A Reminder of the Unpredictable Nature of By-Elections

Just 17% of Kitchener-Waterlooians voted NDP provincially last fall – nearly the same number who voted NDP federally last spring, in the midst of the orange wave. They hadn’t won the riding since 1943, when they were known as the CCF.

So this isn’t a riding with deep NDP roots. And it’s not like the other parties rolled over – Liberal Eric Davis ran an impressive campaign in 2011 and the PC’s Tracey Weiler is a fine candidate.

Yet last night, NDP candidate Catherine Fife not only won – she steamrolled the competition, and more than doubled the NDP vote in the process.

In Vaughan, meanwhile, support levels barely budged. Of course, that could be a surprise in and of itself, given how suddenly the riding swung conservative federally in a 2010 by-election.

Not that we needed the reminder, but this just goes to show how by-elections can take on a life of their own. Threehundredandeight offered a 25-point wide confidence interval for his K-W NDP vote projection, and they still inched above it.

So given the unpredictable nature of by-elections, it’s probably best not to extrapolate any greater meaning from last night’s results – other than Tony Genco’s complete and utter failure as a politician, of course.

That’s not to say what happened in Kitchener-Waterloo won’t change things. McGuinty was denied his majority, leaving the fate of his government in limbo. Because people do read too much into by-elections, Tim Hudak’s leadership will once again be questioned and the NDP will be emboldened to bring down the government.

Before they do, they might want to consider another by-election that occurred the same night Vaughan went blue in 2010. At the exact same time voters in Vaughan were rejecting the Liberals, the Liberal vote in Winnipeg North quintupled, and Kevin Lamoureux won a riding the NDP had taken by over 40 points the previous election. A rather ominous sign for the fourth place party, heading into an election just 5 months later, n’est-ce pas?

Sometimes a by-election is just a by-election.

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in by elections, Ontario Politics

About CalgaryGrit

A former Calgary Liberal, now living in Toronto. My writings on politics can be found at www.calgarygrit.ca and online at the National Post.

You are not authorized to see this part
Please, insert a valid App ID, otherwise your plugin won't work correctly.

17 Responses to A Reminder of the Unpredictable Nature of By-Elections

  1. Ian

    Sometimes, although by elections typically show a massive drop in turnout (like Vaughn). In terms of raw votes, Fife lunged ahead. Either the NDP managed to swing Liberal and Conservatives from last year, or they tapped into a massive number of non-voters. It definitely keeps Ontario politics interesting.

  2. Marc from soccer

    This was a big loss for the Liberals, but not because Eric Davis didn’t win.

    I agree that predicting the fortunes of each party from this by-election isn’t terribly useful. Fife could lose her seat in the general election, and likely to the PCs if anyone, although it must be noted that turnout was absolutely unheardof-ly fantastic for a by-election.

    The more useful analysis will be re: the government’s high-profile treatment of teachers – a reliable, vote-rich bloc that has served as one of their staunchest allies on the ground, in the wallet and in the voting booth – and if/how/when/where this will factor into the next election.

    Pointing the pistol at government workers in public whilst negotiating in private is something that all administrations do. But the government completely threw teachers under the bus, and did it Republican style.

    That was a very high-stakes game to play to win a by-election. Now the government is faced with a conundrum – if they play the same card with the other public servants they’ll only antagonize additional allies for minimal political gain, whilst backing-off and becoming conciliatory will make them look weak and expose their previous rhetoric vacuous.

  3. Marc from soccer

    This was a big loss for the Liberals, but not because Eric Davis didn’t win.

    I agree that predicting the fortunes of each party from this by-election isn’t terribly useful. Fife could lose her seat in the general election, and likely to the PCs if anyone, although it must be noted that turnout was absolutely unheardof-ly fantastic for a by-election.

    The more useful analysis will be re: the government’s high-profile treatment of teachers – a reliable, vote-rich bloc that has served as one of their staunchest allies on the ground, in the wallet and in the voting booth – and if/how/when/where this will factor into the next election.

    Pointing the pistol at government workers in public whilst negotiating in private is something that all administrations do. But the government completely threw teachers under the bus, and did it Republican style.

    That was a very high-stakes game to play to win a by-election. Now the government is faced with a conundrum – if they play the same card with the other public servants they’ll only antagonize additional allies for minimal political gain, whilst backing-off and becoming conciliatory will make them look weak and expose their previous rhetoric as vacuously self-serving.

    (fixed typo)

  4. Political Outsider

    The Liberals got clobbered in K-W because they spent the campaign attacking their strongest supporters: the teachers. That’s what you get when you take strategic advice from Bob Rae.

    • Marc from soccer

      I missed this comment earlier but this guy got it bang on and much more succinctly than I did.

  5. CalgaryGrit

    Yeah, I would say KW is a sign Liberal support is down or NDP support is up, but it’s certainly a sign going to war with the teachers isn’t popular.

    As to Marc’s point, I think a lot of that backlash was because everyone loves teachers. A tough stand against other public sector unions might play better.

  6. Jim R

    I’m in BC and thus not terribly familiar with Ontario politics. But from my point of view what McGuinty was asking teachers to accept did not seem that harsh given
    a) the previous strong support he had given them
    b) the fact that the province is in a financially tight spot
    c) the fact that the world economy is in such a precarious condition that slipping back into another recession is a real possibility

    So, I’m quite surprised that there seems to be a general feeling here that the mass public came out to vote support for the teachers. So let me try an different interpretation: McGuinty, for a number of reasons, did not deserve to get a majority; OTOH, Hudak is considered a dolt. So the vote is not one of support for teachers, but rather a vote against a government that did not deserve a majority and an opposition headed by someone who doesn’t deserve to ever be premier.

    FWIW, here in BC the Liberal government made teaching an essential service. Given the importance of education and the havoc that a prolonged teachers strike would cause, this seems reasonable to me. Unfortunately, I expect that when the NDP is elected next year, that’s one of the first things they’ll reverse.

  7. Marc from soccer

    The problem Jim is not harshness. It is framing.

    McGuinty framed the issue as one of “pausing” pay increases.

    But given the economy, no one expected teachers to get wage increases in their next collective agreement. Teachers themselves didn’t expect wage increases. And this was proven true when the government achieved their goals through new agreements with the Catholics and Francophones (smaller unions over which he has more leverage, admittedly). It was only a matter of time before the others came in line. Plus, he had previously argued against legislating contracts as costly and legally risky.

    So then to legislate agreements for the other unions in the face of a by-election, well all this made the framing of this issue as one of “pausing” pay increases pretty hollow. The whole bit about provisions for young teachers ten years after his first mandate was pretty transparent too.

    Sometimes the party forgets that when it acts too much like the NDP or too much like the Conservatives, it makes voting Liberal pretty useless.

    As for the backlash in my previous post, I’m not talking joe q. public sympathy. I’m talking organizational and financial impact. Plus the voting patterns of the public servants themselves – the densest voting bloc there is. What was the last Ontario party to abandon its core, and how did that end for them?

    • CalgaryGrit

      Except the major unions are still asking for wage increases – at least in terms of “natural” escalator salary increases. Plus, there’s the bankable sick day issues/etc.

      I don’t think the government position is unreasonable when you consider the economic climate, but it’s still not a popular position. Defensible, yes – but not one to focus your campaign on.

      • Marc from soccer

        If the natural escalator is considered a wage increase, and the government is strict with its no wage increases, why did they keep the escalator in the agreements with the Catholics and Francophones?

        The government’s position to kept wage costs down is not unreasonable.

        The government’s position of asking teachers for their lunch money in bargaining, lest they force them to hand it over through legislation is not only unreasonable in a country where collective bargaining rights exist, but not even the least bit consistent.

        (And is also not particularly defensible after the government just passed an anti-bullying act!)

    • Jim R

      I think that counting public sector unions as a core constituency is a recipe for disaster. The public expects (or should expect) a government to be impartial when dealing with its employees. The conflict of interest that arises when that same government is in a real sense beholden to these employees makes impartiality next to impossible.

      The NDP is, to many, thought of as the party of “Big Labour”, the CP is, to many, thought of as the party of “Big Business”, and the LP is, to many, thought of as the party of the sensible middle. When a Liberal government acts like the de facto Labour Party (i.e., the NDP) it provides one more reason for wondering why the Liberal party should exist.

      FWIW, I think that public sector unions operate in a very different environment from private sector unions, and pretending that they are the same does not make sense. But that’s a different topic.

      • Marc from soccer

        And that’s exactly the problem the party is having now. They kowtowed to a large, organized group that’s slightly out of their core for a bit too long, and now they’re swinging back and biting that group in the rear. The public has the NDP for the labour-oriented, and the PCs for those that are in favour of legislating wage freezes. Weird positional politics from the party these days.

  8. Ed

    Probably the fact that Bob Rae is now not only a Liberal but the acting leader of the federal party has gone some way to rehabilitating the provincial Ontario NDP brand.

    • CalgaryGrit

      It certainly makes it harder to remind voters of “Rae Days”…

  9. Teddy Boragina

    The by-Election changed nothing. All it’s done is alert people to facts that have existed for months now (that the NDP is a threat to Liberal votes)

  10. Brian from Toronto

    In a general election, I think the NDP’s no questions asked support for raises for teachers will work against them. Unless you think the teahers’ unions can put as many workers on the ground in every riding in Ontario as they parachuted into KW.

  11. Kate Spade Outlet Locations

    So we’ll busy ourselves with the minutiae of a bunch of crazy middle-aged women within California,impartial prefer we normally do.I didn’t discern last week’s episode because of my vacation, and I expected apt be a little bit after for a sequel If I hadn’t known that I’d missed one episode I not would have guessed.

Add a Comment

Plugin from the creators of Brindes Personalizados :: More at Plulz Wordpress Plugins