There’s some interesting angles to play, but otherwise next week’s provincial byelections are essentially a small-scale version of last fall’s general election.
The votes in Kitchener-Waterloo and Vaughan are important in that the outcome could decide if Dalton McGuinty continues to head a minority government or squeaks out a majority. At present, the Liberals hold 52 of the 107 seats at Queen’s Park, while the Tories have 36 seats and the New Democrats have 17.
In Kitchener-Waterloo, the seat up for grabs belonged to PC stalwart Elizabeth Witmer, enticed to step down to become the new chair of the Workplace Safety Insurance Board. In Vaughan, voters will decide how to replace long-serving Liberal Greg Sorbara. McGuinty clearly hopes to win both seats, giving him effective control of the Legislature.
Voters in both ridings will undoubtedly be weighing the pros and cons of each party, knowing they could hold the balance of power. A Liberal vote brings a majority government. A vote for the Conservatives or NDP potentially sends a message to the government. Electing a Green candidate also has its appeal, as even one seat puts the party in a strategic position, able to wield a certain amount of influence as the decisive vote.
That aside, voters in the two ridings are at pretty much the same spot the entire province was last October. The Liberal government has been in power for nine years now. As the incumbent that’s taken us through a time of global recession and uncertainty, McGuinty is the devil we know – and we’ve got more than a few issues with him. Both PC leader Tim Hudak and the NDP’s Andrea Horwath ran their first campaigns, but remain unknown quantities even though their leadership matters more in a minority government situation. Neither has caught on with the public, leaving McGuinty in a much stronger position despite the baggage of nine years at the helm.
Local poll numbers show voters are less than happy with the current government, which is not surprising. A recent poll puts support for the Tories at 34 per cent, ahead of both the Liberals (30 per cent) and NDP (30 per cent) in Kitchener-Waterloo. If those numbers hold, the riding will continue its long history of voting Conservative.
In Vaughan, polls have the Liberals ahead at 47 per cent, compared to 36 for the PCs and just nine per cent for the NDP. That riding, too, appears poised to remain with the incumbent party.
Of course, as we’ve learned from recent elections, particularly the provincial vote in Alberta, polls aren’t always reliable indicators of the eventual outcome. Strategic voting and the ability to get out partisan voters will both play a role in what happens Sept. 6.
As well, the issue everyone is accusing everyone else of playing politics with – teachers and runaway public sector spending – could come into play. The Liberals are positioning themselves as the party that will prevent labour disruptions from getting in the way of the school year. With wage freezes, they’re also appealing to those of a conservative bent, treading on Tim Hudak’s territory. The NDP, sensing the public mood, has been relatively quiet about the dispute. This could be a wildcard factor.
More likely, however, is the usual dynamic: we don’t vote for anything per se, we vote against incumbents at intervals. It’s how we do things, apparently.