Voters often approach general elections and byelections with a different lens. The former is a specific vote that can contribute to a government’s election or re-election. The latter can be a multi-purpose vote to send a message about the satisfaction or dissatisfaction of a government, party, leader, or the political process.
Which brings us to the recent Kitchener Centre byelection. What did this result mean, and, of equal importance, what did it not mean?
It seemed as if Kitchener Centre would go according to its normal script. The NDP would likely retain the seat, followed by the PCs and Liberals. The usual fourth place spot would go to the Greens, as it had for the riding’s previous seven elections.
That wasn’t the case.
Clancy received 11,334 votes, or 47.99 percent. The party’s best previous result in Kitchener Centre had occurred in 2022, when Wayne Mak received 4,980 votes, or 12.8 percent. It’s one of the biggest increases by a third party in Ontario, and one of the more significant in Canadian political history.
What happened to the other candidates? Chapman ended up with 6,312 votes, or a paltry 26.73 percent. Elliott finished well back in third place (3,109 votes, or 13.16 percent), and Steiss was a distant fourth (1,817 votes, or 7.69 percent).
Clancy will become only the second elected Green MPP in the Ontario Legislature, following current party leader Mike Schreiner. Doubling this small caucus is obviously a major accomplishment. They’re dreaming big for the next provincial election, which won’t be held until 2026.
You can’t blame the Ontario Greens for speculating this result could turn into a series of unexpected political riches. But in reality, it’s far from a seismic shift in the province’s political spectrum, and the progressive vote in general.
Were there voter frustrations with the NDP and Liberals in Kitchener Centre? Absolutely. Several things likely worked against both parties, which could have been related to the candidates, leaders, or an inability to put out messaging and policies that resonated during the campaign. Nevertheless, the riding’s political compass worked to the benefit of another left-leaning party, the Greens, to make an electoral breakthrough.
Hang on. How could a political party that had never previously been competitive in this riding suddenly storm into contention? Other than voters expressing their displeasure with the main political parties, that is.
There are other dynamics to be considered. In particular, a long-term interest in environmental issues in the Golden Horseshoe region that encompasses various cities like Kitchener.
Many local politicians in that region, including right-leaning ones, focused on policies related to climate change, recycling, and environmentally friendly products long before the bulk of Ontario politicians did. I studied at the University of Guelph, which is only 30 minutes away from Kitchener, and remember this quite well. The two cities saw eye-to-eye on the relevance of including environmental issues in local political discourse.
The Kitchener Centre byelection shouldn’t be regarded as a political earthquake just yet. It’s more of an isolated event in a specific Ontario region that has long had a greenish hue—and, now, a Greenish political hue.
Which doesn’t mean the other parties aren’t paying close attention. They are.