Liberals lose both byelections
TORONTO—Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals suffered a crushing defeat in two Ontario byelections yesterday but vowed the losses would not be repeated in the general election, expected as early as this spring.
The general election will be “the real decision point” for voters, said Wynne as she urged Liberals not to read too much into the opposition parties’ victories in Niagara Falls and Thornhill, north of Toronto.
“We cannot extrapolate from tonight,” she stressed. “That is not the way it will go.”
The New Democrats took Niagara Falls from the Liberals, who had held it for the past decade, while the Progressive Conservatives held Thornhill.
The results don’t change the status of the minority Liberal government, but the byelections were viewed as crucial tests of voter intentions—and party messages—in advance of a general election.
New Democrat Wayne Gates, a Niagara Falls city councillor, defeated former PC MPP Bart Maves in a hard-fought battle while the governing Liberals came in a distant third.
NDP leader Andrea Horwath offered no hints about her future plans regarding an election as she spoke at Gates’ victory party, saying voters clearly are fed up with the Liberals and feel it’s time for a change in government.
“We can show them the respect they deserve, respect the value of the money that they send to Queen’s Park, and stop the waste and the scandals,” said Horwath.
“That’s the change that we need in Ontario.”
Despite a strong challenge from the Liberals in Thornhill, optometrist Gila Martow managed to hang on to the riding for the PCs in what many considered a must-win situation for leader Tim Hudak.
Both ridings are held by the Conservatives federally.
Wynne, who had downplayed Liberal expectations ahead of the byelections, admitted her disappointment at the outcomes.
“This is a hard night,” she remarked. “We’re not going to pretend that it’s not a hard night for everyone who has worked so hard; not going to pretend that it is not a hard night in Niagara Falls.”
A fired-up Hudak didn’t admit any disappointment at seeing the NDP take Niagara Falls, and said the Conservatives captured the most votes of any party “by far” when ballots in both ridings were counted.
“This evening’s results prove that the people of this province want change,” Hudak said in Thornhill.
“They sent the McGuinty-Wynne Liberals a clear message [that] they want leadership that will take decisive action, implement a plan to balance the budget, and create jobs.”
Wynne downplayed Liberal chances ahead of the votes, calling byelections “unique creatures” that allow people to safely lodge a protest against the government knowing she’d still be premier Friday morning and leading a minority Liberal government.
Losing Niagara Falls to the NDP is a major disappointment for the Conservatives, but is unlikely to change Hudak’s demands for a general election as soon as possible.
The big question is will the NDP win be enough to convince Horwath to stop propping up the minority Liberal government and trigger an election, or will she seek a third budget deal with Wynne.