By Doug Hallett
Local MPP Liz Sandals says the results of Thursday’s byelections were “not a bad result” for the Liberals, but are bad news for Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak.
“I think the loser on the night was Hudak . . . he is ultimately the person who came out of the evening with the biggest problems,” Sandals said in an interview Friday.
The PCs lost the Kitchener-Waterloo seat vacated by PC veteran Elizabth Witmer, with the NDP’s Catherine Fife winning 18,559 votes. Fife was followed by the PC’s Tracey Weiler at 14,823 and Liberal candidate Eric Davis at 11,204.
The PCs also came second in the other byelection in Vaughan, north of Toronto, which had been vacated by Liberal veteran Greg Sorbara. There, Steven Del Luca of the Liberals took about half the vote with 16,380 votes, followed by 10,682 for the PC candidate and 3,623 for the NDP.
Sandals said that while she’s disappointed by the K-W result, which denied the Liberal government the majority it was seeking, she was happy about her party’s strong showing in Vaughan. Sorbara was a high-profile MPP, and Vaughan is held at the federal level by the Conservatives, she said.
She drew a parallel between Witmer and Fife, noting that both were elected on their second try in K-W after serving as the chair of Waterloo Region’s public school board. Voters in the riding Thursday apparently “felt comfortable with a replacement they were familiar with,” she said.
The Liberals ended up in the same position they’ve been in since last fall’s provincial election, needing the support of the NDP on some issues and the PCs on others, Sandals said. “It will vary from issue to issue.”
The teachers’ unions that are fighting wage-freeze legislation recently introduced by the Liberals threw their support behind Fife, and Sandals said it’s clear that teachers “heavily”supported Fife in the K-W byelection.
However, she said she’d have expected strong support for Fife from teachers in the K-W riding “regardless of whether the unions were saying to vote” for her. That’s because teachers there know Fife as “the chair of the board they work for, at least on the public side.”
Sandals argued that teachers in K-W had also supported Wismer as a former board chair in the 1990 provincial election “and continued to support her despite” the educational policies of former premier Mike Harris and Hudak.
Sandals also said it shouldn’t be assumed that all teachers “think the same way.” She said she has talked to many young teachers who appreciate Liberal initiatives that have protected their jobs and avoided layoffs, such as full-day kindergarten and smaller primary class sizes.
The bottom line is that Ontario history shows it’s hard for governments at Queen’s Park to pick up seats in byelections, Sandals said. So the result of Thursday’s byelections was “not a bad result” for the Liberals.