Musings —08.02.2013 09:56 AM—
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.
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.
WINNERS AND LOSERS
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.