Monday, June 17, 2013

A Look at Ottawa South

Last week, former Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty (2003-2013) resigned from his provincial seat as representative for the riding of Ottawa South which, amazingly, is located in Ottawa, Ontario.

McGuinty's resignation comes amid a growing scandal which ties directly back to his time in charge, mostly surrounding the missing documents and expenses related to a (politically expedient) decision made over two gas plants in 2010. I won't go into much detail here about the scandal, but I will say that I think McGuinty's resignation was probably made in order to take some heat off his successor, Kathleen Wynne, by removing himself altogether from Queen's Park. Who knows if that will work out.

The vacancy is the third one to come up since Wynne's ascension to Premier earlier this year, with former ministers Dwight Duncan and Chris Bentley leaving their districts in Windsor-Tecumseh and London West respectively. I've already covered those two, so lets jump in to Ottawa South now.

Riding History

The district of Ottawa South has been one of the most consistent ridings in Ontario, considering that on the federal boundaries. While the boundaries have shifted over the years, Ottawa South has existed in name since 1933, taking shape as the district south of both downtown Ottawa and Vanier communities, and expanding from there to take up many of the growing communities on the south bank of the Rideau River.
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we've gone through several major provincial redistributions over the years where we've seen drastic changes in boundaries, such as in the late 1990's when Mike Harris compacted 130 seats provincial seats into 103 seats based

For most of its history, the riding was represented by Conservative Members of Provincial Parliament (though they weren't called MPPs back in the old days), without any break until 1987. Though never represented by a famous name, such as a Premier or popular cabinet member, Ottawa South did have some long-time members such as George H. Dunbar (1937-1959) and Claude Bennett (1971-1987), the latter who was a minor Davis and Miller cabinet member.

Though a Conservative stronghold for its entire life, like with many ridings across Ontario, cracks started showing in the Big Blue Machine's local operation in 1985, when Bennett barely hung on to his seat versus the Liberal's candidate. A couple of years later, Bennett opted not to run for re-election and avoided being swamped in David Peterson's 1987 landslide. In that election, a former University of Ottawa lecturer named Dalton McGuinty, Sr. won with a whopping 50% over the Conservative's candidate, who was knocked down to a paltry 29.9% support. McGuinty sat as a backbench member in Peterson's government until he suffered a heart attack in 1990.

In the same year an election was held, and McGuinty, Sr.'s eldest son Dalton McGuinty, Jr. took up the Liberal candidacy in his father's riding. Despite this being the year when Bob Rae led his New Democrats to a surprise victory, McGuinty held on with a 20-point lead over the NDP. He was the only rookie MPP to be elected for the Liberals in this election.

From this point on, McGuinty represented the Liberals in every election in Ottawa South, usually winning with a large margin over his opponents (who, after 1990, were all PC). The one exception was a close call in 1999, which was McGuinty's first election as Liberal Leader, where the PCs almost had an upset here though fell short. This was mostly down to McGuinty's rough ride as Leader in this election, and the fact that Ottawa South's redistribution brought in much stronger PC areas into McGuinty's old riding, which had centered around Alta Vista before.

2011 Election

The 2011 election was another easy romp for McGuinty in Ottawa South, who won with a 15-point lead over his PC opponent Jason MacDonald, with the NDP's Wali Farah barely having a presence. This was despite an election that, while overall a miracle win for his Liberals, featured a lot of controversy for McGuinty. He still hung on by a wide margin, one that has even consistently outpaced his younger brother David McGuinty in the federal counterpart to Ottawa South, Ottawa South.

McGuinty's win was across the riding, though his heaviest support came from the low-to-middle income communities in Alta Vista, where he routinely won with over 50% support in most polls. His wins also stacked up in Riverside and Hunt Club, where he faced some increased opposition though still took around 45% support on average.

The only big community not to go with McGuinty was the slightly more higher income area of Blossom Park, the southern-most community in the urbanized portion of the riding.

By-Election Outlook

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I cannot imagine that Kathleen Wynne will call Ottawa South's by-election at a later date than London West or Windsor-Tecumseh, so expect the vacancy to be held relatively soon. Both the PCs and the Greens already had candidates in place before McGuinty's resignation: Matt Young, a defense contractor with a tenuous connection to former MPP Claude Bennett (he's the son-in-law of someone who used to work for Bennett), will be running for Hudak's PCs, while 2011 candidate James Mihaychuk is running again for the Greens. The Liberals will be nominating John Fraser, McGuinty's former executive assistant, as their candidate on June 20th. For the NDP, I know who isn't running, that being Alex Cullen, who is instead running for the nomination in Ottawa West-Nepean. No idea who else is on their radar, or when their nomination meeting is going to be held.

Unlike both London West and Windsor-Tecumseh, Ottawa South is a much friendlier Liberal riding. It has remained Liberal federally for a long time, electing McGuinty's brother David back-to-back since 2004, and before then it was held by former cabinet member John Manley. By all accounts, this should be an easy Liberal hold, as it seems the PCs aren't interested in running a high-profile candidate, and the NDP would struggle to find traction here (unlike in the other two ridings).

But the big names representing this riding also make it somewhat hard to pin down. The demographics speak to either a Liberal or PC win, as the riding is covered in middle-income communities and crawling with suburbanites. At the same time, many of those suburbanites are likely employed by the federal government, which means they'll likely lean Liberal more than anything else. Then again, this riding voted PC consistently before 1987! What sense can anyone make of this?

My guess is that it is likely the Liberal's to lose, and they're fairly unlikely to lose it. Fraser, as far as I know, is pretty grounded in the riding, and Ottawa South has resisted pressure both federally and provincially to turn blue. The Conservatives would really need to make hay out of McGuinty's record and hope it upsets voters here, or hope they can take advantage of the general anathema people feel towards the Liberal government into a turnout advantage for them. There may be too much of a Liberal base here to even make that work, however.


  1. Thanks for an interesting review. Too bad the constituency association is so weak. This could hurt the Liberals in the election without a well known name.

    Where did you get the great riding map?

    1. Thanks for the compliment! I agree as well that a weak base could hurt Liberal chances, which is seemingly confirmed by a Forum poll which showed the PCs leading here with 37% to 34% for the Liberals. We'll see how it all works out in the weeks to come, I guess.

      I sort of created the map myself, or at the very least its a heavily modified version of .shp files that you can download for free from Elections Ontario. That's just a blank slate, however, as I had to draw in the proper riding boundaries and rivers. I also had to colour in the polls according to winner, which took quite a while but can be easily done if you know where the information is.

  2. Kyle, don't you find that Forum Research poll very disappointing? I say its a huge deal for the PCs to the ahead in one of the few ridings in Ontario held by the federal Liberals. What do you think caused this odd poll result?

    1. I do find it disappointing, though not necessarily surprising - Ottawa South is very similar to a riding like Ottawa West-Nepean or Ottawa-Orleans, both of which have very strong Tory bases. Now that Ottawa South is losing its star incumbent, maybe it will become a regular swing riding between the two parties. Certainly at the levels we see now for the provincial parties, I can see both West-Nepean and Orleans falling to the PCs - why not Ottawa South?

  3. Some of your neighbourhood names are wrong, Kyle ;-) Riverside South is not even in the riding, it's in Nepean-Carleton.