High stakes for Ontario's Liberals in twin byelections

High stakes for Ontario’s Liberals in twin byelections

Ottawa–Vanier has elected a Liberal in every provincial election since 1971, and the Progressive Conservatives would like you to remember that.

The riding is the Liberals' to lose, but much more might be at stake for the governing party in Thursday's twin byelections in Ottawa-Vanier and Niagara West-Glanbrook.

Earlier this week, the PCs sent out a press release detailing the Liberals’ margins of victory in Ottawa-Vanier over the years, ranging from a healthy 21 points in 1999, to a staggering 58 points in 1987. In the last general election, Liberal Madeleine Meilleur won Ottawa-Vanier by 33 points over the PC runner-up.

It’s a reminder of what’s a stake. If the PCs even come close in Ottawa-Vanier, they say it will be a win, of sorts — but if they take the riding, it’s a defeat for the Liberals that will shake the party to its core.

A Liberal loss in Ottawa-Vanier would appear to confirm recent public opinion polling that’s been doom-and-gloom for the governing party, especially concerning the personal popularity of Premier Kathleen Wynne.

Perhaps that’s why Dalton McGuinty-era cabinet ministers have been whispering in the ear of a certain strong-jawed public broadcaster that if the Liberals lose, Wynne must resign.

(And don’t forget the media, including QP Briefing, will be at the Liberals’ Annual General Meeting in Ottawa this weekend, ears wide open.)

And perhaps that's why Deputy Premier (and 2018 campaign co-chair) Deb Matthews told reporters Wednesday that while the party is fighting hard to win, “Byelections are special, they do not reflect anything about the next election.”

The other riding voting Thursday is also a stronghold of sorts. Niagara West–Glanbrook has gone Tory blue, electing former PC leader Tim Hudak, in every election since it was formed in 2007.

As of late Wednesday, Patrick Brown’s team had yet to determine where the PC leader would go to watch the results come in. Will he go to Ottawa to witness the nail biter and hold out for an upset victory? Or is it wiser for him to be on hand for what history suggests is the safer win?

But voters in both ridings aren’t just choosing a party, they’re picking their representatives at Queen’s Park and they have fascinating choices to make.

The PCs didn’t skimp on compelling characters. Niagara West–Glanbrook Tories nominated so-con kid Sam Oosterhoff. The 19-year-old is remarkably articulate, beat the PC Party president and a popular city councillor for the nomination, and says he’s knocked on some 15,000 doors.

Oosterhoff is unabashedly pro-life, but cagey about the extent of his other beliefs. Press Progress reported this week that he’s posted on Facebook and Twitter that homosexuality is a sin, but when asked for his views on same-sex marriage, he'd only say the debate is over. Oosterhoff has refused to answers questions about where he stands on social policies, including whether he would try to repeal the sex-ed curriculum or follow his party line to support Bill 28, to give legal recognition to same-sex parents without the adoption process.

Ottawa–Vanier’s PC candidate, Ontario Ombudsman André Marin, has a history of his own. The Liberals would like to remind you that he expensed his deodorant and a flat-screen TV during his time as Ombudsman, before he took to Twitter to rage against the end of his tenure.

That’s why, according to Matthews, the Liberal party is doing its best to compare Marin to U.S. president-elect Donald Trump. Trump may not be known for expensing deodorant, as far as we know, but the Liberals believe the two men share a penchant for outbursts on social media and the occasional snafu with facts.

(Marin's tweeting during the byelection campaign has been much less controversial and, as you can see in the image at the bottom of this post, often focused on the burger that was named after him.)

Matthews would also like to remind you that the Liberals are running, “two fantastic, bright, progressive women,” in her opinion, running for the party.

Liberal candidate Nathalie Des Rosiers is Dean of Common Law at the University of Ottawa and former general counsel for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. The Liberal candidate in Niagara West - Glanbrook Vicky Ringuette, is a lawyer and mediator who demonstrated her mettle by carrying on and debating undaunted, despite the audience booing when she spoke about her party's record.

The NDP is running Claude Bisson, brother to NDP MPP Gilles Bisson, in Ottawa-Vanier. In Niagara-West Glanbrook, the New Democrats chose Mike Thomas, a former police union head who, until recently, held a membership with the PCs.

It's not surprising that the Liberals would like to talk about having progressive female candidates, instead of the oppositions favourite topics: hydro and health care.

The opposition parties have held a number of hydro-focused local news events and they've had a little help on the health care front from Ontario's doctors, who've mobilized against the government, holding rallies and health-care debates.

The polls will close at 9 p.m., and QP Briefing will be on hand to report on the victory parties in both ridings.


Jessica Smith Cross

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