2016—2017 · V. 44 No. 3



Liberals maintain Ottawa–Vanier byelection

Despite reeling from a devastating summer byelection loss in the traditionally safe Liberal riding of Scarborough–Rouge River and the fallout from politically unpopular hydro-electrical price increases, Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals were able to hold on to the riding of Ottawa–Vanier in November’s byelection contests.

The Ottawa–Vanier byelection was called as a result of the resignation of Attorney General Madeleine Meilleur. She had held the Ottawa–Vanier riding since her election in 2003. And prior to that, the Liberals had held the riding at both the provincial and federal levels since 1971. In fact, Meilleur had last won the riding in 2014 by a margin of greater than 30 per cent. To replace Meilleur, the Liberal candidate was Nathalie Des Rosiers, the Dean of Common Law at the University of Ottawa. Des Rosiers was also the former General Counsel at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. With the help of Des Rosiers' impressive resume, the Liberal margin was only modestly reduced by Progressive Conservative candidate and former Ontario Ombudsman, André Marin. Many prominent Liberals, including provincial and federal Cabinet Ministers, canvassed for Des Rosiers. Des Rosiers also had an endorsement from former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chrétien.

With so many high-profile supporters and the potential political stakes being so high, the victory was a great relief for the governing Liberals. Had they lost this riding, the future electoral prospects for the party would have been even more greatly imperiled. At the very least, it is certain that many calls would have been heard for a significant change in the direction of the party. Whether that would have resulted in dramatic changes such as an abandonment of the partial sell-off of Hydro, or even Premier Kathleen Wynne’s reflection on her political future, is uncertain.

At the same time, the Ottawa–Vanier victory does not mean that the Liberals’ political difficulties are behind them. The reduction in their vote total in Ottawa–Vanier, coupled with a similar vote reduction in the other byelection, in Niagara West–Glanbrook, continues to cause concern for the Liberals’ political prospects heading into the 2018 general election.

While the Liberals appear in decline, the political fortunes of Patrick Brown’s Progressive Conservatives were buoyed by the results in both byelections. In addition to the Ottawa–Vanier vote increase, local 19-year-old PC candidate Sam Oosterhoff was able to retain Niagara West–Glanbrook for his party. Despite the controversy around Oosterhoff’s socially conservative views, including his opposition to abortion and the fact that he defeated Brown’s preferred candidate for the party’s nomination, the PCs still comfortably won the riding of recently departed MPP and former party leader Tim Hudak.

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