NDP stymie Liberal bid for majority
TORONTO—Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty’s hopes of forming the majority government the Liberals missed by just one seat last October were quashed yesterday when voters in Kitchener-Waterloo elected a New Democrat for the first time ever in one of two provincial byelections.
The Liberals held on to Vaughan, the riding just north of Toronto vacated by former finance minister Greg Sorbara, with Steven Del Duca taking 51 percent of the popular vote to easily defeat Progressive Conservative Tony Genco.
In Kitchener-Waterloo, however, New Democrat Catherine Fife, supported by teachers and other public-sector workers angry at the Liberals for imposing a two-year wage freeze, won the large urban riding for the first time in the party’s history.
McGuinty didn’t even mention the Kitchener-Waterloo loss when he appeared at Del Duca’s headquarters to put the best face on the night’s results, but acknowledged the unpopularity his government has faced as it tries to freeze public-sector wages to eliminate a $15-billion deficit.
“You know, winning a byelection in government is never an easy thing at the best of times, and these are not the easiest of times,” McGuinty told cheering Liberal supporters in Vaughan.
“It’s a more challenging time,” he noted. “We’re called upon to find a way to both eliminate the deficit and balance the budget in a way that doesn’t compromise the quality of our health care and education.”
Fife, a popular school trustee, captured more than 40 percent of the vote, compared with about 31 percent for the Conservatives and 23 percent for the Liberals.
NDP leader Andrea Horwath said voters were not impressed with the government’s move to recall the legislature for an emergency session in August to impose a contract on Ontario teachers, which she insisted really was aimed at boosting Liberal chances in the byelections.
“Voters sent a message that they won’t fall for Dalton McGuinty’s manufactured crisis,” Horwath said in a statement.
“Voters across Kitchener-Waterloo who have never voted NDP in the past cast their ballots for positive change,” she noted.
McGuinty engineered the byelection by appointing veteran Progressive Conservative Elizabeth Witmer to a $188,000-a-year post as head of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, convincing her to give up the seat she’d held for 22 years.
Backed by support from teachers and public-sector workers, Fife came from behind to take the riding about 170 km southwest of Toronto.
PC leader Tim Hudak had downplayed expectations, calling Kitchener-Waterloo more of an Elizabeth Witmer riding than a Tory riding. And with an NDP win preventing a Liberal majority, he won’t face challenges to his leadership for failing to hold the seat.
Hudak did not appear publicly last night, but issued a statement blaming unions for teaming up to help the New Democrats take Kitchener-Waterloo.
“Tonight’s result has shown that public-sector unions from across Ontario were provided with the perfect opportunity to concentrate their resources and lash out against the wage freeze we’ve been consistently pushing,” noted Hudak.
“They bought Kitchener-Waterloo, and now we can expect the rest of Ontario taxpayers to pay for it as the NDP cut more budget deals to keep the Liberals in power.”