Ontario by-election results

PC – 48 per cent
Liberal – 42 per cent
NDP – 7 per cent

Niagara Falls
NDP – 39 per cent
PC – 37 per cent
Liberal – 19 per cent

On February 13th, Ontario had two by-elections in Thornhill and Niagara Falls. The PC Party held on to their seat in Thornhill. The NDP gained a seat Niagara Falls, for only the second time in its history. The Liberal Party was shut out.

The Thornhill results were effectively the same as in the 2011 election results in that riding. The Niagara Falls results are more interesting. The Liberal vote dropped substantially and most of those votes (in fact, almost all of them) went to the NDP, not to the PCs. The turnout was predictably much lower in both ridings than typically occurs in a general election.

The biggest mistake that commentators will make – one that Premier Wynne has been trying to address – is to extrapolate two by-elections into potential general election results.  What we can do is analyze what the outcomes mean for the likelihood of a spring election, rather than the results of it. The momentum the two opposition parties are feeling makes a spring election much more likely. The PCs have been pushing for an election since well before last year’s Budget.  Since then, the NDP have been on a roll in seven by-elections (two on February of this year, five last August).  A spring election is not a certainty, but it is certainly more likely after these by-election results.

The outcome of a potential election is anyone’s guess. After all, nobody predicted the outcomes in the most recent BC, Alberta, federal (i.e. the NDP breakthrough, Liberal collapse and BQ decimation) and even the 2011 Ontario elections.

Our conclusion: No party or leader should feel very confident about their chances in a general election. The political environment in Ontario is very unstable and almost anything can happen. The path to victory for each party is very narrow.

Party-by-Party Analysis

Why the Liberal Party is happy: They’re still the government…. The riding they lost (Niagara Falls) was more of a Kim Craitor (the former MPP) riding than a Liberal riding…. Premier Wynne was right that by-elections are an opportunity to punish the government without risking a PC or NDP government…. By-elections are not usually predictors of the outcomes in general elections…. The Liberals got more total votes than the NDP…. Their share of the vote in Thornhill has increased since 2011….

Why the Liberal Party is unhappy: They lost a seat…. They lost a GTA riding (their base of support)…. They’ve lost four seats over nine by-elections since 2011…. Their vote in Niagara Falls collapsed…. They will need to compromise more than they’d like with the NDP if they want to avoid a general election…. They made $100 million worth of announcements during the by-elections and still lost.

Why the PC Party is happy: They held a key GTA riding (their only riding contiguous with the 416)…. They won the combined popular vote across both by-elections (PC: 42 per cent, Liberal: 29 per cent, NDP: 25 per cent)…. They added another female MPP…. They almost won Niagara Falls in the face of hundreds of union volunteers (who won’t all be there in a general election).

Why the PC Party is unhappy: They lost the riding right next to their leader’s riding…. They didn’t add a seat…. They lost in southwestern Ontario again…. They’ve won two out of nine by-elections since 2011 (adding one, losing one and holding one)…. Their so-called “right to work” emerged as a divisive policy within the party.

Why the NDP is happy: They won a seat (Niagara Falls) that they have only ever won once before…. They picked up another southwestern Ontario seat from the other parties (to go with Windsor, London and Kitchener-Waterloo)…. They’ve gained four seats over nine by-elections since 2011…. They have considerable leverage with the government in potential Budget negotiations (assuming they do not want a general election to occur in the spring).

Why the NDP is unhappy: The NDP won’t be able to concentrate resources (i.e. hundreds of union volunteers) in a general election the way they did in Niagara Falls…. They finished a distant third in Thornhill (and got a smaller share of the vote than 2011)…. They finished third overall in the popular vote in the two by-elections…. They will be under more scrutiny in a general election…. Do they really want to force an election while trailing in the polls (notwithstanding success in the by-elections)?

What’s next

• The Legislature returns this Tuesday after a nine-week winter break.
• The PC Party will introduce its “Million Jobs Act” and potentially make other policy announcements while putting pressure on the NDP to defeat the government.
• There will be high stakes Budget posturing and negotiating between the NDP and Liberals.
• This negotiation will be impacted by several union contracts that will be negotiated in the spring; unions will use the political instability and possibility of a PC government to influence the Liberals and NDP.
• The Premier and the Finance Minister will announce the Budget date, which will likely be in March but could be pushed back to April.
• A confidence vote on the Budget will occur several sitting days after the Budget is introduced and that will be what triggers an election (if one is to occur).
• The Liberal government will most likely fall with both the NDP and PCs voting against the Budget.
• If an election does occur, it will probably be in late May.