Thursday, February 5, 2015

Sudbury provincial by-election today

The Kathleen Wynne-led Liberal government in Ontario will see its first electoral test today, after winning a majority government last June. In that election, the Liberals won an impressive majority government, gaining a net of ten seats from the 48 that they won in 2011. Out of all seats the Liberals had held prior to the 2014 election, they lost just two, both to the NDP. One of those two seats was Sudbury, where voters are heading to the polls today in a controversial by-election.


Liberal Rick Bartolucci held Sudbury from nearly two decades before deciding to retire before the 2014 election. The 2011 election proved to be the toughest test of Bartolucci's career, as he was re-elected by a margin 500 votes over the NDP's Paul Loewenberg. Sudbury had been trending NDP for a while, ever since the federal party won a surprise election in the city in 2008. Bartolucci's departure meant that Sudbury became ripe for the NDP to pick up, despite the rising tide of the Liberal Party across the province in the 2014 election. The NDP nominated Greater Sudbury city councillor Joe Cimino as their candidate, who defeated Loewenberg for the nomination. On election day, Cimino picked up the seat with a narrow 980-vote victory, defeating the Liberal's Andrew Olivier. However, being an MPP proved too much of a challenge for Cimino, who resigned in November, after just five months at the job, citing health reasons and being apart from his family.

Cimino's early departure was a significant blow to the NDP. As we found out in a recent provincial by-election in New Brunswick, voters do not like it when politicians resign just a few months after being elected. Additionally, the Liberals have been polling well since the election, while the NDP has not. Had the Liberals played it safe, they would be looking for an easy victory today. However, the Liberals courted Sudbury's Member of Parliament, Glenn Thibeault, a New Democrat to be their candidate. This came much to the chagrin of Olivier, their past candidate, who had still had his eyes on the seat. Olivier had claimed he was offered a job or an appointment if he promised not to seek the nomination, in favour of Thibeault. This could be interpreted as bribery, and the OPP has already confiscated recorded conversations with Olivier and high profile Liberals to investigate the matter. Meanwhile, New Democrats were incensed that Thibeault would unexpectedly jump ship to the Liberals, a move that is sure to have angered some voters as well, who will have to deal with another politician leaving his seat (in this case however, there will likely be no federal by-election in Sudbury, which will leave the seat vacant until this year's federal election, scheduled for October). With Olivier deciding to run as an independent, a three-way race has emerged, and the outcome of today's by-election is less than certain.


The riding of Sudbury is located in Northern Ontario, taking in most of the former city of Sudbury, which was amalgamated with the rest of the Regional Municipality of Sudbury in 2001. While it shares the name of the federal riding of Sudbury, it has slightly different boundaries, as the provincial ridings in Northern Ontario have maintained their boundaries from 1999, while the rest of Ontario's provincial ridings have the same boundaries as the federal counterparts. This discrepancy was implemented in order to retain an extra seat in Northern Ontario, which was lost in the 2004 federal redistribution.

Sudbury's north, west and eastern borders follow the former Sudbury city limits, while the southern border follows a straight line through Kelley Lake to Long Lake Road, and then follows Highway 69 in the southeast. It contains most of the urban portions of Greater Sudbury, including Downtown Sudbury, and the city's inner-suburbs such as New Sudbury, Copper Cliff, Minnow Lake, Lo-Ellen and McFarlane Lake. For an urban riding, Sudbury has several lakes, the largest of which is Ramsey Lake in the east.


Sudbury has a fairly low immigrant population, resulting in the riding being very White (88%), although there is a decent Aboriginal population at 8%. Most residents are of British Isles or French ancestry, but there is a small Italian and German community. Two thirds (69%) of the riding are Anglophones, while almost a quarter (24%) are Francophones. Italian is the third language of the riding, with 3% being native speakers. Over three quarters (78%) of the riding are Christian, with over half (56%) being Catholic. The United Church is the largest Protestant denomination at 5%, while 21% of the riding is irreligious. While Northern Ontario has a reputation of being poor, Sudbury is not much poorer than the rest of the province. The federal riding has an average income just $2000 less than the provincial average. Retail and health care are the predominant industries in the riding.


Sudbury has been represented at Queen's Park by its own electoral district since 1908. During this time, all three parties have held the riding, though the Tories have not won it since 1985. Since then it has gone back and forth between the Liberals and NDP, but the Tories still managed to finish second in the 1999 and 2003 elections. During this time, Rick Bartolucci won the seat for the Liberals with massive majorities, getting his best result in 2003 when he won 69% of the vote.


*F.W. Cumberland, Cons. (1867-1874)
*S.J. Dawson, Liberal (1875-1878)

*R.A. Lyon, Liberal (1878-1883)

Algoma East
*R.A. Lyon, Liberal (1883-1890) continued

*Jn. Loughrin, Liberal (1890-1902)

Nipissing West
*J. Michaud, Liberal (1902-1905)
*A.A. Aubin, Cons. (1905-1908)

*F. Cochrane, Cons. (1908-1911)
*Chas. McCrea, Cons. (1911-1934)
*E.A. Lapierre, Liberal (1934-1937)
*J.M. Cooper, Liberal (1937-1943)
*R.H. Carlin, CCF (1943-1498)
*W.S. Gemmell, Prog. Cons. (1948-1954)
*G.J. Monaghan, Prog. Cons. (1955-1959)
*E.W. Sopha, Liberal (1959-1971)
*M.C. Germa, Liberal (1971-1981)
*J.K. Gordon, Prog. Cons. (1981-1987)
*Sterling Campbell, Liberal (1987-1990)
*Ms. S.M. Murdock, NDP (1990-1995)
*R. Bartolucci, Liberal (1995-2014)
*G. Cimino, NDP (2014)

Political geography

In 2014, the NDP saw its strongest support in the west part of the city, with the neighbourhood of Cambrian Heights being their best neighbourhood, winning 62% of the vote there. Other strong neighbourhoods for the NDP were Gatchell (58%), Flour Mill (56%) and the area south of Ontario St and west of Regent St (56%), all areas in the west and northwest parts of the city. Gatchell and the area west of Regent Street were especially strong for the NDP, as those neighbourhoods are in Ward 1, which Cimino had represented on city council. For the Liberals, they failed to get a majority of the votes in any neighbourhood, but were closest in Bell Park (49.8%) and the area around Laurentian University (49.5%). Both of these areas border along Ramsey Lake. Liberal support was the strongest in areas close to lakes, as the areas along both Ramsey and Nephawin Lake were strong areas for the Liberals. The only part of the city not close to a lake where the Liberals beat the NDP was the New Sudbury subdivision in the northeast corner of the city, where the Liberals edged the NDP 43%-39%. The Tories didn't win any polls in the riding, but they saw their strongest support in the University area along the south shore of Ramsey Lake, winning 27% of the vote (ahead of the NDP). Green support was highest in Bell Park (6%).

Historically, the NDP sees its best results in the northwest of the city, in neighbourhoods like the Donovan, as well as parts of Downtown and Minnow Lake. The Liberals tend to do better in the south of the riding, along Ramsey and Nephawin Lakes, and in parts of New Sudbury. Federally in recent elections, opposition to the NDP has been split between the Liberals and Conservatives in the city, which has allowed the Tories to make inroads in these traditional Liberal areas. In the 2011 federal election, the Liberals were shutout of the city, winning zero polls.

Results of the 2014 provincial election by neighbourhood


Challenging Thibeault and Olivier is the NDP's Suzanne Shawbonquit, an Ojibwe businesswoman. Running for the Tories is Catholic School Trustee Paula Peroni and running for the Greens is Laurentian University professor David Robinson. Forum Research has released a number of polls of the riding, with the most recent one released yesterday (and conducted on Monday). It shows Shawbonquit with a narrow three-point lead over Thibeault (36%-33%), and Olivier at 14%. Trailing the three main candidates are Peroni at 11% and Robinson at 6%. Shawbonquit and Thibeault have been basically tied throughout the campaign, with Olivier's independent candidacy playing the wild card. Forum's mid-campaign poll had Olivier at 22%, but has seen his vote share drop considerably with their most recent poll. Interestingly, this drop has helped the NDP the most, with Shawbonquit up 6 points since January 21, while Thibeault hasn't budged. Local Sudbury pollster OraclePoll has also been polling the race, with their most recent poll (conducted in late January) showing Thibeault leading Shawbonquit 41%-26% (Olivier at 19%). Another pollster, MainStreet Technologies has also been polling the race, with their most recent poll (also conducted Monday) showing Thibeault ahead 32%-28% (Olivier at 14%).

It is likely that Olivier's support will erode even more, as the race has shaped into two-way battle between Thibeault and Shawbonquit. Where will his voters go? So far his erosion has benefited Shawbonquit, but much of his leftover support comes from voters who went Liberal last year. Will those voters hold their nose and vote for Thibeault, or will they hang on and stuck with Olivier? Will Tories switch to Thibeault to stop Shawbonquit, or would they be unwilling to to back a former New Democrat? Another factor I'd be concerned about is possible racism against Shawbonquit. Areas with high Aboriginal populations tend to deal with issues of racism (see Maclean's declaring Winnipeg to be Canada's most racist city), including in electoral politics. I've heard racism may have played a factor in the federal candidacy of Tania Cameron in Kenora, another Northern Ontario riding. While Shawbonquit has an accomplished back story, it might not be enough to quell any racist sentiment.

This race, with its turncoats and bribery (not to mention a politician quitting only a few months after getting elected) can make even the most optimistic citizen feel cynical about politics. And yet, there is a lot at stake for the Liberals and NDP. After the NDP's performance in the last election, many pundits were calling for Andrea Horwath's head, as they felt her party did not do as well as expected, despite the NDP seeing its best result since 1990. A loss tonight, after everything that has happened in this campaign would be a huge blow, and might be the straw to break the camel's back when it comes to Horwath's leadership. For the Liberals, it would mean picking up an important seat in Northern Ontario, which has been trending away from them in recent elections. It would also mean that even after everything that happened, it would prove that they are still very popular. Plus, governments have a reputation for losing by-elections. For Olivier, getting a good result (with Thibeault losing) would be a blow to the Liberals, and would send them a message that they did not play fair in this by-election, and would be at least a personal victory for him. Personally, I believe that Shawbonquit will squeak out a narrow victory, with a margin of anywhere from 1% to 5%. We'll see what happens when polls close at 9pm.