Summer 2013 Byelections: Poll-Defying Results Give All Parties a Reason to Smile

Yesterday was Election Day for five rare summer provincial byelections, which gave all three parties a reason to smile. Kathleen Wynne, Tim Hudak, and Andrea Horwath all delivered victory speeches highlighting their successes and identifying the direction their parties will take when the Legislature resumes in September.

Premier Wynne spoke in Scarborough-Guildwood, where Mitzie Hunter won a tight three-way race. Wynne celebrated the victories by Hunter and former assistant to Premier McGuinty, John Fraser, in Ottawa South. While celebrating the victory among supporters, Wynne acknowledged the electoral cost of the continuing gas plants saga and promised to work harder for Ontarians.

Andrea Horwath also spoke in Scarborough-Guildwood, where star candidate Adam Giambrone came in a close third. However, Horwath still gave a victory speech, buoyed by wins in Windsor-Tecumseh and London West. Horwath took an aggressive stance in her speech, saying that the victories would “send a message” and referring to the government as “arrogant.”

Tim Hudak spoke in Etobicoke-Lakeshore, where Doug Holyday had the only PC victory of the night. Hudak highlighted the milestone Holyday’s win represented – the riding was the first PC victory in the city of Toronto since 1999. Hudak and Holyday were clear that the PC focus remains on forming government in the next general election, with Hudak repeating his line about needing to change the team in charge of the province and Holyday anticipating further Toronto victories for the PCs.

Unofficial Byelection Results

Etobicoke-Lakeshore
As the final byelection to be decided, Etobicoke-Lakeshore proved to be a suspenseful race. The riding was the sole PC victory, ending a 14-year drought for the party in the City of Toronto with a victory by star candidate Doug Holyday.

London West
In an unexpected win, NDP candidate Peggy Sattler bested Ali Chahbar (PC) and Ken Coran (Liberal) to take London West. The NDP now control two of the four London-area ridings.

Ottawa South
John Fraser kept Ottawa South in the Liberal family, replacing long-time boss Dalton McGuinty as MPP. Despite polling which had shown a lead for PC candidate Matt Young, Fraser held a lead throughout the night to emerge victorious.

Scarborough-Guildwood
Mitzie Hunter rounded out the night for the Liberals with a tight win in a three-way race with PC candidate Ken Kirupa and NDP candidate Adam Giambrone. Andrea Horwath gave her speech in the riding, the only leader to make an appearance in a riding they didn’t win.

Windsor-Tecumseh
Windsor-Tecumseh was the least surprising result of the night, with Percy Hatfield being the first victor announced by the media. Hatfield was also the only candidate to receive over 50 per cent of the votes in his race.

Conclusion

The byelections are unlikely to have much of an impact beyond the narratives of the three parties going into the Fall session of the Legislature, as the balance of power in the Legislature will remain unchanged. The government is unlikely to fall before the 2014 budget is released due to the legislative requirements for a confidence motion. In addition, low turnout and the ability to focus resources can make it difficult to use byelections to predict general election success.

What remains to be seen are the roles that the new MPPs will take, and the impact they will have within their parties and within the Legislature. Doug Holyday and Percy Hatfield are both experienced municipal politicians, and will likely receive significant critic roles. Mitzie Hunter’s municipal experience could be used to strengthen the government’s push for movement on the transit file in Toronto, potentially working with Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Glen Murray to gain traction and momentum.

All three parties will be looking forward to and preparing themselves for Spring 2014 and the potential for an election. Before then, the Liberals will likely want to make progress on the transit file and their fiscal plans. They will also likely be looking to put the gas plant controversy to rest once and for all. Andrea Horwath will likely try to build on her byelection success to position the NDP as the government-in-waiting and herself as the next Premier. She will also be looking for ways to differentiate herself from Wynne, as they will be vying for many of the same voters on the centre-left. Tim Hudak will be looking to take advantage of the PC entrance into Toronto and increase the party’s profile and chances in other ridings in the city. He, too, will probably be looking to position himself as the Premier-in-waiting among the general Ontario public.

Until the next election, the minority government will continue to move slowly through its legislative agenda. The role of the opposition parties has been strengthened by yesterday’s results, and political uncertainty will likely continue to overwhelm decision making processes until the next election. This uncertainty will require continued communication with all three parties as well as the civil service. It also calls for an increased emphasis on scenario planning and issue prioritization in an environment that could produce many different outcomes over the short and medium term.