Ontario byelections: 2 wins for NDP, a ‘message’ for Wynne, a Toronto seat for Tories

TORONTO – The governing Liberals lost three ridings in a quintet of byelections Thursday that gave the New Democrats another two seats and the Progressive Conservatives their first Toronto victory in more than a decade.

The five byelections were sparked by the resignations of former premier Dalton McGuinty and four of his cabinet members. And Premier Kathleen Wynne said she understood why voters were angry at the Liberals in the wake of a firestorm over a pair of cancelled gas plants, including revelations that McGuinty staffers had tried to influence the Speaker of the house.

“I could not be more sorry,” she told a raucous crowd at Liberal candidate Mitzie Hunter’s victory party in Scarborough-Guildwood. “I’m going to make sure that my government is the most open and transparent in the country.”

Watch: Mitzie Hunter was joined on stage by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne moments after she was declared the winner in Scarborough-Guildwood

The NDP gained the most Thursday, picking up seats in London-West and Windsor-Tecumseh and running a strong campaign in Scarborough-Guildwood.

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Windsor-Tecumseh proved the least competitive race of the night: NDP candidate Percy Hatfield, a former journalist and city councillor, won more than 60 per cent of the vote.

The NDP also won London-West easily, with former school trustee Peggy Sattler getting over 40 per cent of the vote. Conservative candidate Ali Chahbar came second with little more than 30 per cent of the vote.

The Liberals had held London-West since 2003 and hoped to continue that run with Liberal candidate Ken Coran.

But Coran was a controversial nominee, with perhaps the wrong kind of name recognition: He was remembered as the former president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation who had loudly criticized the McGuinty government’s handling of a fractious labour dispute last fall.

“I was surprised by the margin that Peggy Sattler won by. Actually, I thought the Conservatives had a chance there, but the Liberal vote really collapsed,” University of Toronto politics professor Nelson Wiseman said in a telephone interview.

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But NDP leader Andrea Horwath said she wasn’t surprised.

“We were feeling the momentum in Peggy’s campaign,” she said in a phone interview from Hatfield’s victory party in Windsor. “She’s a woman of integrity. She’s a proven leader.”

Horwath noted her caucus has doubled since she became leader two years ago. And she indicated she plans to keep the minority Liberals on notice.

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“Some folks are saying [the next general election is] not going to be ’til the next budget, but I would not reach that conclusion. We’re going to take it a day at a time.”

Horwath took heat from some for propping up the Liberal government when she supported their budget.

“Certainly, on the campaign trail, I have to be honest with myself, and the people of this province: It was a mixed response,” she said. But she says voters “understood we did what we thought was the responsible thing, the prudent thing to do.”

Hudak’s star candidate, Toronto’s erstwhile deputy mayor Doug Holyday, secured the Conservatives’ first seat in Toronto since 1999.

Watch: Global’s Queen’s Park bureau chief Alan Carter talks to Doug Holyday moments after his victory was announced in Thursday’s byelection in Etobicoke-Lakeshore

But the Tories, who had a disappointing performance in the 2011 general election, had hoped to win more.

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Throughout the campaign, Conservative leader Tim Hudak has tried to take advantage of the ongoing gas plant scandal to win votes from the embattled Liberals. Days before the vote, his party released explosive emails indicating staffers from McGuinty’s office tried to sway speaker Dave Levac.

But despite the torrent of bad news about the Liberals, the Tories were unable to capitalize on their opponent’s bad press.

“You know who the big losers were here? The Conservatives. Absolutely. This morning, they had an outside chance of winning 4 out of 5 seats,” Wiseman said. “So they are the big losers and lakeshore doesn’t make up for it.”

Wiseman added that if Holyday hadn’t been a conservative candidate, the Liberals likely would have held onto the seat.

“We did well to win one seat. These were five Liberal cabinet members’ seats,” Holyday said. “They were well established Liberal seats and for us to take one tells me we can take more.”

Some Liberals, notably Transportation Minister Glen Murray, accused Toronto Mayor Rob Ford of meddling when he vocally supported Holyday’s candidacy. But Ford brushed off that criticism Thursday night.

“We were just helping out where we could,” he said, adding that Milczyn is welcome back to the city’s executive committee.

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“He’s a great guy.”

The Liberals held on to Scarborough-Guildwood, with former CivicAction CEO Mitzie Hunter filling the space left by Margarett Best.  Hunter won with 35.7 per cent of the vote; Conservative candidate and Toronto-area realtor Ken Kirupa garnered 30.2 per cent and former Toronto councillor Adam Giambrone, one of the more high-profile candidates, came third with 29 per cent.

Watch: Former Toronto councillor Adam Giambrone spoke to supporters after coming in third in Thursday’s byelection in Scarborough-Guildwood

While the Liberals lost three of the five seats, the governing party was able to hold on to Dalton McGuinty’s former riding of Ottawa-South and Scarborough-Guildwood.

And Wiseman doesn’t think the results will hurt the Liberal party, saying by the time the legislature resumes, it won’t matter.

“In two months from now, nobody is going to be talking about the byelections this is a big story this week, but by the end of the summer, it will have happened and then it won’t be discussed much.”

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– With files from Anna Mehler Paperny


Etobicoke-Lakeshore won by Doug Holyday (PC)

Scarborough-Guildwood won by Mitzie Hunter (Liberal)

Ottawa-South won by John Fraser (Liberal)

Windsor-Tecumseh won by Percy Hatfield (NDP)

London-South won by Peggy Sattler (NDP)

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