While the final tally of last week’s provincial election may have caught some in Kitchener-Conestoga off guard as PC candidate Michael Harris unseated incumbent Leeanna Pendergast, Barry Kay was not surprised with the result.
“The Conestoga seat was one I expected to go Conservative,” said Kay, a political science professor at Wilfrid Laurier University and expert on modeling election results.
“I expected them [the Conservatives] to pick it up, and they did.”
Harris defeated Pendergast by about 3,500 votes to win the riding – 18,005 to 14,469 – along with nearly 44 per cent of the share of voters. NDP candidate Mark Cairns finished third with just over 7,000 votes.
On Wednesday afternoon, Kay gave a public lecture on the outcome of the election at the Kitchener Public Library’s Forest Heights Branch and provided some insight into what is likely to come with the Liberal minority government.
“I suggested that the biggest surprise of the election was not so much the totals and the seats,” said Kay over the phone after his presentation, “it was the fact that the province split in terms of its trends.”
What Kay was referring to was the deepening division between the urban and rural communities of the province and the impact that division had on the outcome of the election.
While the Conservatives made strong inroads in the rural and smaller urban communities of the province – areas like Kitchener-Waterloo, which was awash in a wave of blue on the morning of Oct. 7 – they failed to make a dent in the major urban centers like Toronto, Ottawa and Hamilton.
That failure was one of the primary reasons for Tim Hudak failure to unseat Premier Dalton McGuinty, according to Kay.
“In the GTA the Liberals did better this time than they did last time,” said Kay referring to the fact the Liberals won 19 of 23 ridings in the 416 area code – the NDP took the remaining four. The Conservatives were completely shut-out of Toronto and took only one seat in the entire GTA.
“What we saw was an even stronger trend towards the Liberals than we did in 2007, whereas the trend in rural Ontario – if I can call it that – was very much in the other direction.
“To have a shot at forming a government, they are going to have to crack into urban Ontario.”
Kay said this was the result of Hudak failing to position himself as a credible alternative to McGuinty after eight years of Liberal leadership. While voters may have grown disenchanted with the Liberal leader over the years, they just couldn’t see Hudak as a better alternative.
“We were doing projections back in the summer where the Conservatives weren’t just ahead, they were in majority territory,” said Kay.
“But people who were swing voters and who were prepared to give the Conservatives a chance at one point took a look at Hudak and realized he wasn’t any better or more attractive than McGuinty.”
Despite his inability to capitalize on the voting public’s malaise towards McGuinty, Hudak will likely remain as the leader of the provincial Conservative party, said Kay, adding he is unsure of how the party will pry those critical urban seats away from Liberal hands.
“By some standards this was a good election for the Conservatives, but forming a majority government is challenged by the fact that they’re further away in Toronto [and other urban areas] than ever.”