Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Ontario by-elections and a spring election

I have seen a good deal of analysis/speculation arising out last week's by-elections about the current state of Ontario politics.  There were, however, only two among 107 seats up.  Better to take a broader look at the situation.  Below is a table that provides the absolute percentage shift in voting intentions between 2011 and the various by-election dates in each of the constituencies:

I would make the following observations:

  • There is considerable variability in how much preferences shifted when we take all the results into account. 
  • Overall, the Liberals have lost ground.
  • Overall the Conservatives have gained ground but, with one exception, not much. The exception was Etobicoke-Lakeshore won by Toronto Deputy Mayor and Councillor Doug Holiday. Apart from this one result, where it was the particular candidate that seemed to matter most, their gains are unimpressive.
  • The NDP has had four big wins: in Kitchener-Waterloo, London West, Windsor-Tecumseh and Niagara Falls. If there is a common thread it is that these ridings are all urban, mostly within southwestern Ontario cities. Their gains appear to have come mostly from the Liberals. The NDP results in the other constituencies suggest not much change.
Polls and the by-elections strongly suggest Liberal weakness, largely because of the McGuinty government's record rather than sins on the part of Kathleen Wynne.
I can do a calculation that projects individual riding numbers into province-wide results. My overall impression from these results, which are useful but need to be taken with a large grain of salt, is that for all of Hudak's fumbles it appears he is heading for victory albeit with a minority of the seats. One reason for that is that Liberal voters seem much more inclined to view the NDP as a preferred second choice, it would appear for mainly negative considerations about how the Conservatives are viewed, more than strong positive attraction to the NDP. Horwath and company are effectively playing the none-of-the-above role at the moment in Ontario politics, making few statements about policy themselves (even to the point of not commenting on the minimum wage). A post by-elections Ipsos online poll puts the PCs ahead. However, like other online polls it needs to be treated with caution.
I suspect that a key reason for Conservative weakness is Hudak's record of adopting highly conservative policies such as 'right-to- work'. I noted he blamed union 'elites' for his defeat in Niagara Falls, a constituency the Conservatives should have won if they were truly headed for a majority in the next election. Since the policy is explicitly aimed at weakening unions, how did Hudak expect them to react? Perhaps a little moderation and circumspection would have served him well here.
All this suggests that the campaign will matter a great deal.  I do think we will see a spring election. If the opposition parties did not force one they would be committing themselves to allowing the Liberals a full term. 
Kathleen Wynne must bear the weight of a Liberal decade in government and the accumulation of grievances that brings, as well as all the burdens that a stagnating economy has generated.
I suspect she will be a formidable campaigner. Overall I find her more much more impressive as an individual political talent then either Hudak or Horwath. The Liberals won't go down without a fight but the current political climate and circumstances are running strongly against the Liberals.