Thursday, February 13, 2014

Provincial by-elections today in Ontario

Two Ontario provincial by-elections will be held today in the ridings of Thornhill and Niagara Falls. Both ridings are in Ontario’s infamous bellwether “905 region”, but both are very different ridings. Thornhill was held by a Tory MPP, Peter Shurman while Niagara Falls was held by a Liberal in Kim Craitor. The Conservatives hold both ridings federally, but the similarities seem to stop there. Thornhill is a relatively affluent riding (average income is $48,000) on the edge of Toronto, and is notable for its large Jewish population. Niagara Falls is a more middle income riding, and is as far away as you can go from Toronto in the 905.

Thornhill stands out as a riding, as it is the lone Tory riding in a seat of Liberal ridings in southern York Region and is bounded on the south by a sea of Liberal ridings in North York. Its high Jewish population has influenced the riding enough to make it much more conservative than the surrounding ridings. Niagara Falls meanwhile is a bellwether riding, and has voted for the party that would form the government in every election since 1985. Federally Niagara Falls is a strong bellwether as well. Only twice since 1963 has the riding not voted for the winning party in federal elections (1972 and 2004).

Niagara Falls

The riding of Niagara Falls includes the world-famous city of Niagara Falls, and two other municipalities, Niagara-on-the-Lake to its north, and Fort Erie on its south. The riding flanks the entirety of the west bank of the Niagara River, running from Lake Erie in the south to Lake Ontario in the north. The City of Niagara Falls makes up the majority of the riding’s population, as it is home to 83,000 of the riding’s 128,000 people. The riding is mostly urban, but all three municipalities contain large rural areas. Niagara-on-the-Lake is fairly affluent (Average income: $46,000), while both Niagara Falls and Fort Erie have a smaller average income at around $34,000 each.

The riding was vacated when its MPP Kim Craitor resigned in September citing mental exhaustion and wanting to focus on his health and family. He has since declared his intentions to run for Niagara Falls city council.


As mentioned, the riding has swung the same way as the province since 1985. It elected Liberal Vince Kerrio when the Peterson Liberals were in power (1985-1990), it elected NDPer Margaret Harrington when Bob Rae was Premier (1990-1995), it elected Tory Bart Maves during the Mike Harris years (1995-2003) and has elected Liberal Kim Craitor under Dalton McGuinty ever since.

Before the 1980s, the riding was mostly Liberal, with some instances of the Tories and other parties winning.

Wm. Beatty, Liberal (1867-1871)
J.G. Currie, Liberal (1871-1879)
Daniel Near, Liberal (1879-1883)
J.E. Morin, Liberal (1883-1890)

Wm. McCleary, Cons. (1890-1894)
W.M. German, Liberal (1894-1900)
J.F. Gross, Liberal (1900-1904)

E.E. Fraser, Cons. (1904-1914)

Niagara Falls
G.J. Musgrove, Cons. (1914-1919)
C.F. Swayze, Labour (1919-1923)
W.G. Wilson, Liberal (1923-1934)
W.L. Houck, Liberal (1934-1943)

C.A.G. Overall, CCF (1943-1945)
C.D. Hanniwell, Prog. Cons. (1945-1948)
W.L. Houck, Liberal (1948-1953) 2nd time
A.C. Jolley, Prog. Cons. (1953-1959)
Geo. Bukator, Liberal (1959-1971)
J.T. Clement, Prog. Cons. (1971-1975)
V.G. Kerrio, Liberal (1975-1990)
Mrs. M.H. Harrington, NDP (1990-1995)
B. Maves, Prog. Cons. (1995-2003)
Kim Craitor, Liberal (2003-2013)

Political geography

Niagara Falls - 2011 results by polling division

The 2011 provincial election saw a three-way race in the riding, with Craitor narrowly winning by 541 votes over Tory opponent George Lepp. His NDP opponent, Wayne Redekop was just 4000 votes behind in third. 

2011 results by municipality:
Municipality Liberal PC NDP
Niagara Falls
Fort Erie

The 2011 election saw unique results for each of the three municipalities in the riding. In the affluent Niagara-on-the-Lake, the race was a close affair between the Liberals and the Tories, with the NDP in a distant third. The Liberals won the urban part of Niagara-on-the-Lake, while the Tories won the rural area. In the City of Niagara Falls, the Liberals were the clear winners, picking up most of the polls across the urban parts of the city. Both the NDP and the Tories won a splattering of polls in the urban part of the city, while the Tories won all of the rural polls south of the city. In Fort Erie, the Liberals were a distant third, with the race being between the Tories and the NDP. The NDP was boosted in Fort Erie by the fact that their candidate was the former mayor of the town. The urban part of Fort Erie was a near even split between the Tories and NDP, while the rural areas leaned to the Tories. Notably, the New Democrats won the community of Crystal Beach in the west end of the town.  

Strongest polls (2011):
  • Liberal: Poll #712, Valley Park Lodge (Lundy’s Lane, Niagara Falls) – 64%; Strongest regular poll: Poll #7 in central Niagara-on-the-Lake – 55%
  • Progressive Conservatives: Poll #704, Heritage Place (Virgil, Niagara-on-the-Lake) – 65%; Strongest regular poll: Poll #3 (rural north-central Niagara-on-the-Lake) – 54%
  • New Democratic Party: Poll #195 (north urban Fort Erie) – 59%.


All three of the main candidates running are Niagara Falls city councillors. Running for the Liberals is Joyce Morocco, the NDP is running Wayne Gates and the Tories are running Bart Maves (who is also a former MPP).  For interest’s sake, the City of Niagara Falls elects its councillors on an at-large basis, and Gates won nearly 10,879 votes in the city in the last municipal election, Morocco won 9,720 and Maves won 9,564 votes.  Both Morocco and Gates have run federally in the riding (Morocco in 2008, Gates in 2004 & 2006). Maves held the riding provincially from 1995 to 2003 when he lost to Craitor. The Greens are running local chef Clarke Bitter.

CORRECTION: Maves is a Niagara regional councillor. His nephew of the same name is on Niagara City Council, and the above numbers reflect his nephew's vote totals. 

The only firm that I’ve seen doing polls for these by-elections is Forum Research, which has had a sketchy track record as of late. However, with no other polls available, I will have to use their data to speculate on the result of today’s elections. In Niagara Falls, the NDP’s Wayne Gates holds a commanding lead over the Tories’ candidate Bart Maves (48%-33%). The Liberals’ Joyce Morocco is in third at 17%. For the Liberals, this would be a huge blow to the party, which has already lost three by-elections (in seats they held) since the 2011 election. For the NDP, the win would be another by-election boost for the party, which has already picked up three by-election wins (two in seats that are not known to be NDP-friendly) since the 2011 election. For the Tories, a loss here would be another blow for the party, in leader Tim Hudak’s backyard (he hold’s the neighbouring riding of Niagara West-Glanbrook, and actually has held parts of this riding in the past). The Tories have only won one by-election since 2011, while they have also surrendered a seat that they had previously held.


Thornhill is a suburban riding located on the northern edge of Toronto. The riding spans two municipalities; it contains the southeastern corner of the City of Vaughan and the southwestern corner of the City of Markham. While these two areas are in separate municipalities, they together form the large suburban community of Thornhill. The riding extends from the 404 in the east to the 400 in the west, is bounded by the City of Toronto in the south and by a line following Rutherford Road to Bathurst Street to Highway 7 on the north. Thornhill is most notable for its large Jewish population. It has the largest Jewish concentration of any federal riding (remember, provincial ridings in southern Ontario have the same borders as their federal counterparts) in Canada at 33%. Much of the Jewish population is Orthodox, making the Jews in this riding especially conservative. The riding marks the northern node of a Jewish-belt that extends southward into Toronto along Bathurst Street until Forest Hill.

Thornhill was vacated by Peter Shurman on the last day of 2013 following a reprimand from Tory leader Tim Hudak for Shurman claiming mileage from his home in Niagara-on-the-Lake to Toronto (not in Thornhill) as an expense.


Thornhill as a riding has only existed since 1999. All four of the provincial elections held in the riding since its creation have been close. In 1999, the Tories won the seat by just 400 votes. The Liberals gained it back in 2003 by winning by just 800 votes. Shurman won the seat back for the Tories in 2007, in a race decided by less than 2000 votes. In 2011, Shurman increased his lead to 2,600 votes. The key to winning the riding has been about winning enough of the non-Jewish vote to carry the seat, as in recent years, the Jewish vote has been very homogenously behind the PCs.

Before 1999, the riding was typically split between ridings containing Markham and ridings containing Vaughan. The following list of MPPs follows the Markham portion before 1999 (The 1999 redistribution saw a larger chunk of Markham become part of Thornhill):

York East
H.P. Crosby, Liberal (1867-1874)
Jn. Lane, Liberal (1874-1879)
G.W. Badgerow, Liberal (1879-1886)
G.B. Smith, Liberal (1886-1894)
Jn. Richardson, Liberal (1894-1905)
Alex. McCowan, Cons. (1905-1913)
G.S. Henry, Cons. (1913-1943)

Ms. A.C. Macphail. CCF (1943-1945)
Jn. Leslie, Prog. Cons. (1945-1948)
Ms. A.C. Macphail, CCF (1948-1951) 2nd time
H.E. Beckett, Prog. Cons. (1951-1963)

York North
A.A. MacKenzie, Prog. Cons. (1963-1967)

York Centre

D.M. Deacon, Liberal (1967-1975)
A.J. Strong, Liberal (1975-1981)

W.D. Cousens, Prog. Cons. (1981-1987)

W.D. Cousens, Prog. Cons. (1987-1995) continued
David Tsubouchi, Prog. Cons. (1995-1999)

Ms. T.R. Molinari, Prog. Cons. (1999-2003)
M.G. Racco, Liberal (2003-2007)
Peter Shurman, Prog. Cons. (2007-2013)

Political geography

Thornhill - 2011 results by polling division

The biggest biggest political cleavage in the riding is between the Jewish areas vs. the non-Jewish areas. The Jewish population of the riding is concentrated in the Vaughan half of the riding, which went strongly for the Progressive Conservative candidate, Peter Shurman in 2011. Some of the most Jewish polls had Shurman winning over 70% of the vote. However, in the less Jewish Markham half of the riding, the Liberals edged out the Tories in 2011, as was typical for this part of the province. The Tories beat the Liberals by 12 points in the Vaughan half of the riding, while the Liberals only beat the Tories by six points in the Markham half, which was not enough to overcome the Tory lead. The NDP has been a non-factor in this riding, although they did win one poll in 2011.

2011 Results by municipal ward:

PC Liberal NDP
Vaughan Ward 4 (part)
Vaughan Ward 5
Markham Ward 1
Markham Ward 2

Strongest polls (2011)
  • Progressive Conservatives: Poll #112 (Central Thornhill, Ward 5, Vaughan) – 79%
  • Liberals: Poll #701 (Constantia Retirement Residence, Beverly Glen, Ward 5, Vaughan) – 63%; Strongest regular poll: Poll #190 (Thornlea East, Ward 2, Markham) – 60%
  • New Democratic Party: Poll #413 (Chateau Parc, west Thornhill, Ward 5, Vaughan) – 33% (Only poll win)

Thornhill religious plurality by Census Tract


Running for the Tories is optometrist Gila Martow. Her past political experience includes running for Vaughan City Council in 2010 in the heavily Jewish Ward 5. She has been noted as having "strong roots in the Jewish community", and her biography strategically includes a picture of her with Stephen Harper and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Running for the Liberals is Vaughan City Councillor Sandra Yeung Racco, who represents Ward 4, which is partly in the riding. She is married to the riding’s former MPP, Mario Racco. Yeung Racco is of Chinese descent, which could help her in the Markham half of the riding which has a large Chinese population. The NDP’s sacrificial lamb is high tech manager Cindy Hackelberg, who was the candidate in 2011.   The Greens are running Dr. Teresa Pun, whose past political experience involves running provincially in Manitoba.

Forum Research has this race as the Tories’ to lose. Their candidate Gila Martow leads with a commanding 51% in their most recent poll. Liberal candidate Sandra Yeung Rocco was at 40% in the poll and the NDP was in single digits at 5%. In the last round of by-elections last summer, Forum tended to show the Tories as being stronger then they actually were, so it’s possible this race could be close. For the Tories, if they lose this heavily Jewish riding, it would be a huge blow for the party, especially since it would be the first gain for the Liberals in a by-election since the last provincial election.

Polls close in both ridings at 9:00 pm local time.


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