Because it’s never not election time somewhere, Premier Kathleen Wynne has called two more by-elections for February 13 in the ridings of Thornhill and Niagara Falls. This will be the ninth and tenth by-election for the Province of Ontario since the formation of the last government in October 2011, but unlike last summer’s contentious five-race rally that was all for Liberal seats, this will a showdown to see if the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives can keep their individual seats in Niagara and Thornhill respectively, or if maybe one of the parties will able to make up some ground one place or another.
In Niagara Falls, the race will be to see who will the vacant seat of Liberal Kim Craitor, who is retiring after 10 years in office. The Niagara race should be interesting because there is already talk of Liberal electioneering in the riding with $26 million pledged to the construction of a new hospital and two urgent care centres, and another $75 million pledge to help the regions wine industry. The Liberals are right to feel vulnerable here as Craitor won his last election by a little over one per cent, and it is worth pointing out that Niagara Falls is traditionally a bell weather riding.
In Thornhill, meanwhile, the race seems a little less competitive. In the last 15 years, only one election has gotten away from the Tories, the 2003 victory of Liberal Mario G. Racco over incumbent Tina Molinari with a marginally thin 1.7 per cent of the vote. Peter Shurman was elected with a healthier 3.6 per cent win over Racco in 2007, and despite Shurman’s resignation over improperly claimed expenses, it’s unlikely that voters in the GTA are going to embrace the Liberals now of all times.
The make-up of the Ontario Legislature currently sits at 49 Liberals, 36 Tories, and 20 NDP; that doesn’t leave the ruling minority Liberals with too much wiggle room. The current polls put the PCs about six points ahead of the Liberals, and with many expecting a spring general election that doesn’t leave Wynne with a lot of time to shore up support and start showing momentum. On the reverse side, that’s plenty of time for PC leader Tim Hudak to blow a healthy lead. Watch Thornhill and Niagara Falls carefully, they maybe a barometer of where we’re going to go with provincial politics in 2014.