If by-election follows, more than riding at stake
By Bruce A Stewart
Judge Thomas Lederer has overturned the 2011 election result in Etobicoke Centre after a challenge brought by the former MP, Liberal Boris Wrzesnewskyj.
Seventy-nine ballots were set aside in the judge’s examination. The riding was won on election night by Conservative Ted Opitz by 26 votes.
Opitz has eight days to appeal; the appeal is promised to be fast-tracked by the Supreme Court of Canada if it is made.
During the trial, Chief Electoral Officer Marc Maynard had stood up for Elections Canada’s handling of the polling stations in the riding, testifying against Wrzesnewskyj’s challenge that some votes had violated electoral rules. While Maynard acknowledged that errors can and do occur, he said that Elections Canada’s own post-vote examination of this riding showed it to be no different from any other in the country.
Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae was quick to say, on CBC’s Power and Politics, that his party would be looking carefully at other close results to see if they, too, should be challenged in court.
It’s likely that this — as with the last setting aside of an election result in 1988 — will ultimately go to a by-election.
When it does, though, the voters won’t be voting on whether Elections Canada needs to improve its training of polling station staff, all of whom are hired on an election call.
They’ll be voting on whether or not the challenge should have been made. Past events suggest the winner on election night will be returned, but with more votes, regardless of other issues.
This Etobicoke Centre by-election will also have two other issues running through it.
One will be the usual by-election “and how do we feel about the government now?” message. At the moment, that could go either way. By the fall, when a by-election would be likely to be held, external economic changes could be bearing down on public opinion.
An anti-government vote will likely benefit the Liberals more than the NDP, who historically run far behind in Etobicoke Centre. A stronger NDP vote, on the other hand, even though their candidate is highly unlikely to win, would show that Mulcair is growing the party in Ontario (where he needs to).
The other issue in play will be the whole robocalls “scandal”, something which seems to excite the Parliamentary Press Gallery and Opposition MPs far more than it does Canadians living outside the Queensway.
No doubt that will be repeatedly hammered home in the press during the campaign.
Returning the Conservative could very much be seen as the electorate repudiating the smoke and noise in Ottawa.
Since on the odds Opitz the Conservative is the favourite to win the rematch, you can be sure of two things.
The full force of the national parties will be brought to bear in the by-election. Optiz being re-elected will effectively shut the robocall story down for 2015′s general election campaign, to the chagrin of all the other parties.
Both Dalton McGuinty — whose Liberals won the equivalent provincial riding a year ago — and Conservative-supporting Rob Ford — who took the equivalent wards in the last Toronto elections — will be closely engaged as a proxy for their own next battles.
Bet on Wrzesnewskyj to be back to baking after it’s over.
Bruce Stewart is a consultant, educator and philosopher with a passion for public affairs currently located in Toronto. He is well known across the Internet for his blogs on management (Getting Value from IT) and social affairs (Just a Jump to the Left, then a Step to the Right) and for his daily stream of commentary on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.