2016—2017 · V. 44 No. 1



Queen's Park notes

Wynne Liberals suffer major by-election loss

With a provincial general election still almost two years away, it would be easy to accept a number of reasons for the recent stinging defeat, by a margin of 10 per cent to the opposition Conservatives, of the Wynne Liberals in the Scarborough—Rouge River by-election, including: by-elections have lower voter turnouts and only the angry come out to vote; by-elections give voters a chance to warn the government without any consequences; the governing Liberals ran a relative unknown candidate against the Conservative candidate who has been a popular 25-year municipal politician; the Liberal Tamil-Canadian candidate and the NDP Tamil-Canadian candidate split the large Tamil-Canadian vote to allow the Conservative candidate to come up the middle; voters don’t know Conservative leader Patrick Brown’s real agenda yet.

All these reasons or any combination of them is plausible, but they all ignore the fact that this riding, and its mildly different formations since 1985, has always voted Liberal, by fairly comfortable margins, at both the federal and provincial levels. The only previous exception was when the federal Liberal Party suffered its humiliating 2011 federal election debacle.

For the Conservatives, this victory validates Brown’s organizational outreach to ethnic communities and his ability to attract high profile local candidates. But his head-spinning reversals on the sex-ed curriculum has to be very worrying to his Conservative caucus and party supporters. If Brown continues on this reckless path with other issues, it will feed into an impression that he will say anything to win and is a man devoid of substance. That will undermine his electoral prospects even before the 2018 general election.

For the NDP, despite the third-place finish in the by-election, the results are encouraging as they only trailed the Liberals by one per cent of the vote. And in light of an opinion poll prior to by-election day showing them with the support of only 7 per cent of decided voters, their 28 per cent result surprised many pundits and supporters. If NDP Leader Andrea Horwath can articulate some bold policy initiatives, and if voters become wary of Brown as the alternative to Wynne, Horwath could conceivably replicate the NDP’s surprise victory of 1990.

For Wynne, the by-election rebuke has had an immediate impact. She was compelled to quickly acknowledge that the decisive defeat gave her “cause to reflect.” Less than a week later, she prorogued the Ontario Legislature, without causing any loss of sitting days, in order to reconvene with a fresh Throne Speech. She has now pledged to refocus government on “everyday issues” facing voters. But, Wynne’s predicament is that her weak public opinion approval ratings of 16 per cent and disapproval ratings of 72 per cent add to her government’s perilous journey to the next general election.

Whether voters have tired of the 13-year Liberal reign or of the “activist centre” Premier, the next two by-elections in the coming months, especially in the Liberal stronghold of Ottawa—Vanier, will bring greater focus on her leadership. If Wynne’s Liberals were to lose the Ottawa—Vanier riding, which has been Liberal both federally and provincially since 1971, Wynne may have to seriously reflect on her political future.

Partager Cette Page