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      Nothing Like A Winter Campaign In Sudbury

 

 

By Randall White

It is hard to think about the Sudbury by-election that Premier Wynne has called for February 5th, without being reminded of the Kitchener-Waterloo by-election that former Premier Dalton McGuinty called for September 6, 2012. 

Kitchener-Waterloo was left vacant in the spring of 2012, when McGuinty's Liberal government appointed the veteran Progressive Conservative MPP for the riding, Elizabeth Witmer, to chair the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.

To take up this appointment, Ms. Witmer had to resign her seat. Replacing her with a Liberal would have given the McGuinty government the bare majority of seats in the legislature it had not quite managed in the 2011 general election.  Kitchener-Waterloo Liberals chose Eric Davis as their candidate early in August.

It all looked like a cunning piece of political engineering.

Yet as the short by-lection campaign progressed, it became apparent that many Kitchener-Waterloo voters saw that same cunning engineering in a dark light. 

Ms. Witmer herself foretold the shape of things to come: “I hear people are unhappy with the McGuinty government ... But they also think [Progressive Conservative leader] Tim Hudak is too right wing. So they may vote NDP in protest. I'm hearing the NDP is going to take it.”

On September 6, 2012 Catherine Fife of the NDP won Kitchener-Waterloo with some 40% of the vote.  PC candidate Tracy Weiler had 32%, and Liberal Eric Davis a mere 24%. 

Just over a month later, Dalton McGuinty would resign as Ontario premier.

Now, more than two years later again, there are gloomy voices wondering aloud if the new Kathleen Wynne Liberals are suffering from the same family disease.  

In the Sudbury by-election, it isn’t the process of vacating the seat that has raised eyebrows about the Wynne government. That came about simply because of New Democrat MPP Joe Cimino’s surprise resignation for family and health reasons.

Today's Liberals already have a majority government. And they will still have a majority government regardless of what happens on February 5, despite the fact the contest is a test of Ms. Wynne's raw political skills. 

And whatever happens, Premier Wynne will remain premier.

Still, there are enough similarities between the 201w Kitchener-Waterloo by-election and the 2015 Sudbury by-election to make you wonder.  

This time the cunning political engineering centred on how the Liberal candidate has been chosen. 

In the last Ontario general election, then Sudbury Liberal candidate Andrew Olivier came within 980 votes of defeating the NDP’s Cimino, who has now resigned. Mr. Olivier thought that gave him a good case to take to an open nomination process for the 2015 by-election. 

But Premier Wynne and the party head office in Toronto wanted a new candidate. And that surprisingly proved to be the NDP federal MP for Sudbury, Glenn Thibeault — ready to resign federally and run for the Liberals provincially. 

Getting the federal NDP MP for Sudbury to run for the Liberals in the provincial by-election for Sudbury seemed like brilliant political engineering by Wynne's team.

Yet almost from the time it was announced publicly, it was also clear that a Thibeault win was far from a sure thing.  

A local poll of more than 600 respondents, released just before Christmas, told participants that “NDP MP Glenn Thibeault is resigning his federal seat to run for the Liberal Party in the provincial by-election,” and then inquired: “Do you approve or disapprove?”

Almost half the respondents — 46% — disapproved. Less than a third — 32% — approved.

The premier and party head office have had to turn their backs as well on an open nomination process, to secure Glenn Thibeault over the objections of former Liberal candidate Andrew Olivier. And an increasingly irked Olivier has finally decided to run as an independent.

In the midst of all the controversy, Sudbury Green Party candidate David Robinson told voters "electing Ontario's first Green MPP would let the rest of the world know that the city is no longer a ‘dirty’ mining town.” 

Veteran Progressive Conservative candidate Paula Peroni seems unlikely to win. But the New Democrats have nominated aboriginal activist Suzanne Shawbonquit in an open process, one the party can point to as an example of what the Liberals should have done.

Whatever happens on February 5, this Sudbury by-election might actually be interesting.

Meanwhile, Kathleen Wynne put a question to former local Liberal MPP and cabinet minister Rick Bartolucci recently. “What is it you said, Rick? ... There's nothing like a winter campaign in Sudbury.”

That pretty well sums it up. 

 

 

 

 

 

About Randall White

Randall White is a former senior policy advisor with the Ontario Ministry of Finance, and a former economist with the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. He is the author of Ontario 1610-1985: A Political and Economic History and Ontario Since 1985. He writes frequently about Ontario politics.
Posted date : January 13, 2015

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