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Posts Tagged ‘Etobicoke Centre’

Quick By-election Update

October 18th, 2012 | 0 Comments

A bit of news from here and there on the by-election trail.

  • Calgary Centre, AB – The NDP has now set a date for its nomination meeting – Saturday, October 27. Running so far are former Calgary Northwest provincial candidate and diesel engineer Brian Malkinson, young party activist Matthew McMillan, and social media expert Scott H. Payne. The party usually closes nominations seven days prior to a nomination meeting, so we should know by Saturday if that's the entire list. Already in place are Conservative candidate Joan Crockatt, Green candidate Chris Turner, and Liberal candidate Harvey Locke.
  • Durham, ON – The NDP has also reportedly set a date for its nomination meeting here, which I'm picking up as October 30. Meanwhile, the Christian Heritage Party announced via the Scugog Standard that their 2011 candidate Andrew Moriarity would be making a return appearance for the by-election. I've checked the websites of the CHP, Libertarians, and Pirate Party and don't see any other by-election activity though.
  • Victoria, BC – In an article about the NDP nomination race that selected Murray Rankin last weekend, the Victoria Times-Colonist reported that the Conservative nomination was set for Saturday October 20 and that former candidate Patrick Hunt would run again. But the website actually spoke with Hunt, and confirmed he was *not* running. With BC Lobbyist Mike Geoghegan already out of the running as well. I guess this leaves Dale Gann (who is the president of the Vancouver Island Technology Park) or perhaps there will be some new names. Meanwhile, Vaughn Palmer draws on his long memory for BC political history to fill us in on Murray Rankin.

Still no word from the Supreme Court on when the Etobicoke Centre ruling is coming.

At this stage, therefore, most people are assuming that the by-election call will come either this weekend or next weekend, for either Monday, November 26 or Monday, December 3.

Pundits’ Guide now in Byelection Mode

October 15th, 2012 | 1 Comment

Pending the expected call of at least three by-elections next month, I've moved the website into by-election mode.

Fall 2012 By-elections

A summary table appears on the main index page, with links to all the resources for by-election ridings, and a separate page appears for the still un-dated electoral event.

As you can see, the Liberals have nominated candidates in all three ridings now, while the Conservatives have nominated in two with a third nomination scheduled for Victoria riding on October 20, which will see Dale Gann run against former candidate Patrick Hunt. BC Lobbyist Mike Geoghegan has withdrawn from the race as of Sunday morning. The Victoria NDP nominated lawyer Murray Rankin Sunday afternoon, as he won two-thirds of all 535 votes cast on the first ballot. They also have a nomination race underway in Calgary Centre, as reported last time, but no meeting date as yet. The Green Party has two candidates in place. Neither the NDP nor the Greens have a candidate in Durham riding yet, that I can tell.

One disturbing trend is that so far there has only been one woman nominated by any party in any of these ridings, Joan Crockatt in Calgary Centre. And that's out of nine nominations.

Obviously Etobicoke Centre has been omitted from the list of ridings included in these by-elections until the Supreme Court rulings on the appeal, but I am tracking it on the main page.

All candidates and their websites if any have now been entered into the database and appear on the riding pages for each seat as well. It also looks like I need to check for any updates to the candidate and EDA financial returns from last year, especially for Victoria which is missing a few EDA returns in my database.

I plan to update the social media aggregator for the current set of by-election ridings as well, and then write regular wraps on how the campaigns are going. If you live in one of the ridings, or are involved with one of the campaigns, please drop us a note or comment to pass along how it's going out there.

Re-Re-UPDATED: Will the snow fly before by-elections can be held?

October 12th, 2012 | 13 Comments

Snow in Calgary Centre, October 11, 2012

[Welcome, National Newswatch readers!]

Time is running out for a by-election call in three open seats – and possibly a fourth depending on the Supreme Court – if the vote is to be held before the Christmas break of the House of Commons.

[UPDATE: See below for a few additions and one correction, thanks to a few alert and well-informed readers.]

[Re-UPDATE: The Ryan Cleary event listed below has been cancelled due to a family emergency.]

[Further UPDATE: Donald Galloway is a professor of law, especially refugee law, and his opponent's name is spelled Moat, not Moats.]

[Final UPDATE: The Saturday Victoria Times-Colonist is reporting that the Conservative nomination is scheduled for next Saturday, October 20, but only reports Patrick Hunt's name as a potential candidate. This would give a potential by-election date of November 26, or December 3, 10, or 17.]

In the first of those seats to become vacant, Calgary Centre, AB, a by-election must be called by Tuesday, December 4th. But given the minimum 36-day writ period ending on a Monday (or a Tuesday if the Monday is a statuatory holiday), that would put E-day on or after Monday, January 14 — which is pretty cold in Calgary I'm reliably told. In fact the city saw its first overnight snowfall on Thursday morning, some of which had still not melted by mid-afternoon.

Walking that deadline backwards, we get the following dates:

Last day to call First Monday to hold
Sunday, October 7 November 12, 2012
Sunday, October 14 November 19, 2012
Sunday, October 21 November 26, 2012
Sunday, October 28 December 3, 2012
Sunday, November 4 December 10, 2012
Sunday, November 11 December 17, 2012
Sunday, November 18 December 24, 2012
Sunday, November 25 December 31, 2012
Sunday, December 2 January 7, 2013
Tuesday, December 4 January 14, 2013

While I think we can safely rule out Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, some other dates and variables may factor into the Prime Minister's decision about timing, apart from the Calgary Centre deadline and waiting for the Supreme Court ruling.

  • Remembrance Day – I'm not completely sure what impact this could be perceived to have, but am sure its possible ramifications both pro and con would have been considered by the Conservatives, though if anything they probably would have liked people to vote the day afterwards, an option that is out of reach now.
  • The adjournment of the House of Commons – The chamber is set to adjourn on Friday December 14 for the holiday break, and scheduled to return on Monday, January 28 unless prorogued in the meantime. It's not that the votes of the new MPs would change the balance of power in the Commons, but unless a by-election is called soon, they won't be able to take their seats until late January. And much later than the middle of December probably means a writ period that would span the Christmas holidays.
  • Fall omnibus legislation – Certainly there was no evidence of a once-expected fall omnibus bill in the schedule laid out by Government House Leader Peter Van Loan in his answer to last Thursday's House Business question. But if the government had been hoping to introduce additional budget business in an omnibus bill this fall, it could now risk that becoming an issue in the by-elections. Perhaps this was part of the thinking behind the latest round of "Canada's Economic Action Plan" TV ad buys.
  • The Nexen ruling deadline – The original 45-day deadline for the government to give its thumbs-up or -down to the China National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC) proposed takeover of Calgary's Nexen Inc. was set to expire today (October 12), but with the government having exercised its first 30-day extension, the next pressure point occurs on November 9. A further 30-day extension is available under the Investment Canada Act, but only with the consent of CNOOC as the applicant. I'm sure, given the reported differences even within the government's Calgary caucus over its approach to the deal, the Prime Minister would rather have had the by-election out of the way before the decision has to come down, but increasingly that's being held to a very narrow window of opportunity.
  • Candidate search and nomination meetingDurham, ON Conservative candidate Erin O'Toole has been in place since August 24th, when he was acclaimed after other declared candidates either didn't meet the requirements of party headquarters (one-time Colin Carrie aide Chris Topple) or withdrew due to family reasons (Jim Flaherty aide Thomas Coughlan). The next day, Calgary Centre, AB Conservative candidate Joan Crockatt won a highly competitive and well-covered nomination race on the other side of the country. With informed observers believing at the time that the Supreme Court could rule in the middle of August, it's reasonable to conclude that the coordinated deadline for those two nominations was no accident. But the NDP had a surprise up its own sleeve, announcing the resignation of incumbent Victoria, BC MP Denise Savoie two days earlier on August 23. To date there has been no sign of a serious Conservative candidacy in Victoria, a riding where the Conservatives moved into second place in last year's general election. Unless the PM were to appoint a candidate using his power as party leader, presumably nominations would have to open for the usual 7- to 14-day period, if they haven't been already.

    UPDATE: I clearly missed the signs of serious Conservatives, as there are three running (I Google'd hard, I promise). Thanks to a regular reader, we've learned that Mike Geoghegan, Ross Dunn and former Conservative candidate Patrick Hunt will be facing off at a nomination meeting believed to be occurring on October 27th. So, that still leaves December 3, 10, and 17 as realistic prospects for E-day, unless the Prime Minister wants an unusual Christmas or New Year's present, or a writ period that crosses into the new year.

Meanwhile, we're still waiting for the Supreme Court of Canada to rule on Etobicoke Centre, ON Conservative MP Ted Opitz's appeal of the lower court ruling declaring his 26-vote win over Borys Wrzesnewskyj in the 2011 general election null and void. As reported by Michael Harris in Thursday's column, the parties to the case were approached for consent to a media lockup when the ruling is released, and were required to reply to that request by September 24 – now almost three weeks ago. The wait must be equally agonizing for Opitz and Wrseznewskyj, not to mention their families and supporters.

If the lower court ruling is upheld, and Mr. Opitz's election is voided, then an 11-day wait would take effect (per s.31(1) of the Parliament of Canada Act), after which the Prime Minister could call a by-election in Etobicoke Centre, ON. Knowing this, the NDP apparently timed Savoie's resignation in order to predate the court ruling, believing that the Conservatives were waiting on its result, and hoping to ensure that Victoria, BC would be included in a round of by-elections in whose ridings otherwise their prospects were much more speculative.

Here's where candidate search is in each of the open or potentially open seats:

Etobicoke Centre, ON

The Liberals renominated former M.P. Borys Wrzesnewskyj by acclamation back on June 12, after he had won in the lower court (read the full ruling here), and after Conservative M.P. Ted Opitz had sought leave to appeal before the Supreme Court, but before the Court announced on July 3 that it would conduct hearings on July 10 (the video of the Supreme Court hearings is archived at here). Presumably – were the overturning of his election to stand – Conservative M.P. Ted Opitz would run again in the by-election (or as one brainiac asked him on television, "if your election is overturned, do you promise to resign?"). On the other hand, Green Party leader Elizabeth May announced that her party would pursue a cooperation approach and decline to run against Wrzesnewskyj, urging the NDP to follow her lead. Pretty much as predicted. No potential NDP candidate has surfaced yet, but may not have to, if the Supreme Court overturns the lower court ruling by upholding Opitz's appeal.

Calgary Centre, AB

As mentioned above, former Calgary Herald managing editor and well-known communications consultant and TV commentator Joan Crockatt used an early start to her advantage in beating back five eventual challengers after four ballots to win the Conservative nomination on Saturday, August 24. A couple of weeks later, and after teasing what a good candidate she had recruited for several days, Elizabeth May was able to secure the acclamation of her star candidate, urban sustainability expert Chris Turner on September 12, promising to run the best-resourced campaign Calgary had even seen from her party. May has been spinning the results of a snap IVR poll of the riding for the Huffington Post (with an N=250, MoE of ±6.2, and conducted in the middle of the summer on August 14, before Crockatt was even nominated), which showed her party in fourth place but with the most enthusiastic supporters, as suggesting that her candidate was really the best positioned to win against Crockatt.

Naturally not everyone agrees, but the reason all the positioning is going on is that a third party group called was launched to try and instigate a coalescing of support behind one of the so-called "progressive" candidates (i.e., pretty much everyone to Ms. Crockatt's left). Sorry, "to facilitate an organic process where voters from across the political spectrum can come together in a less partisan forum, assess the progressive candidates on their own merits and decide among themselves who they feel is best suited to represent their interests prior to election day", in their words. So long as it's organic, I guess. The site is being run by former Naheed Nenshi organizer Brian F. Singh and writes glowingly of fellow Nenshi alumnus and Alison Redford strategist Stephen Carter, who himself has already ruled out at least one of the "progressive" alternatives.

Not to be outdone, the NDP sent in Nathan Cullen to hold a workshop on "uniting progressives in Calgary Centre" back in July during the Stampede. That led to the appearance of a new Calgary Centre NDP Facebook page, and the appearance of a fairly well-orchestrated communications plan designed to look serious but not raise expectations too much too early, including videos of several Calgary "progressives" talking about what the city meant to them. Already one of those folks has declared his candidacy for the NDP nomination (Brian Malkinson), as now have Matthew McMillan and Scott H Payne. No meeting date has been set, but the party did open nominations on September 5, and then hold a riding strategy meeting on September 17, the photos of which are on the FB page and show a reasonably well-attended effort. St. John's South — Mount Pearl M.P. Ryan Cleary is UPDATE: was slated to be at the University of Calgary today (Friday), and industry critic Peter Julian has made repeated visits as part of his consultations on the CNOOC-Nexen deal.

Meanwhile, already holding two UPDATE: one (Calgary Buffalo; Calgary Varsity is further north) of the provincial seats within the federal boundaries, the Liberals were able to field four candidates for a contested nomination held on Saturday, September 22, which saw former provincial Liberal party president and lawyer Harvey Locke win easily on the first ballot. Wascana Liberal M.P. Ralph Goodale was in attendance at the nomination meeting, and then Locke received Justin Trudeau on his first post-announcement leadership campaign stop last week.

1CalgaryCentre is holding an "unConference for post-partisan politics" a week Saturday on October 20, which given that it's Calgary and given the group's ultimate objective, sounds like a mandatory cattle call for the various non-Joan Crockatt candidates to audition at. Lucky them. The group has answered another sceptic here.

Durham, ON

As already mentioned, Toronto lawyer Erin O'Toole (whose father John is the provincial PC MPP for the same riding) was finally acclaimed on August 24 after two other candidacies fell by the wayside. He has an active website, and has been receiving the full-service complement of ministerial visits, and a photo of himself with Wayne Gretzky.

Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae visited Bowmanville in the riding and announced the appointment of 2011 candidate and former Toronto Board of Trade chief operating officer Grant Humes as their candidate on Monday, October 1. Rae's visit came after an earlier appearance by NDP Leader Tom Mulcair to meet with the mayors of Bowmanville and Oshawa, and an appearance by Trinity-Spadina MP Olivia Chow with the Oshawa mayor in Toronto. The NDP has not announced any plans for a nomination as yet, but has evidently been working to develop the port authority and the proposed ethanol plant as a potential issue there.

No Green Party candidate has emerged as yet.

Victoria, BC

The race for the NDP nomination in Victoria is as hotly contested as the Conservative nomination was in Calgary Centre, though long-time local politics watcher Bernard Schulmann bemoans the lack of any willingness by any of the candidates to actually disagree with one another in an all-candidates debate. (You can listen to the CFAX radio debate here, and draw your own conclusions.) Aboriginal rights and environmental lawyer Murray Rankin, who was a member of Tom Mulcair's leadership campaign team in BC, and who has been providing legal advice to BC NDP leader Adrian Dix on the Enbridge pipeline, was first into the race, and received a good chunk of the key endorsements right off the bat, including several sometime Green Party supporters. Three days later, however, he was joined in the race by former BC Health and Finance Minister Elizabeth Cull, followed by former school trustee Charley Beresford, and finally Victoria city councillor Ben Isitt. Most observers believe it will come down to a tight race between Rankin and Cull on the final ballot.

Meanwhile on the Liberal side, economist Paul Summerville, who ran for the NDP in the Toronto riding of St. Paul's in 2006, but then joined the Liberal Party to support Bob Rae for leader and ran for Policy Chair at last January's convention, was the first candidate to get "green-lit" by party headquarters. And after prospective Liberal leadership candidate David Merner declined to pursue the nomination in addition to his leadership aspirations, it is now expected that Summerville's acclamation will be confirmed this Saturday, October 13. Summerville will know who his NDP counterpart is the following day, on Sunday October 14. And, by the way, he's now declared himself a supporter of Merner's leadership campaign. Summerville does look to be making opposition to a new sewage treatment plant (aka "billion dollar boondoggle" according to his website) his main election issue (in concert for the most part with the Greens), with all the NDP candidates taking the other side.

The Greens had an interesting turn of events in their nomination meeting where the 40 voting members in attendance evenly split their votes between Trevor Moat and Donald Galloway, which unbeknownst to the two candidates until the following day was settled by a coin toss in Moat's favour. After learning how close he came to winning, Moat stepped down in favour of U-Vic history law professor Galloway, who many had assumed to be party leader Elizabeth May's preferred candidate in the first place. Bernard Von Schulmann has more details, including the interesting observation that we could conceivably have as many as three U-Vic profs running against one another in the by-election.

So far no Conservatives there, though. UPDATE: And three potential Conservative candidates, as corrected above. UPDATE: Nomination meeting is Saturday, October 20, according to the Saturday edition of the Victoria Times-Colonist.


Photo credit: L. Giannoccaro


Don't forget, if you are a Liberal leadership news junkie, the easiest way to follow the race at a glance is to check in regularly with the Pundits' Guide to the Liberal Leadership Contest social media aggregator page, at, where we have Facebook feeds, Twitter follower counts, Facebook like counts, Twitter tickers, and automated Google News searches in both english and french that get refreshed every 30 minutes, along with a calendar, quick guide to the rules and more.

UPDATED: Four Parties Facing Different Risks in Etobicoke Centre

May 20th, 2012 | 63 Comments

[Welcome, National Newswatch readers!]

Friday's ruling by Justice Thomas Lederer of the Ontario Superior Court declaring the May 2, 2011 results in Etobicoke Centre, ON null and void of course puts the riding into play, thereby presenting the different political parties with a very different set of risks. [first link opens PDF]

The one-time seat of such influential cabinet ministers as Progressive Conservative Finance Minister Michael Wilson and Liberal Justice and Health Minister Allan Rock, could now become the focus of a by-election, assuming first-time M.P. Ted Opitz and the Conservative Party decide to appeal defeated Liberal M.P. Borys Wrzesnewskyj's victory in getting the results of the third closest contest of last May's election overturned, as now seems likely.

Judge Lederer found that more ballots were called into question as the result of unsigned registration certificates from voters not already on the list of electors, and from undocumented vouching, than the 26 vote margin which resulted from last year's judicial recount in the seat; and on that basis he asserted that Canadians could not have confidence in the outcome of the election, in spite of the fact that all election officials and party representatives appeared to have conducted themselves with the best of intentions.

Riding History

Historically, the riding has never been anything but a two-way Liberal-Conservative race federally, the two traditional parties or their offshoots accounting for between 82.5% and 96% of the ballots cast in every election since at least 1988. The NDP has always run name-on-ballot candidates, rarely spending more than 5% of the limit, while the Greens have done the same since 2004; and a similar pattern is found provincially as well since at least 1999.

[Click on image to open full-sized version]

Raw Vote by Party plus Non-Voters (NV), 1988 GE - 2011 GE Etobicoke Centre (

More recently, while Etobicoke Centre was not ground zero for the so-called "Ford Nation" (Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's own ward as a city councillor was Ward 2 in Etobicoke North), its Wards 3 and 4 certainly formed part of the heartland of his support in the stunning Toronto mayoralty results of 2010.

UPDATE 1: See the excellent clarification on this point from the first reader comment below.

Given this pattern of voting behaviour, one might be tempted to view the seat as one of the few potentially viable targets for a Nathan Cullen-style "cooperation plan" between the so-called "progressive parties" should a by-election indeed be required. But before latching on to such an electoral shortcut too hastily, a quick review of the last overturned election result reminds us how quickly things can change.

Sidebar on York North

In the 1988 "Free Trade" election, first-time Conservative candidate Michael O'Brien was declared the winner on election night in the then-open seat of York North, but an initial recount reversed the result in first-time Liberal candidate Maurizio Bevilacqua's favour, after which a judicial recount re-installed Michael O'Brien with a margin of 99 votes. Even though O'Brien was subsequently sworn in as a Member of Parliament, Bevilacqua appealed the recount and was therefore declared the winner by 77 votes. Finally O'Brien filed an "election petition", after which the number of irregularities was found to have exceeded the 77 vote margin and a new election was ordered. (See note 185 in Marleau & Montpetit here.)

Here's how the York North results changed from the 1988 general election to the 1990 by-election and on to 1993:

Raw Vote and Vote-Share by Party, 1988 GE, 1990 By & 1993 GE, York North, ON

  Lib PC Ref NDP Rest NV | %TO
1988 GE 37,513
1990 By 21,332
1993 GE 71,535

So, the Liberals and PCs were even-steven in 1988, but by the time the by-election rolled around the Tories had dropped to 3rd place behind an unusually strong NDP candidate (in the wake of the 1990 Ontario NDP provincial victory and in the depths of the Mulroney government's second-term unpopularity). 1993 went on to be a rout for Bevilacqua and the Liberals.

Vote-Shifts in Etobicoke Centre from 1988 to 2011

So, we can see the risks of going to a by-election in a narrowly won seat in the midst of a government rolling out the toughest parts of its agenda. This is clearly one of the considerations facing the Conservative Party in any decisions about appealing Justice Lederer's ruling to the Supreme Court, and to the extent that voter identification is said to be going on already in the riding of Etobicoke Centre, if it's not a media organization trying to break a quick story with an IVR poll, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the calls were being made by the Conservatives themselves to quickly gather some data to help with that decision-making.

UPDATE 2: According to a tweet, but nowhere else on the Internet yet that I know of, Forum Research (which does IVR polling) has the Liberals 10 points ahead in Etobicoke Centre. It seems unlikely that candidate names were used in the question, when not everyone would be known yet, so I'd take that as a measure of party preference more than anything else.

While we know the past doesn't always predict the future, understanding a riding's history can sometimes help rule out some less plausible hypotheses, so let's turn to the vote swings in the three incarnations of Etobicoke Centre since 1988.

[Note that 1988 and 1993 were fought on the 1987 representation order boundaries; to which were added a bit of Etobicoke North while another chunk was lost to Etobicoke Lakeshore in the 1996 representation order covering the 1997 and 2000 elections; followed by a further small annexation from Etobicoke North in the 2003 representation order which was in effect from 2004 through 2011. This means that exact numbers of raw votes are not directly comparable between 1993 and 1997, nor between 2000 and 2004.]

Raw Vote and Deltas by Party, 1988 GE – 2011 GE, Etobicoke Centre, ON

Elec Lib NDP Grn Cons Ref/CA PC Rest NV
1988 GE 20,342 4,815 187 24,388   24,388 586 12,009
1993 GE 25,739 1,039   19,727 10,485 9,242 855 14,887
(+5,397) (-3,776) (-187) (-4,661) (+10,485) (-15,146) (+269) (+2,878)
1997 GE 27,345 2,661   19,661 8,638 11,023 456 19,857
(+1,606) (+1,622)   (-66) (-1,847) (+1,781) (-399) (+4,970)
2000 GE 26,083 2,124   17,884 10,318 7,566 181 28,105
(-1,262) (-537)   (-1,777) (+1,680) (-3,457) (-275) (+8,248)
2004 GE 30,441 5,174 1,676 14,829     112 25,526
(+4,358) (+3,050) (+1,676) (-3,055) (-10,318) (-7,566) (-69) (-2,579)
2006 GE 29,509 5,426 2,111 18,702   402 117 22,024
(-932) (+252) (+435) (+3,873)   (+402) (+5) (-3,502)
2008 GE 24,537 4,164 2,688 18,839       30,314
(-4,972) (-1,262) (+577) (+137)   (-402) (-117) (+8,290)
2011 GE 21,618 7,735 1,377 21,644     149 27,809
(-2,919) (+3,571) (-1,311) (+2,805)     (+149) (-2,505)

[Click on image to open full-sized version]

Raw Vote by Party plus Non-Voters (NV), 1988 GE - 2011 GE Etobicoke Centre (

Because turnout played an important role in at least two recent junctures here, I've plotted the results using raw vote, and showing the number of Non-Voters (NV) in purple (NV = Electors – Total_Ballots).

You can see that after Michael Wilson's last election in 1988, the combined conservative vote (Ref + PC; shown in the broken blue line) dropped by about 4,700 votes in 1993 while the NDP shed another 3,800 votes or so, as Allan Rock picked up some 5,400 of those 8,500 loose voters, with the other 3,100 either staying home (2,900) or supporting one of the smaller parties.

Rock maintained his lead over the combined conservative parties in 1997 and 2000, as they traded places a few times and the NDP staged the first leg of its comeback.

In the first election waged against the newly reunited Conservative Party in 2004, new Liberal candidate Borys Wrzesnewskyj grew both the party's raw vote, and its lead over his single Conservative opponent, while meanwhile the NDP staged the second leg of its comeback under newly-elected leader Jack Layton. Note here that the Liberals, NDP and Green Party all grew their vote at the same time, while the Conservatives fell back, and turnout increased by around 5,000 voters.

2006 saw most parties in a holding pattern, but the Conservatives making big gains out of the ranks of previous Non-Voters (note the left-most oval on the line chart above), returning to nearly the combined tally of their ancestor parties from three elections earlier.

By contrast, the story of 2008 was the "Liberals who stayed home", shown in the near exchange between the Liberal red and Non-Voting purple lines in the right-most circle, while the Conservatives this time held their ground, and the NDP and Greens exchanged a few votes between themselves.

This brings us to the quandary of what happened in 2011 in various parts of Greater Toronto, a matter of some debate in the literature, and something I'm looking forward to hearing about more definitively when the Canadian Election Study data is released at this June's Canadian Political Science Association meeting in Edmonton.

There are two main hypotheses, both of which are accepted as true in the popular press, but which seem to be mutually contradictory given the above set of numbers. Either:

  1. the "blue Liberals" fled to the Conservatives (implying that hikes in the NDP vote came from out of the 2008 Green vote and the ranks of 2008 Non-Voters), OR
  2. the hike in the NDP vote came from out of the Liberals and Greens, thus "splitting the progressive vote", but also meaning that the clearly observable Conservative gains must have come from out of the ranks of previous non-voters (perhaps the Liberals who stayed home in 2008 in that case)

Perhaps the resolution to this contradiction is that hypothesis (i) held true in the kinds of seats the Conservatives wound up taking decisively from the Liberals, while hypothesis (ii) was found more often in closer fights. Certainly there were many seats around Toronto in 2011 where the Conservatives gained more votes than the Liberals lost, meaning that "vote splits" were not the final culprit in the seat actually changing hands, but that doesn't mean some switching didn't happen between the Liberals and NDP either.

But even in that case, Etobicoke Centre was one of the 11 seats in Greater Toronto where the Liberals lost slightly more votes (2,919) than the Conservatives gained (2,805) – though only very very slightly. The magnitudes of the various parties' vote shifts mean that either of the above hypotheses is plausible here: a strategic conundrum for the parties to also consider as they plot their next steps in the riding.

Risk Assessment for the Four Parties Going Forward

The Conservatives need to figure out which trend is their friend in this case. Is it that they should avail themselves of some of the best election lawyering in the country to appeal the case and try to keep the seat for fear the national polling trends (and even Rob Ford is having some troubles holding onto Ford Nation these days too) could see them underperform in a do-over, as happened in York North. Or should they rely instead on the finding that defeated Liberal incumbents can rarely stage comebacks these days, and try to bank on a better split.

A risk for the party in pursuing the appeal is that it will further commit them to the position taken by Mr. Opitz's legal counsel before the Ontario Superior Court that it is not necessary for every procedural detail of the Elections Act to be followed in order to have a vote counted. This is the exact opposite of the strategy being pursued by the Republican Party south of the border, where very strict voting rules are being promulgated in Republican-controlled states apparently in order to curtail voting by certain groups and in areas less favourably disposed to their party.

Still a seat in the hand is worth two in the bush, so unless the Conservatives have or quickly obtain opinion research showing that the provincial deterioration in federal Liberal support would give them a much stronger shot at winning the riding (in which case I would call a by-election almost immediately in the PM's shoes to catch the other folks off-guard), I suspect we'll probably see an appeal.

For the Liberals, a by-election here would be either their time to shine in an old-school pure two-way Liberal-Conservative contest – the kind they love, and want to recreate in as many other places as possible – or another quantifiable measurement of their reduced status on the federal scene. The party will also likely try to have some fun at the expense of the NDP and its new role as the official opposition, or by stirring up a little trouble over the now-discarded Cullen Plan.

It would seem unimaginable for the Liberals not to renominate Wrzesnewskyj as their candidate, given his enormous personal (and indeed financial) commitment to seeing the legal case through to this point. Although, looking back to the York North parallel, it's interesting to note that Maria Minna unsuccessfully challenged Maurizio Bevilacqua for the Liberal nomination in the 1990 by-election.

On the other hand, Wrzesnewskyj has been offside with the party leadership before, is an advocate of party reform, and was even talked about as a possible leadership contender (though I think that story was subsequently denied – perhaps a reader in the know could fill us in, in the comment section). A party about to enter a leadership contest has to be very careful about the conduct of by-elections during that period, as we've seen elsewhere.

As to the NDP, they really cannot win this seat unless newly-elected leader Thomas Mulcair has some really game-changing candidate recruitment tricks up his sleeve this early in his tenure that we don't know about. Even if they were trying to form a majority government, I doubt this seat would be in the Next 70 or 85, or even in a 338-seat strategy it would almost certainly be in the "Last 50".

Still, they will have to play the expectations game carefully. A competent campaign with a credible candidate that shows growth, say, at the expense of the Conservatives as well as the Liberals would be a plus for them, while a sloppy afterthought of a campaign that saw them fall behind the Greens and miss an opportunity to experiment with new issues, language and target groups would be a minus. It's not surprising to see the "Toronto-area Conservative strategist" speculating on NDP gains in the seat to Postmedia's Stephen Maher in this light, since if you may have to take a hit, it's only smart to make sure someone else is at risk for one at the same time.

Finally, the Greens now have to consider the next steps in their party's strategy. By-elections can be ideal openings for parties following beach-head strategies, but again the party is also at risk of seeing its shrinking national profile (as compared with that of its leader Elizabeth May) quantified in a poor result – in a seat that is not likely its ideal profile either. Not that there is any shortage of environmental issues to run on these days, but it's less clear to me that they would play vote-determining roles in a riding such as Etobicoke Centre.

One cheap and easy out for the party would be to decline to run against Wrzesnewskyj in a Cullen-esque cooperative gesture (much as they decided to do in Cumberland-Colchester against Bill Casey in 2008 after their previous candidate there stepped down), and then dare the NDP to follow suit. No cost, no risks associated with a poor showing, a story the media loves-loves-loves to cover, and a bit of grief for the party that probably ate their lunch there in 2011. It's almost a gimme.

In Conclusion

In the absence of the constant election scares of minority parliaments, the occasional by-election offers one opportunity to quantify the parties' relative standings, albeit in particular ridings that may not be representative of the overall national picture at all.

The Conservatives clearly have much more to lose here than in the Toronto-Danforth by-election earlier this spring, even though their performance there was one of their worst outings ever since reforming as a party in 2004, but all the parties have some strategic risks to manage around the likely do-over of the election in Etobicoke Centre.

What I haven't discussed here is the ruling itself, and what it says about two significant changes made to the Elections Act since 1988, but hopefully I can find the time to write about that next.

[Thanks to Chris Carter of the CBC for taking the time to post the entire ruling to]