Thursday, February 11, 2016

Whitby-Oshawa by-election today

Today, voters in the suburban Greater Toronto Area (GTA) riding of Whitby—Oshawa are heading to the polls to elect a new member to Queen's Park, Ontario's legislative assembly. The riding was vacated in August, when its Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP), Christine Elliott resigned her seat. Elliott, the wife of the late Jim Flaherty, who was Canada's Finance Minister from 2006 to 2014, had run for the leadership of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives in 2014. She was the frontrunner from the onset, but was defeated by the insurgent candidacy of then Barrie Member of Parliament (MP) Patrick Brown. A week after Brown was elected in a by-election to the legislature, she resigned her seat, prompting today's by-election. She will become Ontario's first Patient Ombudsman next year.

This will be the second by-election in Whitby—Oshawa in fewer than two years. There was a federal by-election held there back in November of 2014, to replace Flaherty who had passed away the previous Spring. The Conservatives held the seat in that by-election, but lost the re-distributed riding of Whitby in last Fall's federal election to the Liberals. You can read more about the riding's demographics and geography in my profile of the riding from 2014 here.  


Provincial history

The riding was created in 2005, when the provincial government decided to continue to have southern Ontario's riding boundaries match the federal boundaries (which has been the case since 1999), following the 2003 federal riding redistribution. Elliott has held the riding since its first election in 2007. She faced her toughest challenge in that election, defeating the second place Liberal candidate by over 4000 votes. In 2011, she expanded this winning margin to over 7500 votes. In 2014, she won the riding again, defeating her Liberal challenger by almost the same margin. In 2014, Whitby—Oshawa was only one of two GTA seats that the Tories won (the other being Thornhill), a testament to the popularity of the Elliott/Flaherty family.

Historical list of MPPs

Prior to 2007, Whitby was located in the riding of Whitby—Ajax. This was Jim Flaherty's riding before entering into federal politics. When he was elected to the House of Commons, Elliott won the seat in a by-election in 2006. Whitby—Ajax was created in 1996 when the Mike Harris government decided to shrink the size of Queen's Park so that the federal riding boundaries would match the provincial riding boundaries. Before this, Whitby was in the riding of Durham Centre from 1987 to 1999, in Durham West from 1975 to 1987, Ontario South (1967-1975), Ontario (1934-1967) and Ontario South again (1867-1934). 

Whitby--Oshawa vote progression

The Whitby area has been a Tory strong hold since the 1950s. Since 1955, the Progressive Conservatives have won the area in all but three elections. The NDP won in a three-way race in 1975 when that party formed the official opposition in a minority government, only to lose Whitby's riding in the next election in 1977. The Liberals picked it up in the 1987 landslide election, but lost it to the NDP when they won a surprise majority government in 1990. The Tories won the seat back in 1995, when Flaherty won the riding of Durham Centre in a landslide. Flaherty and his wife have held Whitby for the Tories ever since.

Political geography

As Whitby is mostly exclusively GTA suburbia, the whole town (yes, despite having a population of 122,000, Whitby is still a “town”) votes generally the same way. The Tories are a bit weaker in the northeast part of the town and in south. In 2014, the weakest neighbourhood for the Tories in Whitby was the new subdivision of Taunton North, located on the north side of Taunton Road. This was one of two neighbourhoods the Liberals managed to win, the other being Port Whitby, which is located on Lake Ontario in the south. The far north of Whitby is the most conservative part of the town, as this area is still mostly rural, except for the community of Brooklin. Rural Whitby was the only part of the town where Elliott managed to win a majority of the vote in 2014. The best neighbourhood for the Liberals was Port Whitby where they won 37% of the vote, and the best neighbourhood for the NDP was the Downtown, where they won 27% of the vote, but still in third place.

In the smaller Oshawa portion of the riding, the race in 2014 was more between the Tories and the NDP. The NDP won one neighbourhood in Oshawa (McLaughlin), which is the neighbourhood closest to Oshawa's downtown. In that neighbourhood, the NDP won 37% of the vote. The NDP always seems to manage to win a few polls there. Even in the 2014 federal by-election where the NDP won 8% of the vote across the riding, they still won a couple of polls in McLaughlin.

2014 provincial election results by neighbourhood

Outside of McLaughlin, the rest of the Oshawa portion of the riding is more Tory-leaning, as it is more suburban. In 2014, Elliott won every other neighbourhood in the city. Her strongest part of Oshawa was the rural northern part, where she won 47% of the vote. The Liberal's only finished second in one Oshawa neighbourhood, Northglen, which was also their best Oshawa neighbourhood, winning 29% of the vote.


Despite the federal Liberals enjoying a honeymoon period following last Fall's federal election, the provincial Liberals in Ontario are deeply unpopular, following a number of scandals. The most recent poll published by Forum Research in December showed the Liberals trailing the Tories by 3 points (34-31), with Premier Kathleen Wynne at a rock bottom approval rating of 23%. This represents a drop of 8 points for the Liberals since the 2014 election, and a three point gain for the Tories. Based on this alone, it would seem that the Tories would be in a good position to keep a safe seat like Whitby—Oshawa in a by-election. And local riding polls confirm this. Mainstreet's last poll published just yesterday shows the Tories winning the riding over the Liberals 46% to 29%, with the NDP at a distant 12%. The Liberals have tried their best in their campaign in the riding, even bringing in Justin Trudeau, to rub some of that honeymoon love into the Liberal campaign, but to no avail.

Looking to keep the seat for the Progressive Conservatives is their candidate, Lorne Coe, one of three Durham regional councillors representing Whitby. His main opponent will be another one of those regional councillors, Elizabeth Roy, who is running for the Liberals. Roy previously ran against Elliott in the 2011 election. The NDP is running labour and human rights lawyer Niki Lundquist, while the Greens are running Stacey Leadbetter, a local law clerk.

One reason why the Tories have kept winning in Whitby was due to the popularity of Flaherty and Elliott. Demographically, the riding is not that much different from the rest of the suburban GTA, which was nearly swept by the Liberals in 2014. In last year's federal election, without either a Flaherty or an Elliott on the ballot, the Liberals managed to win the riding in a close race. Perhaps if the provincial Liberals enjoyed the popularity that their federal counterparts had, they could win this seat. But they do not, so it looks very likely that this riding will be a Tory hold.

Polls close at 9 pm.

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