Well, the good news for Warren Kinsella is, he won’t have to choke down a tweed fedora after all.
The well-known Liberal pundit laid down the gauntlet several days ago, saying he’d eat his hat if the government lost the reliably Liberal riding of Ottawa-Vanier in yesterday's byelection there.
Ottawa-Vanier stayed in the red column, as it has in every election since 1971 (it used to be called Ottawa East up until 1995 and before). The voters — at least, a plurality of the 36 per cent who turned out — elected Nathalie Des Rosiers, the civil rights lawyer and dean of law at the University of Ottawa. Though the Progressive Conservatives fielded a star candidate in former Ontario ombudsman André Marin, and in spite of widespread disaffection for the Liberals in almost every nook and cranny of the province, there simply was no move to “send Premier Wynne a message” in the nation’s capital.
True, the Tories had their best showing in 45 years, losing by 19 points, but it’s not much of a victory. In the 2014 general election, highly popular cabinet minister Madeleine Meilleur took 55 per cent of the vote in that riding. A year and a half later, the Liberals’ rookie candidate still managed to win 49 percent of the vote. That’s pretty hard-core support.
Backroom party officials won’t say this on the record, but the fact is, the Tories are probably not totally distressed to lose this one. Marin was always a problematic candidate, firing off nasty tweets, some filled with errors. Yes, he can garner headlines, but his lone wolf personality always made backroom Tories nervous. At least he can say he increased the PC vote in the riding from 22 to nearly 30 per cent.
As much as the premier can finally exhale thanks to Ottawa-Vanier, the results on the Niagara Peninsula are a significant kick in the Liberal gut. Voters in Niagara West-Glanbrook — former PC leader Tim Hudak’s old riding — made history when they chose a 19-year-old Brock University student as their new MPP. Sam Oosterhoff will become the youngest member of the legislature ever, now depriving Reid Scott of that honour. Scott, a former CCF member (the predecessor party to the NDP), was 21 when first elected in 1948 in the Beaches riding of Toronto.
While the Tories will no doubt be happy to hold that seat, and improved their percentage of the total vote from 42 to 54 per cent, the Liberals have to be alarmed at the precipitous decline in theirs.
To be sure, that seat, perhaps the most socially conservative in the whole province, was never a felicitous fit for the Grits. But the governing party saw its share of the vote plunge from 28 per cent in the 2014 election to just 15 per cent last night. Even worse, the party dropped from second to third place, which has never happened before in that constituency. Now, that’s sending ‘em a message.
The news might have been better for the NDP in Niagara West-Glanbrook. Yes, they came second for the first time ever and increased their vote share by a few points, to 25 per cent. But the disaffected Liberal vote didn’t go to them — it went to the Tories. That will no doubt disappoint New Democrats, who knew they’d be thrashed in Ottawa-Vanier, but hoped for a breakthrough on the Niagara Peninsula given Oosterhoff’s controversial socially conservative views.
On balance, it was a night when the two main Ontario political parties could claim some measure of victory. But for those looking for “the big development” which might portend the end of the Liberals and the ascension of the Tories: sorry, it’s just not there.
For better or for worse, Ontario politics seem destined to remain competitive.
And Warren Kinsella’s hats can also breathe easy too.
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