Ontario byelection results could signal timing for general election
Christina Commisso, CTVNews.ca
Published Friday, July 26, 2013 8:00AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, July 26, 2013 12:32PM EDT
With one week remaining until voters in five Ontario ridings head to the polls, one outcome is inevitable: the governing Liberals will maintain a minority government -- at least for now.
Regardless of who is elected, little will change in the provincial legislature after the Aug. 1 vote, when constituents in Etobicoke-Lakeshore, Scarborough-Guildwood, Ottawa South, London West and Windsor-Tecumseh will elect the replacements for five Liberal MPPs who recently left Queen’s Park.
In the 2011 provincial election, the Liberals captured 53 seats -- just one short of a majority.
When former premier Dalton McGuinty announced his intention to resign as Liberal leader in October, a string of MPP resignations followed.
If the Liberals lose all five ridings -- which recent poll results suggest is unlikely -- they will have 48 seats in the 107-seat legislature, enough to hold onto power.
But experts say close attention will be paid to the byelection results, especially by members of the opposition.
“Byelections can be used as a referendum on the government of the day -- whether or not they approve of the direction things are going in,” says Laura Stephenson, a political science professor at Western University.
Experts say the number of seats that are won or lost by the minority Liberals may signal if a general election is near, or whether the party can hold onto powerfor at least another term.
“If the opposition parties don’t smell blood, they might be hesitant to try to dump the government,” University of Toronto political science professor Lawrence LeDuc said. “But if the Liberals are perceived to have suffered a significant loss, it can’t just be attributed to local issues, or one-off events.”
Gauging support for new government
After winning the Liberal leadership in January, Premier Kathleen Wynne managed to stave off a spring election with NDP support of the Ontario budget.
The upcoming byelections will give NDP Leader Andrea Horwath a good indication of whether there’s an appetite for change in Ontario, Stephenson told CTVNews.ca.
“The NDP’s support of the Liberals is conditional on the NDP not thinking the time is right for them to get a better showing in an election,” she said.
Even if recent polls show the Liberals are unlikely to lose all five seats, they’re not expected to win all of them either.
For example, in London West, which was represented by former energy minister Chris Bentley for the past decade, Forum Research put support for PC candidate Ali Chahbar at 36 per cent, ahead of the NDP’s Peggy Sattler at 29 per cent. Liberalcandidate Ken Coran clocked in third, at 24 per cent, ahead of the Greens’ Gary Brown, at eight per cent.
The Liberals are also expected to lose the Windsor-Tecumseh seat, held by former long-time Ontario finance minister Dwight Duncan. Polling shows NDP candidate Percy Hatfield, a popular city councillor and former reporter, has the support of more than half of decided voters (52%), compared to 22 per cent for PC candidate Robert de Verteuil, and 17 per cent for Liberal candidate Jeewen Gill.
“This is a solid potential pickup for the NDP,” University of Windsor political science professor Cheryl Collier said. “They secured a good candidate. Somebody that really does resonate with the city. Somebody that has been in politics for a while. Somebody that knows their way around a sound bite.”
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne speaks in Toronto on April 4, 2013. (Frank Gunn/THE CANADIAN PRESS)