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Waterloo Region expected to be major election battleground
As goes Kitchener Centre, so goes Ontario.
In every provincial election dating back to 1987, the voters of Kitchener’s main urban riding have picked a politician from the same party that won the overall election.
Analysts say that phenomenon means the riding will be watched closely by all parties over the next month.
Barry Kay, a political science professor at Wilfrid Laurier University and an expert in polling data, says current trends suggest the race in Kitchener Centre is currently a toss-up between incumbent Liberal MPP Daiene Vernile and Progressive Conservative challenger Mary Henein Thorn.
A few weeks ago, when the PCs were riding slightly higher in the polls on the back of Doug Ford being named party leader, the riding appeared relatively ensconced in PC territory.
Kay’s model still has Kitchener-Conestoga and the new riding of Kitchener South-Hespeler leaning PC blue. In Cambridge, incumbent MPP Kathryn McGarry – the first Liberal that riding had elected since its creation in 1975 – is similarly forecast to be caught up in a province-wide PC rush.
The exception to an improved PC performance in Waterloo Region appears to be in Waterloo, where no Liberal has been elected since 1987. Kay says current polling data suggests NDP MPP Catherine Fife will be able to fend off a challenge for her seat from PC challenger Dan Weber.
Retired political science professor Peter Woolstencroft says all three major parties will likely pay a lot of attention to Waterloo Region.
“The Conservatives … have to win at least three of the five seats that are here. The Liberals can’t afford to lose any, and the NDP would like to win more than the one they currently have,” he says.
Many political scientists believe local candidates typically only make a difference of about five per cent in the total vote in their riding, although exceptionally strong candidates can move numbers to a higher degree. Woolstencroft says the Liberals are fielding strong candidates in Waterloo Region, which may lead to them outperforming their provincial numbers locally.
While the PCs currently enjoy a large lead in the polls, experts warn that things may change quickly over the course of the 30-day campaign.
Woolstencroft says the election appears to be shaping up as a referendum on the Liberal government, which has been in power since 2003.
He says the result may come down to how many progressive-minded voters are willing to move between the Liberals and NDP – a party he says has room to have its support grow.
“They have no record, and they don’t have an unpopular leader. The Liberals have an unpopular leader, and many people don’t like the Conservative leader,” he says.
Whichever way the election goes, Woolstencroft expects turnout to be low, citing a perceived lack of enthusiasm for the major parties, their leaders and the election itself.
Turnout in the 2014 election was 51.3 per cent – the first increase after a string of declining turnouts dating back to 1990.
With reporting by Daryl Morris