Tuesday, May 01, 2012

McGuinty's Majority Move

As I wrote on election night last fall, the line between majority and minority isn’t as rigid as it’s often made out to be. When the margin is this thin, one case of appendicitis can tip the scales and change the course of history.

On Friday, Dalton McGuinty proved how fluid that majority line is, by appointing veteran PC MLA Elizabeth Witmer as the chair of the WSIB, setting the stage for an “all in” by election in Kitchener-Waterloo, and hundreds of “battle of Waterloo” metaphors.

It’s hard to see this move as anything other than a minority masterstroke by McGuinty. Witmer is respected and more than qualified for the position he is appointing her to, so there’s little risk of  backlash. It undermines Hudak’s leadership and, most importantly, opens up a winnable by election seat for the Liberals. Here’s the KW vote totals from October:

Elizabeth Witmer (PC)  43%
Eric Davis (Lib)  36%
Isabel Cisterna (NDP)  17%
 JD McGuire (Green)  3%

An MPP with over 20 years in office has to be worth at least 5 points at the ballot box, making Witmer's old seat very much a toss up. It’s a riding Andrew Telegdi won handily for the federal Liberals as recently as 2006, before razor-thin losses in 2008 and 2011.

While there’s no doubt a temptation to strike early and call a snap by election, McGuinty has the cover of the NDP budget deal to get him through the spring session, so there’s no immediate rush. After all, it’s a student riding, so there’s something to be said for a fall by election, when thousands Waterloo and Laurier students notice a cool 30% reduction on their tuition bills.

Regardless on timing, the election is going to be all about whether voters want a majority or a minority government. For the next few months, the eyes of the province will be on Kitchener-Waterloo.


  • So, she was offered the position not because of her skill but because she represents a winnable riding to get McGuinty his coveted majority?

    I have no doubt other MP's could do a fine job but if they are from a rural riding they were excluded.

    It might work. This riding has been a Conservative stronghold in part because of Witmer.

    Will the Libs win Goodale's federal Saskatchewan riding after he resigns? Not a chance. This provincial riding is not as clear as that. It will be interesting but no neutral observer could conclude anything other than this is politics at its worst.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:44 AM  

  • I'd say there is a good chance McGuinty will have the 2011 candidate run in the riding again, or the riding association. Despite the Liberals losing a fair bit of support from 2007 to 2011 he managed to improve the party's numbers despite running against a longtime incumbent. Him already being known in the riding is a big plus.

    By Blogger Jordan, at 12:04 PM  

  • Anon 9:44AM - Witmer, among her other higher profile jobs, also worked on WSIB committees and helped draft current legislation. Regardless of party, she's a great fit to head the WSIB. Nothing to do with this supposed rural/urban divide you're pushing.

    And Waterloo is a more left-leaning city, so yes it being a PC stronghold all these years has a lot to do with Witmer. I have no doubt this also played some part in McGuinty's calculus.

    K-W is Red Tory territory, and Hudak's style doesn't play well here. As someone who's voted for Ms Witmer and holds the same views of the big blue machine of years past; outsiders should note that this by-election will also have a lot to do with Hudak's leadership of the party. If the PC's run a Hudak approved neanderthal, and Rob Ford show up here every other day... expect a big Liberal win.

    The best thing the PC's can do is nominate another Red Tory, keep Hudak appearances to a minimum, and focus attention on McGuinty. If they do that they've got a good shot to hold this riding.

    BTW: Sean Strickland, ex-regional councillor and current Chair of Community Services Committee, has announced he's running for the Liberal nomination here. He's run against Witmer in past elections. The Tories had better start looking for high profile local candidates as well.

    By Blogger Tof KW, at 1:10 PM  

  • Thanks for the local lay of the land Tof KW.

    I'm curious to see which names come forward. Even though the NDP is unlikely to win, it's an important by election for them too, since they want to siphon off as much Lib support as possible to let the Tories win, keeping McGuinty in a minority.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 5:27 PM  

  • The NDP could be surprisingly competitive in K-W, the results of the last election notwithstanding. There is nothing about the demographic of K-W that make it unwinnable for the NDP. The NDP put almost no priority on the riding last time. In a byelection context if the NDP gets a good candidate and spends the maximum and floods the riding with organizers - who knows what could happen. The better the NDP does, the less of a chance of the Liberals winning and regaining their majority and instantly scrapping their surtax on income over $500,000/year

    By Blogger DL, at 5:38 PM  

  • Cool to finally be a resident in one of these high profile by-elections. I'll update as much as I can CG.

    Also, I'll agree with DL here. I don't see a surprise NDP win in this riding, however they can certainly do well and keep the Liberals from claiming it.

    By Blogger Tof KW, at 6:08 PM  

  • Crazy thought... Jim Balsillie isn't doing anything these days.

    He could run as an independent, and use his leverage as a swing vote to get McGuinty to
    A. pour money into RIM.
    B. pressure the NHL to let him get a hockey team in Hamilton.

    Why elect a trained seal, when K-W can elect somebody that can bring home the bacon.

    By Anonymous hosertohoosier, at 6:49 PM  

  • I doubt Balsillie would run, but it does highlight the influence an independent MPP could have in this legislature if someone decided to leave their party's caucus (or was kickedo out).

    So if you're reading this Frank Klees...

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  • I question Balsillie would work, but it does showcase the affect an independent MPP could have in this particular legislature if someone chose to leave their party's caucus (or was kickedo out).
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