Toronto Centre (Ontario) provincial by-election 2010

There was a provincial by-election for Ontario Legislature in the riding of Toronto Centre last night held after the resignation of incumbent MPP George Smitherman (Liberal) to run for Mayor of Toronto in the Ontarian municipal elections scheduled for the fall.

Toronto Centre covers part of the downtown core of Toronto and is a diverse riding in terms of income and ethncity, including both the exclusive affluent area of Rosedale in the northern part of the riding but also some of Toronto’s oldest poor neighborhoods such as Regent Park and St. Jamestown. It also includes more wealthy but liberal areas such as part of the University of Toronto or the city’s gay neighborhood, Church and Wellesley. The riding has been held since its creation in 1999 by the Ontario Liberals, and the federal riding is held by Bob Rae of the Liberal Party.

The Liberal candidate was former Winnipeg Mayor Glen Murray, the NDP candidate was Cathy Crowe, nurse and homelessness activist and the PC candidate was Pamela Taylor, lawyer and 2007 candidate. There was also a Green candidate and the perennial independent, John Turmel. In the 2007 provincial election, Smitherman won 47.8% against 20.4% for the PCs, 18.9% for the NDP and 9.7% for the Greenie.

Glen Murray (OLP) 47.04% (-0.71%)
Cathy Crowe (NDP) 33.14% (+14.28%)
Pamela Taylor (PC) 15.38% (-5.03%)
Stefan Premdas (Green) 3.08% (-6.58%)
Raj Rama (Ind) 0.39%
Heath Thomas (Libertarian) 0.38% (-1.11%)
Wayne Simmons (Freedom) 0.34%
John Turmel (Ind) 0.26%

The results were rather surprising. The overall result is great for the NDP, decent for the Liberals (especially considering they’ve been struggling in polls these last months) and bad for Tim Hudak’s PCs.

While no polling seems to have picked this up nor have any major journalists, this could indicate that urban discontent over the Liberal government’s anti-recession efforts is turning to the left – the NDP – and not to the right. The Liberal economic policies have been criticized for being too right-wing. This could also indicate that the PC replacing their old leader – John Tory – who had a more urban and liberal image with a more rural conservative like Tim Hudak has cost them votes in urban ridings where their vote comes from well-off voters. Obviously, this is only a by-election and nobody knows if these are trends or electoral flukes.

The PCs under Tim Hudak face a tough time and Hudak’s efforts to assemble a second Mike Harris coalition is easier said than done, as he’s finding out. Hudak, a right-wing PCer, has sidelined the urban Red Tories (liberal PCers, more like John Tory) in a way which is potentially dangerous. To win in 2011, Hudak must break through in suburban ridings in the GTA and other similar ridings in the Ottawa area, where most Ontarians now live. Voters here aren’t likely to be a fan of Hudak’s brand of more rural conservatism from the Niagara area, and he needs to appeal to more centrist urbane Tories as well as multicultural voters, something which the federal Conservatives have managed to do generally well in the GTA, especially in the 2008 election.

Hudak’s strategy faces a double-test on March 4, with two by-elections scheduled for Ottawa West-Nepean and Leeds-Greenville. Held federally by the Tories (under John Baird), but provincially by McGuinty’s Liberals, Ottawa West-Nepean is a suburban and affluent riding west of downtown Ottawa. It is an absolute must win for Hudak if he wants to prove that he’s able to win with his current strategy in 2011. And the Red Tories come in here. Despite the PC candidates in this by-election and St. Paul’s last year being Red Tories, both were attached far too closely to Hudak and Hudak’s PC sidelined their centrist credentials and forced them to take on his anti-HST blue Tory posture.

But, at the same time, there is a by-election in Leeds-Greenville on the same day after Harper appointed the incumbent Tory MPP, Bob Runciman, a long-time MPP and Hudak’s likely finance minister, to the Senate. Leeds-Greenville is a very white (98%) – WASP (58% Protestant in 2001), very rural riding in eastern Ontario, the most conservative area of Ontario. Runciman won 56% of the vote in 2007, and the area has always been Conservative – at least in the last 20-30 years. The danger here for Hudak is a challenge from the right, and the candidate of the far-right Ontario Landowners Association in the PC nomination race scheduled for February 7. In 2007, the Landowners got their loud-mouth leader Randy Hillier the PC candidacy in Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington, after threatening to run independent candidates in 2007. Tory in his time and Hudak must appease Hillier, but the nomination race in Leeds-Greenville pits the candidate supported by the establishment and the former MPP, but also Shawn Carmichael, vice-president of the Leeds and Grenville Landowners Association and a close ally of Randy Hillier. Hudak must appease the radical right enough so that the feisty Landowners don’t run a dissident candidate to the PC’s right which could open up the road to a Liberal win due to vote-splitting on the right. The Liberal Scarf blog notes that in a 1982 provincial by-election in the same area, a Libertarian running to the PC’s right won 13.4%, though the PCs still won.

At the same time as he tries to appease the Landowners, Hudak must appeal to more urban conservative voters, who will provide his bulk of support if he’s to win in 2011. On March 4, he must win in Ottawa if he’s to prove to his skeptics that he can re-assemble Mike Harris’ coalition including suburban voters, but at the same time he must not lose Leeds-Greenville or even allow the election there to be close. If he doesn’t satisfy both of these conditions, he could come under increasing fire within his party from the Red Tories and the radicals, and his strategy of presenting himself as Mike Harris’ reincarnation might not be such a great idea.

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Posted on February 6, 2010, in By-elections, Canada, Ontario. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Thanks for the link, from one Ottawa Young Liberal to another, I just discovered this website, you do some very good writing.

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