Single riding holds major implications 0
At long last, apathetic Ontario voters will get the election they deserve.
No need to follow the issues, quiz the party platforms or hear out the candidates. No need to even cast a ballot. Others - in this case, very few - will look after all that, thank you.
Given falling voter turnout rates in Ontario, that's the way the electorate seems to like it.
The irony is, the stakes couldn't be any higher - not for the government or the opposition.
When Premier Dalton McGuinty calls the Kitchener-Waterloo byelection, triggered by last week's surprise resignation of long-time Conservative MPP Liz Witmer, the fate of his seven-month-old minority government will literally rest in one riding's hands.
Win KW, and the Liberals rise to 53 seats at Queen's Park, matching the Tories and New Democrats. The Grits will also be able to count on the legislature's Speaker, by convention, voting with them on tie-breaking confidence issues. Presto, a clutch majority.
Lose, and the Liberals stay on the short leash voters put them on last fall, one seat shy of a majority. That could mean more deals like they did last week with the NDP, slapping a promise-breaking, arbitrary wealth tax on 20,000 Ontarians to get their budget passed.
It's a dramatic turn of events in a province still wrapping its head around its first minority government in a generation, and one that's already raising more than a few eyebrows.
There was the telling timing, for example, of Witmer's resignation Friday, followed minutes later by the government announcing it had nominated her to head the Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, a political plum with a juicy $188,000 salary.
No doubt, there was also a personal ouch factor for Tory Leader Tim Hudak, who saw the Grits pick off not just any Tory MPP, but a 22-year veteran and former deputy premier. But none of that will matter once the byelection is called - too much will be on the line, for all the Big Three parties, with an astonishingly small number of voters to decide it. About 100,000 will be eligible to vote in KW, but only half that number bothered to do so last fall. Think of a city the size of Chatham potentially deciding the government.
For the Liberals, the challenge will be to persuade voters to forget issues that have blown up since the fall election - the Ornge scandal, the cancelled business tax cut, Ontario's debt mountain - and focus on health, education and the Grit plan to whip the books into shape.
Andrea Horwath's NDP, accustomed to its kingmaker role in the minority legislature, will have to square why it insisted on a new surtax in the budget for Ontarians making $500,000 or more, yet didn't actually vote for the budget. Voters ground down by the tough economy won't want to hear the NDP sat out the budget vote because the Grits are suddenly talking tough with the NDP's public-sector union allies.
And what of Hudak and the PCs? A KW loss would be devastating, and not just because it's been traditional Tory turf. KW isn't all high-tech: Beneath its shiny patina from BlackBerry maker RIM, there's a gritty manufacturing city that's also endured tough times as globalization rips out Ontario's traditional economic moorings. It won't help the Tories that they balked at a Liberal job-creation fund for hard-hit Southwestern Ontario, nor that they're now a largely rural party. More than anything, it was rural opposition to industrial wind turbines that powered the Tory campaign last fall. Now, with no candidate loyalty to count on, Hudak's Tories will have to energize their fight for KW with what they lacked last fall - ideas that stand out. It doesn't get any bigger than this. Pity, so few will decide it.