POLITICS

Ontario Byelections: McGuinty And Hudak Headed For Showdown

08/10/2012 01:55 EDT | Updated 08/10/2012 01:55 EDT
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Voters in two Ontario ridings will be heading to the polls on Sept. 6. They will decide whether Dalton McGuinty’s wobbly minority government will become an insecure majority.

The byelection in Kitchener-Waterloo, triggered by PC MPP Elizabeth Witmer's resignation has been coming since the spring. But with the resignation of Greg Sorbara, Liberal MPP for the riding of Vaughan just north of Toronto, McGuinty called the date for the vote almost immediately.

His party has had a long time to prepare for the contest in Kitchener-Waterloo, where a win will give them a de facto majority government. Calling a snap byelection in Vaughan robs Tim Hudak’s Tories from having the same time to prepare for an upset.

Kitchener-Waterloo will be a challenge for the McGuinty Liberals, as the riding has long voted PC, and the party will need to make major gains while they have slipped precipitously in the polls province-wide. But the prospect of electing an MPP sitting in a majority government, rather than a member of the opposition, may be tempting to voters.

On paper, Vaughan should be no contest for the Liberals. Sorbara won the riding by 22 points in the October general election with 53 per cent support. But that was a tighter margin than was the case in 2007, when the Liberals took Vaughan by a margin of 43 points.

A Forum poll released this week shows the Liberals start the campaign at a disadvantage. The survey gave the PCs 41 per cent support to only 40 per cent for the Liberals, a dramatic 23-point swing in Hudak’s favour. And recent history in Vaughan should also be cause for concern for McGuinty.

At the federal level, the riding was solidly and reliably Liberal until a 2010 byelection delivered the seat to the Conservatives. The Liberals had won the seat by 34 points in 2006 and 15 points in 2008, before losing it 49 to 47 per cent to Julian Fantino. He then went on to win it by 26 points in the 2011 general election.

This suggests Vaughan is less of a Liberal riding than an incumbent’s riding and that the Ontario Tories have a shot at it, especially if they nominate a strong candidate. Winning Kitchener-Waterloo is not enough for the Liberals in their quest for a majority – they will need to hold on to Vaughan as well.

The New Democrats are unlikely to play much of a role in the race. At the federal and provincial level, the party has not done better than 12 per cent in recent elections, and took only two per cent of the vote in the 2010 federal byelection. The Forum poll gives them 15 per cent support in the riding, but that could drop if voters see the race as being between the Liberal and PC candidates.

Hudak and McGuinty will have to wage a two-front war in these byelections, as both will have to put in a great deal of effort not only to win a new seat, but to retain the one they already have.

Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers on most Tuesdays and Fridays. Grenier is the author of ThreeHundredEight.com, covering Canadian politics, polls and electoral projections.

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