TORONTO – Premier Kathleen Wynne has called an Ontario byelection Sept. 1 for the Toronto riding of Scarborough-Rouge River, but she did not schedule a vote for the vacant Ottawa-Vanier riding.
Wynne announced the Scarborough-Rouge River byelection Wednesday to replace former Liberal MPP Bas Balkissoon, who quit the legislature suddenly last March with no explanation.
Balkissoon still has not commented publicly on his resignation, which was announced by Wynne in a news release on the same day that Toronto Mayor Rob Ford died. The premier has never said why Balkissoon quit his seat.
Scarborough-Rouge River, which the Trinidad-born Balkissoon held since 2005, has been Liberal since the riding was created in 1999.
Liberal candidate Piragal Thiru, whom the party calls a community organizer, is up against city councillor Raymond Cho, who’s running for the Progressive Conservatives, and school trustee Neethan Shan, the NDP candidate.
“I want to get to work for Scarborough and continue to build this community up through investments in our hospitals, public transit and our schools,” Thiru said in a release.
Former city councillor Doug Ford will manage the byelection campaign for Cho, who has been on city council for 25 years and won’t resign his municipal post unless he wins a seat in the legislature.
Cho said people in the riding feel it has been forgotten by the Liberals.
“They are tired of broken and empty promises when it comes to subways, health care and affordable hydro,” he said in a statement.
Shan, who was first elected last January as a trustee, said Wynne and the Liberals have taken Scarborough for granted.
“People feel it and see it firsthand when they open up their hydro bill, or when they’re stuck in traffic and when they can’t get the care they need at our local hospital,” he said.
Holding the vote on the Thursday before the Labour Day long weekend means the winner will likely be able to be in the legislature when it returns Sept. 12 for the fall sitting.
The premier usually schedules byelections on the same day when there is more than one vacancy, but decided not to call vote in Ottawa-Vanier to replace former attorney general Madeleine Meilleur.
PC Leader Patrick Brown said the Liberals are having trouble recruiting a candidate in Ottawa-Vanier because of their unpopularity as a government.
“It’s an interesting point in Ontario politics where the safest (Liberal) seats all of a sudden are no longer slam dunks,” Brown said in an interview.
Wynne’s office issued a statement saying Scarborough residents have had months to talk about the issues but that process is just starting in Ottawa.
“Given Madeleine Meilleur’s recent departure, we believe Ottawa-Vanier residents deserve the same opportunity as Scarborough Rouge River residents, to ensure their voices are heard, and to ensure that all three parties have adequate time to select an appropriate candidate.”
Wynne has until December to call the byelection in Ottawa-Vanier, which has elected Liberals provincially and federally since 1971, and was represented by Meilleur since 2003.
The 67-year-old Meilleur resigned in June on the day the legislature rose for the summer recess, saying she wanted to spend more time with her family.
The Liberals still hold 57 of the 107 seats in the Ontario legislature, compared with 28 for the Progressive Conservatives and 20 for the New Democrats, so the results of the byelections will not change the government’s standing.