability which are hard to pin-down ideologically.

In Toronto, incumbent mayor David Miller (close to the NDP) was retiring after being in office since 2003. He was rather unpopular and the city council was attacked for its tax and spending policies, something which opened the field for right-wing councillor Rob Ford, who has made racist comments in the past and could be considered Canada’s equivalent of a tea-bagger. Rob Ford seized on public discontent with high taxes and council’s spending to build a right-wing populist campaign. The centre and left was originally split, but in the end after two high-profile candidates (Rocco Rossi and Adam Giambrone) the two main other candidates were former MPP George Smitherman (a Liberal, and former deputy premier in the McGuinty cabinet) and councillor Joe Pantalone (NDP). Smitherman had a very hard time finding his voice in the campaign and botched his campaign, even if some people rallied to him late in the game to stop Rob Ford. Pantalone was endorsed by David Miller, but the incumbent is quite unpopular. Some people thought Smitherman could emerge late as the anti-Ford candidate and some polling showed that he had narrowed the gap, but in the end Rob Ford won, and not because of voter apathy: turnout was 53%.

Rob Ford 47.11%
George Smitherman 35.61%
Joe Pantalone 11.73%

I am not a specialist on the politics of Toronto City Council and other sources will tell you more, but there does not seem to have been a major shift to the right in the makeup of the new council. Here are a few key results of interest:

  • Rob Ford’s brother Doug Ford has held his brother’s seat in north Etobicoke.
  • Vincent Crisanti, a populist Ford conservative also picked up north Etobicoke’s other seat from a centrist incumbent.
  • Giorgio Mammoliti, a former NDPer but who has transformed into a somewhat insane populist right-winger in York West was reelected, but only with 43.8% because he faced a billion other candidates.
  • In the other York West ward, the perennial bloody contest between NDP incumbent Anthony Peruzza and former Liberal incumbent Peter Li Preti was won by Peruzza with 41.5% against 38.4% for his enemy.
  • In Parkdale-High Park, vaguely left-leaning Sarah Doucette knocked off right-wing Liberal Bill Saundercook by a big margin of around 10 points.
  • An interesting contest in an open seat in Davenport between Liberal Ana Bailão, NDPer Kevin Beaulieu and former Green Party leader Frank de Jong was won by Bailão with 43.75% against 34.23% for Beaulieu, while de Jong took a mere 6.06%.
  • Jack Layton’s son, Mike Layton, won Joe Pantalone’s open seat in Trinity-Spadina with 45.39% against 20.93% for another NDPer, Karen Sun. A more right-wing Liberal candidate, Sean McCormick took 18.16%.
  • Surprisingly, in Don Valley West, incumbent Conservative Cliff Jenkins was defeated by Jaye Robinson, who seems to be centre-right (but probably is a Liberal) as well, which isn’t a surprise in the city’s most affluent ward.
  • NDP candidate very narrowly leading in Toronto Centre, where Smitherman’s aide was expected to pick up this open seat.
  • In Beaches-East York, Mary-Margaret McMahon (who is probably right-wing) has defeated NDP incumbent Sandra Bussin by a crushing margin, taking over 65% of the vote.
  • A number of incumbents who were thought to be safe either lost or came very close to doing so, indicating an anti-incumbent mood of some sort in some areas.

In Ottawa, incumbent mayor Larry O’Brien (a Conservative) was running for re-election after winning his first term in 2006 by a sizeable margin and on record turnout. O’Brien’s popularity dwindled as a result of council’s inefficiency at doing anything, a 3-month transit strike which was badly handled by the city and the federal government, and finally a corruption case in which he was alleged to have bribed a potential mayoral candidate in 2006 to drop out. He was cleared of any wrongdoing, but he still suffered considerably from having to go to court while being in office. He was challenged by former mayor and Liberal MPP Jim Watson, an ally of Premier McGuinty; and also by two smaller candidates: councillor Clive Doucet (NDP) and former regional chair Andy Haydon (Conservative). O’Brien’s campaign was very negative on Watson, but he never had much of a chance against a popular former mayor and MPP who started his campaign very early. Andy Haydon, running to the right of O’Brien on a platform designed around opposition to light-rail, also didn’t help much. Voters generally wanted change, accountability and efficiency; something which Watson could deliver without being seen as an inexperienced novice. That being said, some have noted that since Watson supports O’Brien’s two main projects: light rail and Lansdowne Park revitalization, not much is likely to change in those areas. Turnout was around 44%, high but not as high as the record set in 2006. Here are the results:

Jim Watson 48.70%
Larry O’Brien (inc) 24.06%
Clive Doucet 14.89%
Andy Haydon 7.01%
Mike Maguire 2.45%

Turnover was rather high on the city council, a good indicator that a fair share of councillors aren’t as popular as they used to be. Incumbents haven’t lost in Ottawa since 2000 or so, but this time six of them went down to defeat. Here’s a rundown of the interesting contests:

  • In Bay Ward, incumbent councillor Alex Cullen (NDP), former mayoral contender, was defeated by Mark Taylor (Liberal), who took 37.8% to Cullen’s 30.3%. Terry Kilrea, a right-winger, who ran for mayor in 2003 (and was allegedly bribed out of doing so in 2006 by Larry), took a paltry 8.2% and finished fourth behind George Guirguis.
  • An open seat in Knoxdale-Merivale was won by Keith Egli, who seems centrist/centre-left, with 32.7%. The three other main candidates were far behind, with James O’Grady (Liberal) taking 19.3%, Rod Vanier (Liberal) taking 17.5% and right-winger James Dean with 15.8%
  • In Beacon Hill-Cyrville, incumbent councillor Michel Bellemare, who seems rather centre-left was narrowly defeated by 181 votes by Tim Tierney, a right-wing Liberal. A strong margin for Tierney in well-off Anglo suburban Beacon Hill likely helped him pull off this narrow win.
  • In the downtown ward of Rideau-Vanier, incumbent councillor Georges Bédard (left-wing Liberal) was very narrowly defeated by a young university graduate, Mathieu Fleury, who seems progressive as well. Fleury took 45.69% over Bédard’s 44.84%, a margin of only 88 votes. Perhaps Fleury’s Facebook-Twitter oriented campaign helped him in a ward which includes the University of Ottawa.
  • An open seat in Rideau-Rockcliffe was won by right-winger Peter Clark, who took 25.8%. The other candidates were also varying shades of centre-right or right, with Maurice Lamirande placing second with 17.4%. The most left-wing candidate, Sheila Perry, took 16.2% while Bruce Poulin, a former provincial PC candidate in 2007, took 16.1%.
  • Kitchissippi ward councillor Christine Leadman, a centrist or centre-leftist, narrowly lost taking 40% to Katherine Hobbs’ 44.2%. Katherine Hobbs seems to be more right-wing than the outgoing incumbent, though in municipal politics where everybody wants low taxes, it’s hard to say.
  • Another open seat in Capital, Clive Doucet’s old ward. David Chernushenko (Green) won easily in the end, with 41.3% against 19.5% for Liberal Isabel Metcalfe. Bob Brocklebank (NDP) took third with 17.1%
  • In Cumberland, Red Tory incumbent Rob Jellett was defeated by Stephen Blais, who seems to be a moderate and has been endorsed by Liberals and Tories alike. Blais took 52.4% to Jellett’s 43.5%.
  • In Rideau-Goulbourn, a rural ward, an old name in rural conservative politics, councillor Glenn Brooks was easily defeated. His main opponent, Scott Moffatt, who seems to be more left-wing than Brooks (such a thing is easy) and is pro-amalgamation took 52.6% to the incumbent’s 26.5%. A left-wing candidate, Bruce Webster, took 12.3%
  • The open seat in Kanata-South was taken by centre-right candidate Allan Hubley who won 48.8%. Aaron Helleman (NDP), supported by 2006 mayoral candidate and Kanata’s favourite sun, Alex Munter (also NDP), took 36.4%.

The overall shape of the new council has been described as being slightly centre-right, sort of Red Tory or blue Liberal, which should be generally favourable to Jim Watson. Watson’s proposal to cut council from 23 seats to 14-17 seats, however, probably won’t work given that incumbents don’t tend to vote in favour of abolishing their own seats.

In other races across Ontario, a few incumbents went down to defeat. Hamilton‘s mayoral contest, scheduled to be a rematch of the 2006 contest between Red Tory incumbent Fred Eisenberger – who was endorsed by NDP MP (and former mayor) David Christopherson in 2006 – and former mayor right-wing Liberal Larry Di Ianni on the other hand was hijacked by Bob Bratina (NDP?) running to the left of both. Bratina won easily with 37.3% against 28.4% for Di Ianni and 27.4% for Eisenberger. In London, incumbent mayor Anne Marie DeCicco-Best (in office since 2000) lost a rematch against former right-wing Liberal MP Joe Fontana (described by some as a teabagger) who won 47.2% against 44.8% for the incumbent. In hilarious Mississauga, 89-year old incumbent Hazel McCallion (in office since 1978) won ‘only’ 76.4%. In Greater Sudbury, NDP incumbent John Rodriguez lost to right-winger Marianne Matichuk, also described as a teabagger, who won 46.1% to the incumbent’s 36.5%. Finally, in Vaughan former Liberal MP Maurizio Bevilacqua defeated corrupt incumbent Linda Jackson and former Liberal MPP Mario Racco. Bevilacqua took 64.2% against 14.5% for the incumbent and 14.4% for Racco.

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