Stage almost set for K-W vote

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Photo by Nick Lachance

Every provincial party has chosen their candidate for the upcoming Kitchener-Waterloo byelection — except one. It just so happens that same party that currently sits without a candidate, is also the one the riding is waiting on to call the byelection.

When the K-W Liberals nominate their candidate on Aug. 9, the field will be set for the K-W byelection. Then, all they’ll need is a date, something Premier Dalton McGuinty doesn’t appear to be deciding on any time soon.

“I think it’s probably part of the Liberal strategy,” said Geoff Stevens, a professor of political science at Wilfrid Laurier University. “You don’t want to crank up an election campaign for a byelection you haven’t called yet, that just puts more pressure on McGuinty to call it soon.

“He may want to wait. There’s not much point in calling it and then losing it, so [McGuinty] may want to wait until he thinks he can win it.”

The K-W seat was left vacant when long-time Progressive Conservative MPP Elizabeth Witmer stepped down in late April to take an appointed post as chair of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board. McGuinty has until Oct. 27 to set a date for the byelection to fill Witmer’s seat and as the province waits, anticipation builds for what some have called one of the most important byelections in Ontario’s history.

“I think that’s completely over-blown,” said Stevens.

“It’s an interesting byelection, there’s lots at stake for both the Liberals and the Conservatives, but that’s it.”

Should the Liberals win K-W they would be granted a de-facto majority by virtue of having an equal number of seats to their opposition. Speaker Dave Levac, who votes in the event of a tie, is a Liberal.

With the Liberals so close to a majority, many have asked the question: do they deserve it?

“No. And I think they know that and that’s one reason they’re not rushing to call the byelection,” answered Stevens.
“They’ve got all kinds of problems, they may have a teachers’ strike, they’ve got the Ornge scandal going on. I don’t think they’ve earned a majority. On the other hand, I don’t think the Conservatives have earned the seat either.”

Locally, the opposition candidates have taken the opportunity to take shots at the McGuinty government.

“The McGuinty government does not deserve a majority government,” said NDP candidate Catherine Fife, citing the Liberals’ 30 per cent tuition rebate as one of the government’s failures.

“The 30 per cent tuition reduction, we’re hearing from students already that they don’t qualify for that. There are a lot of hoops to jump through. It sounds good on paper, but we need to have an honest conversation about what it really means on the ground.”

“We need to change Ontario back to the economic engine that it once was,” said PC candidate Tracey Weiler. “Dalton McGuinty cannot have this riding. He won’t find his majority here.”

The other declared candidates are Stacey Danckert of the Ontario Green Party and Allan Detweiler of the Ontario Libertarian Party. In the running for the Liberal nomination are local lawyer Eric Davis — who placed second in the 2011 election —Waterloo city councillor Karen Scian and Waterloo Regional Police officer Raj Sharma.

Whomever wins the Liberal nomination will have the added of pressure of completing the de facto majority. Something that K-W riding association president Simon Tunstall feels is deserved, despite the misgivings of the other parties.

“Because of what the Liberal Party has done for education, [Ontario] now has one of the best public school systems in the entire English-speaking world,” he said.

“On top of that, you could go on and talk about health care, environmental initiatives and a number of other things.

“I think our balanced approach is really unique to the Liberal Party, as opposed to the PCs who just want to cut and the NDP who just want to spend.”

When it comes to the question of student engagement, a question that seems to come up every election, in Stevens’ eyes, this byelection will follow the same pattern as so many elections in the past.

“I have never understood why students are so apathetic about elections and politics. It’s almost impossible to mobilize and get them involved in campaigns and get them to the polls,” he said. “It’ll take somebody quite exceptional to get them interested.”

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