Whatever the results of the five Ontario byelections today, Kathleen Wynne will remain premier and the Liberals will continue their minority rule.
But the five contests represent the first test for Wynne at the polls, and the first indication of how voters view the Liberals after the resignation of Dalton McGuinty as premier.
The post-McGuinty era has thus far been marred with revelations of the cost of cancelled gas plants in the Toronto area and the ensuing controversy. That issue has dominated many of the races in these byelections, but it is not the lone issue on voters’ minds.
The very first issue in the byelections was their timing. Wynne chose a late-summer voting date for all five byelections, even when she could have delayed some into the fall.
The Aug. 1 poll day also falls on the Thursday before a long weekend for many Ontarians.
With slowed summer schedules and vacations for many, pundits predict a low voter turnout.
Both opposition parties were critical of the choice of date.
"We know that on the long weekend, when most families across Ontario are prepared to take that extra day to spend with their family, Ms. Wynne has decided that she would like to subvert democracy," said Progressive Conservative Lisa MacLeod.
"This is the same old kind of thing that we expect from the Liberals, when they arrange things so that they’re most opportunistic for themselves," said Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.
Calling Ford Nation
In Toronto, three current or former city councilors are vying for seats.
In Toronto’s west end, Etobicoke-Lakeshore, Coun. Peter Milczyn and Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday are going head-to-head, as Liberal and PC candidates, respectively.
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford formerly held a council seat in Etobicoke (north of the provincial riding) and his brother Doug holds the same council seat now. The subject of the Fords, who have been embroiled in alleged drug-use controversies since spring, has emerged in the race. The mayor has also been canvassing with the Progressive Conservatives, raising questions about the city’s often-rocky relationship with the governing Liberals. Both the Fords and the provincial Liberals have exchanged heated words during the campaign.
The contest will be a test of the Fords’ power to sway voters in the area. It will also add to speculation whether or not Doug Ford will run for the Progressive Conservatives in the next general election, which he has openly discussed doing.
Across town in Scarborough-Guildwood, former Ford rival at city hall Adam Giambrone is fighting his way back into politics for the NDP. Giambrone was running for mayor in 2010 when a sex scandal brought down his campaign. He is up against Mitzie Hunter, a transportation planner, for the Liberals and Ken Kirupa, an entrepreneur, for the PCs. The dominating issue in this race is subways for Toronto’s east end.
Doug Ford has openly criticized Hunter on the transportation issue, calling the Liberal campaign “disgusting”.
In London West, education is a central issue, mainly because of the Liberals’ candidate.
The Liberals are running former teachers’ union boss Ken Coran, the former president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation spent much of the last year sparring with the province over a deal with high schoolteachers. He even campaigned for the New Democrats in Kitchener-Waterloo.
He pins his past criticisms of the Liberals on McGuinty.
“We had our battles with a government that is no longer a government,” he reasoned.
He is facing the NDP’s Peggy Sattler and PC candidate Ali Chahbar.
The cost of cancelling plants in Oakville and Mississauga cost taxpayers an estimated $585 million, well above the figures initially quoted by the governing Liberals. In much of Ontario, that issue haunts Liberal candidates. But the gas plant controversy perhaps resonates most in former premier McGuinty’s old riding of Ottawa South.
There, PC candidate Matt Young has fuelled his campaign on public anger over McGuinty’s gas plant cancellations.
McGuinty’s name still holds cachet in the riding, however. Support for the former premier can be felt in Liberal John Fraser’s campaign. Fraser was an aide to McGuinty throughout his years as premier, including during the gas plant cancellations. The riding is also represented federally by McGuinty’s brother, David McGuinty.
Bronwyn Funiciello, a former public school official, represents the NDP in the capital’s byelection.
The duel for Duncan's seat
Windsor-Tecumseh has been in Liberal hands since 1995, when Dwight Duncan won it for the party provincially. Duncan went on to hold a variety of cabinet posts in the McGuinty government, most notably finance minister. The Liberals are now running first-time candidate Jeewen Gill to carry the seat.
However, the NDP’s Percy Hatfield, a former broadcaster with the CBC and a city councillor, has name recognition in the area. He is seen as the frontrunner to change the riding from red to orange, having won his city council seat by more than 50 per cent in 2010.
Robert de Verteuil, an auto industry consultant, is running a pro-manufacturing campaign for the Progressive Conservatives.
A host of other candidates in Windsor are also fighting for the seat.