Green Rally Makes Liberal Guelph a “Toss Up” According to Polls

There might be trouble ahead for Lloyd Longfield in this fall’s Federal Election if current polling is to be believed. A popular website that aggregates polling data and does statistical analysis on Canada’s 338 Federal ridings is rating the typically Liberal safe riding of Guelph as a toss up in this October’s contest.

According to 338Canada.com and its creator Philippe J. Fournier, the riding of Guelph is presently a “toss up” between Liberal incumbent Lloyd Longfield and Green Party challenger Steve Dyck. The site’s projection of popular vote puts Longfield at 33.8 per cent while Dyck sits at 32.4 per cent, which puts the two candidates in a statistical dead heat.

The Conservatives come in third place with 23 per cent, while the NDP sit in forth place with 8.9 per cent. The People’s Party has 1.4 per cent support, and even though Guelph attracts candidates in different smaller parties, 338Canada only quantifies the main national parties in their analysis.

If you follow the course of recent polling, Longfield and the Liberals were hovering around 40 per cent until February 3, when the SNC-Lavalin scandal started to heat up in the national press. A steady decline in support continued over the next several weeks until it finally cratered at 32.7 per cent on March 31. Since then, the Liberal numbers have hovered between 33 and 34 per cent.

The Green Party meanwhile jumped ahead of the Conservatives locally in a one week period between January 27 and February 3. That nearly six point jump at the end of January has been followed by a steady incline through February and then leaped past the 30 per cent support mark in a poll published March 17. Dyck was named the Green Party candidate on April 5.

So should Longfield and the Liberals be concerned? Maybe.

Well, it’s worth noting that Longfield and Dyck are so far the only confirmed candidates running in Guelph in the Federal Election. The Guelph Conservative EDA has revealed a couple of nominees who are looking to be named the Conservative candidate, and the NDP candidate is still an open question, at least publicly, so it could be hard for other parties to gain traction without a face.

Still, as noted above, the Green rise started several weeks before Dyck was officially named. This might be because the Green Party EDA had revealed five candidates in advance of the nomination meeting, and held several meet and greet events to project excitement about the pending election. It’s perhaps likely that the combination of strong grassroots support, the election of Mike Schreiner last spring, and the dirge of Liberal scandals has had a charging effect on the Green Party locally.

Also, Longfield was acclaimed as the Liberal candidate for Guelph last fall, when no one was really paying attention to the pending Federal election. With no real campaign events so far, Longfield has been making news by defending the government’s record, which has been tricky to the say the least.

History Lesson

For 26 years, a Liberal politician has represented Guelph in Ottawa.

Brenda Chamberlain succeeded William Winegard as the MP of Guelph-Wellington in 1993, one of the many new Liberal members ushered into office with the Jean Chrétien red wave of that election. When Chamberlain retired in 2006, Frank Valeriote succeeded her in 2008, and then Longfield succeed Valeriote in 2015.

For the Green Party, Guelph has long been a desirable piece on the electoral board. The first Green candidate to run in this riding was Guelph Back-grounder author Bill Hulet in 1988. The Green Party slowly built a base of support over the next several elections, but wasn’t a real electoral force until the 2004 election when candidate Mike Nagy secured 3,866 votes for 7.36 per cent of electorate. Nagy was acclaimed again in 2006, and increased his vote share by another 1.37 per cent.

Two years later, with Nagy’s third run for federal office, the Green Party hoped that a by-election vote might give them the edge they need to finally take the Guelph seat. The by-election was called midsummer, but before Guelph went to the polls, Prime Minister Stephen Harper dissolved Parliament and called a general election. After an exhaustive 12-week campaign, Nagy came in third with 21.15 per cent of the vote, and a little over 6,500 votes away from achieving victory. To date, this is the best showing for a federal Green candidate in Guelph.

Might voter turnout be an indication of whether or not Guelph could be an upset for the Liberals in 2019? It’s tough to say. In the last eight elections, Guelph (and Guelph-Wellington before 2004) has averaged a turnout of 66.53 per cent; 2015 had the highest turnout with 73.27 per cent, and 2000 had the lowest with 61.11 per cent.

Two good examples to compare are voter turnout numbers in 2008 and 2011. In 2008, voter turnout was 64.54 per cent, and Liberal candidate Valeriote won with less than 2,000 votes more than his nearest competitor Gloria Kovach. Then, in 2011, voter turnout was 64.59 per cent, an increase of one-half of one per cent over 2008, but Valeriote still won with over 6,300 votes more than Conservative Marty Burke in an election that saw nearly all of southwestern Ontario turn blue.

So what makes the difference? Well, 2008 was an open election with no incumbent running, plus there was the unusually long campaign period with Guelph candidates running in a six-week by-election before a full general election was called. Compared to 2011, Valeriote had been established as Guelph MP for three years, which gave him an automatic advantage. Combined with concerns about a Conservative majority government, and controversy about about the local Conservative candidate’s lack of accessibility, more votes seemed to get driven to the Liberal candidate despite the similar voter turnout numbers.

This suggests a complicated series of calculations made by voters in Guelph including incumbency, party loyalty, and national trends as well any particular electoral inertia that’s specific to Guelph.

Change Across the Region?

While 338Canada should give Guelph’s incumbent a reason to be concerned, it looks likes others around southwestern Ontario should be rethinking their own campaign strategy as well.

In Kitchener-South Hespeler, Liberal MP Marwan Tabbara is down 4.2 per cent against Conservative candidate Alan Keeso, a consultant with the Business Development Bank. According to 338Canada, Kitchener-South Hespeler is “leaning” Conservative with 37.8 per cent to the Liberals’ 33.6.

Cambridge too is leaning Conservative with incumbent Brian May down 5.5 per cent to Sandeep Singh “Sunny” Attwal, who won the Conservative nomination in Cambridge just a few weeks ago beating out CTV reporter Tyler Calver for the honour. If Attwal and the Conservatives were to win Cambridge in October, it would echo the swing the riding took last spring in the provincial election where Liberal MPP Katheryn McGarry was defeated by PC Belinda Karahalios.

The good news for the Liberals is that they look good to hold on to Kitchener Centre and the riding of Waterloo, but Perth-Wellington, Wellington-Halton Hills, and Kitchener-Conestoga are either “safely” Conservative or are “likely” voting Conservative.

The Federal Election will be held on October 21.

With additional reporting by Eli Ridder.

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