Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Guelph prognosticating: Fight b/n Grits and Tories for 1st, NDP fights for third with Greens...

Now that Guelph MP Brenda Chamberlain has retired from Parliament, speculation has begun about a possible by-election in the Royal City. NDP and Tory opponents have shamelessly flogged the former MP over her attendance record over the past year, chomping at the bit to fight for the seat.

As a Guelph native and former co-chair of Chamberlain's 1993 election campaign, I can say I know a bit about the local Guelph political scene and its voting history. Guelph had been a bellweather riding, always voting in a government member, in every election since 1974. The only recent exception was 2006 when Chamberlain won again by over 5,000 votes. Chamberlain was always a well-respected MP, noted for her hard work and dedication to fighting for local issues. She had previously won by huge margins: 10,000 votes in 2004, 15,000 in 2000, 14,000 in 1997, etc., etc...

I'll have much to say about this riding as a possible by-election approaches. Of the three current vacancies - Saint-Lambert, Westmount-Ville-Marie and now Guelph - I'd say the latter is the only one the Tories have any hope of taking. They placed a distant second in Westmount in 2006, and a distant third behind the Liberals in Saint-Lambert in that same election. Thus, we can expect the Tories to pour tonnes of resources into Guelph, which lies just outside of the Greater Toronto Area.

The local Tory candidate, Gloria Kovach, is going to need that outside support as many local Tories are still miffed the candidate they actually elected to carry the nomination again, Brent Barr, was mysteriously removed by party central. After losing to Barr in the first round, Kovach quietly won by acclamation late last year. Barr has promised not to interfere with Kovach's efforts this time, but there's little doubt her campaign will be hampered much like Don Meredith's in Toronto Centre, who replaced fired Tory candidate Mark Warner. Let's not forget, Meredith polled only 12% in the subsequent Toronto Centre by-election, down from 18% in 2006.

Frank Valeriote, the new Liberal candidate, is the consummate local guy. Well-known, he served for 18 years on the local Catholic School Board as a trustee and Chair. Both of my parents taught in that school board and had the highest regard for him and his abilities. Valeriote would also be Guelph's first MP of Italian descent if he wins, something I'm sure is not lost on the large local Italian community.

Plus, Valeriote has turned out to be an excellent, hard-working candidate. As the Guelph Tribune notes, he's been virtually everywhere in the run-up to a possible vote. No doubt his team will launch a very visible and strong local campaign. I think this will make the difference against a Tory machine populated largely by recruits from Ottawa and elsewhere.

The NDP's Tom King is a strong candidate, although probably not as well known locally as either Valeriote or Kovach. He'll draw some votes, however he starts off the race clearly in third place. The last NDP candidate won only 22% of the vote.

It's true that Chamberlain was seen as one of the most socially conservative members of the Liberal caucus and local Guelph voters knew it. Her initial opposition to same sex marriage (something I wasn't too pleased about), plus her stands on other issues didn't endear her to local progressives. That's why the NDP polled as well as it did in Guelph in 2004 (with 20%) and in 2006 (with 22%.) But now with Chamberlain gone and the Green Party on the rise, I think the NDP is going to see a drop, not a rise in its Guelph support, despite King's best efforts.

At this point, I'd say King has a solid shot of holding onto third place over the Greens' Mike Nagy, who I expect will see his vote rise considerably from the 9% he got in 2006. Last October, the Greens took 3rd place with 20% of the vote in Guelph in the provincial election with a stronger candidate. Still the Greens have been doing very well in by-elections lately, so I'd expect Nagy to get at least 15% this time.

That'll cut into support for all three major parties. In the end, I suspect and hope Valeriote's strong local organization will pull out a victory for the Grits. Of course, we'll have to see what happens between then and now in Ottawa.

I would describe Guelph as a progressive town and not just because the University of Guelph is the city's biggest employer. I'd say that Guelph voters are generally more progressive than their neighbours in Kitchener, Waterloo, Cambridge and London. The Tories would, no doubt, love to win it. However, considering their nomination shenanigans, I'd say they've shot themselves in the feet.


Greg said...

I am interested to see who the Greens steel more votes from the Grits or the NDP. That could tell the tale for the next election.

Matt Guerin said...

Don't forget how many votes they'll be taking from the Tories - those Red Tories have to go somewhere...

ALW said...

Being a Kitchenerite, I’d agree that Guelph is probably more left-leaning than Kitchener (although Waterloo might fall into that category too).

I doubt that the expulsion of Brett Barr will really affect the Tories’ chances either way. In terms of upsetting the local partisans, I was at a rally in Guelph a few weeks ago that Harper appeared at and the place was packed solid. Also unlike Toronto Centre, Barr isn’t undermining the Tory campaign. And finally, this is Guelph, not Toronto, where the Tories are the only serious alternative to the Grits.

I think the Tories can pull out a squeaker here but it’s definitely going to be a battle, no question.

Anonymous said...


Not socially. Kitchener has a Lutheran streak that is quite liberal. How it balance with the Mennonites around Conestoga makes it a perfect two horse race between the Grits and the Cons. Don't see Redman and Telegdi losing any time soon.

Guelph is a so-con city. Valeriote and Kovach got their nominations due to their ability to win Catholic supporters. Switching from Barr to Kovach was a shrewd move for Doug Finley, despite the initial criticism. Running on a dogmatic less government agenda of Preston Manning will not work there. One last coffin for the remnants of the Canadian Alliance in Ontario.

Expect Kovach to stick to script and concentrate on the main blue collar issue in Guelph, crime. Harper will allow her some leeway because she knows how to play the good soldier without shooting herself in the foot somewhat. It also has the ability to be the nastiest by-election in history if the pro-life issue starts to rear its ugly head. The Cons may need to solidify the base by going hard right in the last week, just to get the vote out.

Valeriote must be ready to hit back once the Cons decide to go on the character assasination mode. He cannot expect Kovach to distance herself from the Focus on Family people. They are after all her meal ticket in a very polarized race.

Matt Guerin said...

Thanks for the post, Edward. I would only say that I don't agree at all that Guelph is a "so-con city." And Kovach got her nomination by being in the good books of Doug Finley - she didn't win anybody else over. Valeriote got his nomination because he was the best candidate running.

Steve V said...


Not sure I agree with your read of Guelph, as someone who was born and raised there. Guelph is not a socially conservative town, in fact if you walk around it's pretty progressive. I also disagree that crime is a major issue in Guelph, pretty tame town, relative to places like Kitchener.

I'm going out on a limb here, based on my own knowledge of the riding, the demographics, and from what I sense coming from the Liberal candidate. I think the Liberals win this riding easily, or moreso than is acknowledged. The nomination was supposed to be close, and Frank brought out over 1500 supporters, a fact which the national party noticed and acknowledged. This is an indication of broad appeal, and I would venture to say, Frank will have a more dynamic machine than Chamberlain every had. That name, in that town, coupled with being personally known and well respected, plus the outreach on green issues, and the tireless door to door will all congeal to make a solid victory.

That's my hunch, people might be surprised.