08.02.2013 09:56 AM

By-election Olympics

It’s superficial, of course, to always declare political “winners” and “losers” the morning after.  But people (me included) like to do it.  It’s fun. And, in electoral terms, the fact is that there always are winners and losers.

Except last night in Ontario was more like the Olympics, to me.  Everyone won a little bit, and most everyone (with one big exception) lost something, too.  So here’s my Olympian take: gold, silver and bronze – plus a citation for two guys (and a polling firm) who won and lost, all in the same news cycle.



Andrea Horwath: I’ve been saying for months that the Ontario NDP leader is the person most likely to be elected the next Premier, and last night all of Ontario got to see why.

She didn’t just win in Windsor-Tecumseh, a safe Liberal seat for many, many years: she massacred the Grits and the PCs, taking nearly 62 per cent of the vote – while the Grits received a paltry 11 per cent.  Same in London-West: the PCs had been so certain of winning, they actually sent Tim Hudak there to give a victory speech.

To Hudak’s shock, and the Liberal’s great surprise, Horwath’s candidate received 42 per cent of the vote – while the Grit’s “star” candidate barely got his deposit back, at 15 per cent. London-West, too, had been a Liberal stronghold – and it, too, had been previously held by a Liberal cabinet minister.  The magnitude of the NDP wins in those two previously-Liberal seats means that they will remain in the NDP column for a long time, perhaps for good.  Elsewhere, Horwath has reason to be happy.  In Scarborough-Guildwood, where the chattering classes had expected her candidate to be humiliated, she very nearly tied the second-place PCs.

Horwath is the most popular politician in the province.  She has a capable, underestimated staff.  And she has not been hurt by her walk-softly-and-carry-a-big-stick strategy of recent months.  She is the gold medallist coming out of last night.

John Fraser and the McGuintys:  I bet Sun News’ Brian Lilley a dollar, on-air, that John – Dalton McGuinty’s right-hand man in Ottawa South for more than a decade – would beat back a competent Ontario PC challenger.  And he did.  I also said, over and over, that the gas plant issue would not hurt John in that riding – because (a) the gas plant “scandal” mostly isn’t one, to most regular people, and (b) the McGuinty name is still a good one.  And people feel that family have done lots of good, in Ottawa South and beyond.

Some will suggest that John won despite Dalton, and not because of him.  But the McGuintys, and their formidable machine, were all over the Ottawa South by-election, every single day, knocking on doors and making calls.  And John – because he is an honest and decent guy – never hid the fact that he worked for Dalton McGuinty for years.  He was proud of it.

Last night’s outcome in Ottawa South wasn’t a huge win for the Office of the Premier (they had actually been campaigning in London-West and Etobicoke Lakeshore, this week, not Ottawa South).  It is a huge win – a gold medal! – for John Fraser and the McGuintys.  And it strongly suggests that the McGuinty-hating gas plant scandalmongering – by kooky Cavoukian, by partisan media, by the PCs – simply hasn’t worked.  If that issue had had any traction at all, it should have had traction in Ottawa South.

It didn’t.



Kathleen Wynne:  The honeymooon, which was an enduring one, is decidedly over.  Overall, Wynne’s vote tally dropped by more than 50,000, or almost 20 per cent.  Her personally handpicked star candidate in London-West wasn’t just beaten, he was eviscerated.  And plenty of Liberals are recalling, this morning, the old political adage: if the choice is the real New Democrat, or the pretend one, the real one will always win.

Wynne needs a Liberal economic narrative: presently, she doesn’t have one that I can see.  She needs to reassess her key strategists: after last night, it is clear that the decision to push out the McGuinty election readiness team (who won big in 2003, 2007 and 2011) was a big mistake.  And she needs to understand that making nice with the NDP, and giving Horwath everything she wanted (and then some), will always result in the NDP eating her lunch.

That said, many Liberals told me they were expecting to lose all but one – or all – of the five by-elections.  Wynne’s been given some breathing room, but not much.  She is a good person, and she’s a fighter.  She needs to get ready to fight the toughest campaign of her life, starting right now.



Tim Hudak:  Most of all, he needed to win in Etobicoke-Lakeshore, and he did that.  But he also needed to win in London-West and Ottawa South, and that he did not do.

His problem is that voters just don’t like him, and Hudak doesn’t know how to fix that.  His party’s problem is that there is no solution to the Hudak dilemma: apart from open insurrection, they have no mechanism to get rid of the most unpopular PC leader Ontario has seen in decades.  So they’re stuck with each other.

Against Horwath, he is toast.  He accordingly needs to drop the gas plant scandal hysteria, and start talking about his positive economic vision for the province.  He needs to borrow some of Harper’s smart strategists in Ottawa.  And he needs to step back a bit, and better promote his team (because some of caucus and candidates are impressive).

Will he do it?  I doubt it.  It’s not in his genetic structure. So, late last night, I was hearing from Conservatives that Hudak’s back to bitterly blaming organized labour for his losses.

Hey, Tim?  You and your staff need to take a hard look in the mirror: there’s your problem, big guy.



Rob and Doug Ford: Late last night, everyone was crediting them for the win in Etobicoke-Lakeshore.  It was a big win – the first PC victory in Toronto since 1999 – and the Fords were revelling in the fact that they, and not Tim Hudak, were getting all the high-fives.

And then, two hours later, the crack video story was back with a vengeance, all over the front page of the Toronto Star.  The video is real, and the story isn’t going away.  Their nightmare isn’t over yet, not by a long shot.

Congrats and condolences, brothers Ford.  May your misery be long and deep.

Forum Research: They got it all wrong, again.  That’s the bad news.  The good news?  The Star will continue to use their stuff, uncritically.


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    Cow says:

    I’ll add one thing I haven’t seen talked about in a lot of places: another reason Hudak gets no credit in Etobicoke-Lakeshore. Remember, that riding went federal Tory this past election too, costing Iggy his seat.

    That riding’s been going more and more c/Conservative for years. I would’ve been stunned if they hadn’t won. That it was as close as it was tells you that even in an increasingly Conservative stronghold, people don’t like Hudak.

    The next election’s really looking like a two-way race to me. (Especially since we’ve already seen that Hudak–in addition to not being able to shut up about the gas plants–can’t resist going full homophobe on Wynne, and I don’t see Ontario voters taking well to that at all.)

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      james Smith says:

      I agree, I have a client in this riding, (where I’m writing this note from in fact) & I spent a little time on the doors here, as well as on EDay. Many people were conflicted on whom to support. I heard people say they would be happy with either Doug or Peter as their MPP. Holiday won the sign war, and his margin of victory was really a squeaker given the support he has in the riding.

      I do take exception with part of MR K’s premiss however; one hears Dalton’s name over and over again and not in a positive way.

      As for the Dippers doing better than expected in Scarborough, please … every Dipper I know was there during the campaign at some point & EDay especially so, several doing so despite not sharing Mr K’s view of Mr G.

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    W the K - No, not Warren says:

    Holyday would have won Etobicoke-Lakeshore all by himself. Handily and on his local reputation alone. He engenders that kind of respect across the political spectrum. I actually believe, regardless of media coverage, the Fords’ crass involvement in the campaign hurt Holyday. His margin of victory would have been greater if those two just stayed home. If Hudak was a strong and effective leader he would have taken their money, told them to shaddup, and sent them back to city hall.

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    Pundits' Guide says:

    Good job on the commentary and analysis last night on Sun TV, Warren.

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      Warren says:

      Thank you my friend. Much appreciated.

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    Houland Wolfe says:

    I hate Conservatives, even though I count some among my friends. So, it is a particularly sweet form of schadenfreude to read how they sent Timmy to London to join in the “victory” party. Oh, the ignominy. Hudak has painted himself into a corner with his uber-right platform. Now he gets to watch the paint dry.

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    RobertW says:

    The real Gold medal for Horwath will be winning a general election. Should she wait and shore up Wynne, or should she join Hudak to defeat the wounded Liberal party for a quick election this September-November?

    If Horwath hesitates she may lose momentum and only be able to bleed away Liberal voters thus allowing Hudak to win up the middle.

    What should Horwath do, vote no confidence to defeat the Wynne government or continue to allow Wynne to recover from McGuinty’s legacy?

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    Dennis Hollingsworth says:

    A painstakingly thorough analysis and bang-on accurate … way to go W.K. … Bravo your Brilliance !!

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    bluegreenblogger says:

    Etobicoke Lakeshore was not a surprise to me. While Ford Nation does deserve some of the credit, in a showdown between Milczyn and Holyday, it is the result I would expect in Etobicoke, even if Etobicoke Lakeshore is not very Etobicoke-like. Putting the Ford database together with the Holyday name did the trick. Milczyn might have sat on city council for years, but the name recognition is not really associated with anything positive, and in the southern part of the riding he was not very well known. Without the Liberal brand to support him, Milczyn would have been annihilated. That is my opinion anyway. Incidentally, I was surprised to see some pretty staunch formerly Liberal ‘influencers’ plugging for Holyday. That does not bode well for the next Provincial and Federal general elections. I am looking forward to poll by poll analysis. There are a lot of new residents along the lakefront in the new wall of condos being built. I am just not sure how well the local Liberals are doing in orgqanising there. It will be where the next general elections are decided.

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    Jonathan Giggs says:

    Good analysis but not mentioned is that the Ontario PC party received more votes in total than any other party in the five ridings combined and finished second in the ridings that they didn’t win. London West and Ottawa South could be in play next election.

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      SharonS says:

      Yes, a general election will crystalize the issues while these by-elections were more local than provincial. Hudak and Horwath will find more success in a general election while the Liberals and Wynne condemned because she is still representative of the McGuinty regime and she will be punished for past sins. Wynne represents the wrong values for Ontarians at large and she has no hope of being the Premier of Ontario after an election. That is the grim reality.

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    Michael S says:

    Is it true that Timmy had to go to London because Doug Ford made sure he wasn’t welcome at the Etobicoke-Lakeshore victory party, a victory that he still sees as his taken from him by Team Hudak? Keep your eyes on Randy Hillier, if you see him hanging with Doug a coup is imminent.

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      Tiger says:

      Hudak was at the Etobicoke-Lakeshore victory party, and closed it out. Said hi to everyone and went around shaking hands.

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    G. Babbitt says:

    As a Londoner it was clear Coran was going to be defeated handily and it should be no surprise. A huge proportion of the population has a close relationship to a school age kid and for many of them the extra curricular withdrawal was a huge issue with both sides blaming each other. Now the person who led the withdrawal of extra curricular activities (including providing extra help for students having trouble) and the government that passed the legislation that supposedly prompted the withdrawal are blended into one candidate. Is it a shock that people didn’t flock to him? That been said at the risk of seeming conspiratorial, I do wonder if the Wynne team took a long view and sacrificed a good chance at London West (with a good candidate) to have on record the former president of OSSTF supporting them that they can use during a general election.

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