It took Doug Ford four months to finally call a by-election in Orléans that will take just four short weeks to contest. When Orléans voters last went to the polls to vote for a provincial representative on June 7, 2018, they bucked the provincial trend and re-elected Liberal candidate Marie-France Lalonde. Fifty-one other Liberal candidates weren’t so lucky.
Lalonde retained her seat partly due to the fact that Ford was so immensely unpopular among many of the riding’s voters, but largely to the fact that she herself was so popular. Of course, Lalonde has since moved on to the House of Commons and thus the need for a by-election.
But the political landscape is much different now then it was just two years ago. In 2018, voters had to choose between a burning desire for change after 15 years of Liberal rule and a hugely unpopular Conservative leader. Twenty-eight thousand decided to stick with Lalonde, while 5,000 defected to one of the other candidates.
The Conservatives managed to increase their total by 4,000 votes over the results of the 2014 election, but it still left them 2,463 votes shy of victory.
The NDP did the best they could to put the Tories over the top by peeling away thousands of votes from the Liberals. In fact, they nearly tripled their support from 5,022 votes in 2014 to 14,033 votes in 2018, but it too wasn’t enough.
So what does the Feb. 27 by-election have in store?
The Liberals are represented by three-term city councillor Stephen Blais who has yet to lose an election campaign. (Fun fact – Blais temporarily ran for the provincial Liberal nomination in 2003 before withdrawing his name prior to the final vote which was won by former Liberal MPP Phil McNeely.)
Blais has the advantage of a finely-tuned Liberal election machine that is fresh off an overwhelming victory in the last federal election thanks in large part to their “get-out-the-vote” strategy which they have down to a science.
Conservative candidate Natalie Mont-gomery is the better half (hopefully, politically, as far as area Conservative supporters are concerned – sorry guys, it is was too easy to pass up) of Cameron Montgomery who lost to Lalonde in 2018.
Montgomery has the advantage of running for the party in power – it helped Brian Coburn get elected to Queen’s Park in 1999 and it helped the late Royal Galipeau get re-elected to the House of Commons in 2008 and 2011.
Having an elected representative sitting at the head table can be very alluring to some voters.
Which brings us to the wild card in the by-election – NDP candidate Manon Parrot. Two things going for her that the NDP candidate in the last election didn’t have – and don’t forget, they still got over 14,000 votes – is the fact that she is a francophone and she will automatically become a member of the Official Opposition should she actually win.
Oh, and she has a third thing going for her, she is the daughter of Jean-Claude Parrot – perhaps one of the most beloved union leaders in Canada in the last 40 years – and she has been a member of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers for the past 30 years.
Now, I’m not sure how many extra votes that will get her come Feb. 27, but it does mean she can count on an endless supply of volunteers and a ready source of potential donations.
All of which to say that the by-election is setting up to be one helluva fight.
The Conservative strategy is to somehow maintain the support they received two years ago and hope the NDP peel away even more soft Liberal support than they did in 2018.
The NDP are hoping to build on the support they received two years ago and come up the middle.
Finally, the Liberal strategy is to simply get out their base. More often than not, Orléans residents have voted Liberal. They did so in overwhelming numbers in the federal election in October and they have done so for most of the past century.
Since 1985, Orléans has elected just one Conservative MPP, that was Brian Coburn who served from 1999-2003, and one Conservative MP – Royal Galipeau who served from 2006-2015.
Can they do it again? Only time will tell. The only thing that is for certain is that no one should assume the result is a foregone conclusion. Voter complacency can often be a political candidate’s worst enemy..
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