The results are in from last night's quintet of by-elections in Ontario, and the news seems to be everybody wins. Sort of. In a score of 2 to 2 to 1, the five seats seemed to have ended up evenly split between the three major parties, indicative of the split-mindedness of the province in the current polls.The Liberals secured wins in Ottawa South and Scarborough-Guildwood, the NDP won in Windsor-Tecumseh and London West, and the PCs took Etobicoke-Lakeshore. So now what?
Well, as predicted, the Liberal Joe Fraser managed to hold on to Ottawa South, keeping the former riding of Dalton McGuinty in the red column, but just barely. Fraser beat PC Matt Young by just over 1,200 votes, with NDP Bronwyn Funiciello a distant third with barely 5,000 votes. The Scarborough-Guildwood riding was more of a horse race, but Liberal Mitzie Hunter still came out on top with 8,852 votes, just ahead of PC Ken Kirupa with 7,606 and NDP Adam Giambrone with 7,010.
NDP fortunes were better tin the hotly contested Windsor-Tecumseh riding, which saw Percy Hatfield win handily with 15,693 votes, which was over 10,000 votes ahead of PC Robert De Venteuil and 12,000 votes ahead of Liberal Jeewen Gill. A little more contentious was the riding of London West where NDP Peggy Sattler and Liberal Ken Coran threatened to split the teacher/union vote, but in the end Sattler secured 15,063 votes to Coran's 5,866. PC Ali Chahbar came in second with 12,122 votes.
A PC victory was achieved in Etobicoke-Lakeshore, but it was hardly blowout. Toronto deputy mayor Doug Holyday won with 16, 130 votes, just over 1,600 votes more than his nearest competitor, and fellow Rob Ford executive committee member, Liberal Peter Milczyn. NDP P.C. Choo came in third with 2,705.
So what's the takeaway from all this? Well, the most recent province-wide poll, a July 24 Forum Research poll with the Toronto Star, says that the PCs have the edge with 35 per cent support to the Liberals' 32 and the NDP's 26. Theoretically, the PCs should have had a better showing, but of course support has different weight depending on the region, so the poll is kind of meaningless in the context of a by-election.
Still, the PCs are presumptively the government in waiting, so why wasn't anger about the Liberals and their various scandals concentrated through the local PC candidates? Three possibilities: for one, Premier Kathleen Wynne does have charm on her side, and she's working to prove she's not McGuinty 2.0, which seems to be working given her likability ratings. Secondly, Andrea Horwath's efforts to work across party lines to make the minority government work may appeal to people, especially in light of voter uncertainty. The third possibility, and this should be of great concern to the Progressive Conservatives, is that Tim Hudak is just not that appealing to people.
But the PCs did score a big victory in Etobicoke, you're thinking, a rare breakthrough in Toronto for the party that hasn't won a seat in the city since losing the government in 2003. True, but how much of that was about loving the PCs, and how much of it was about loving Doug Holyday? Holyday, an Etobicoke city councillor and former mayor of the pre-amalgamated Etobicoke, also had the support of the Etobicoke-based Ford brothers. Adding to the Toronto-factor carrying more weight than provincial politics is the close second place finish of Liberal Milcyzn, another Ford ally and city councillor.
The tally in Queen's Park is now at 50 seats for the Liberals, 37 for the PCs and 20 the NDP. As Wynne noted in a press conference a few days ago, she's still the Premier of the Province of Ontario, and all the problems that were there in June, all the controversies, still exist today. But is the appetite for a general election going to be as strong with the Official Opposition when the Legislature sits again in the fall? And how long will the average PC supporter be able to sit still as their leader is unable to capitalize on the Liberals' numerous problems? Stay tuned.