Byelections may have impact on Ontario

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While Catherine Fife’s win last week may have prevented a Liberal majority in Ontario — a win that overturned a 22 year long Progressive Conservative hold in Kitchener-Waterloo to the NDP — many other implications from the byelection may exist for the province. These implications, according to Wilfrid Laurier University political science professor Geoff Stevens, have yet to be seen.

“A lot will depend on what happens between now and the next election and what circumstances cause the next election,” said Stevens. “The public sensed [in this byelection] that they weren’t happy with what they had provincially, whether that’s the McGuinty government or the Conservative opposition. So they casted that protest and voted NDP.”

After numerous visits from all the party leaders and consistent dialogue about provincial challenges throughout the campaigning period, Stevens noted that this particular byelection was “free of significant local issues.”

On Sept. 6, KW appeared to be a focal point for many in Ontario —much more than the one in Vaughan.

“Most byelections don’t matter beyond the area in question, right? But this by-election mattered a lot for each of the three parties,” explained Peter Woolstencroft, a political scientist and analyst from the University of Waterloo.

According to Woolstencroft, the NDP took over a riding that has never been considered characteristically theirs, but there’s been a changing view towards the NDP in Ontario compared to what it once was in the past.

“There was a time where a lot of people looked at the NDP with a great deal of fear and loathing,” he continued.

The voter turnout for the KW byelection was 46.7 per cent, a figure that is much higher than is expected for a byelection.

The byelection in Vaughan, which saw a win from Liberal Steven Del Duca, only received a 25.4 per cent turn out.

Regardless of the turnout, both Stevens and Woolstencraft believe that the outcome of the byelections had an impact on the party leaders and the public’s perception of them — namely PC leader Tim Hudak and Premier Dalton McGuinty.

“The thing is, if people are mad at the government, they should go to the opposition party,” explained Woolstencroft.

“But they didn’t, they went to another party. That’s really damaging to Tim Hudak.”

Woolstencroft added that Hudak and the PCs could have made progress in Vaughan since they won that seat federally in a previous byelection.

“I don’t think it’s a deal breaker for Hudak anymore than it is for McGuinty,” explained Stevens. “It’s not going to destroy McGuinty either but certainly takes some of the wind out of his sails. It does deny him a majority and Hudak has his work cut out for him.”

The majority question for the Liberal government, if they were to win both byelections, was a huge factor in this byelection, but Woolstencroft believed it was much more than that.

As seen in the last budgetary process in the spring, the Ontario government is going to have to continue with cuts to boil down the 15 billion dollar deficit the province has accumulated.

“I think they have to come in with a tough budget, and in order to have a tough budget you’re going to need a majority,” he asserted.

“Will they get support from the Conservatives for a tough budget? Maybe. But I think the Liberals wanted to handle it themselves.”

With a minority government still in play and the threat of a tougher budget next year, Stevens expects to see talks of another general provincial election within the year.

“I would be surprised if the government can pass the budget next spring,” he said.

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