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Insiders spill on the Grit's double grab
How the Liberals handed the Tories a dual defeat in Bytown and Scarborough
"Great day for the Liberals." "Didn't see that coming." "Outstanding organizing." "A resilient political force." "Major blow."
The leaderless Liberals handed the Progressive Conservatives a double defeat last night — painting a traditional Tory riding in Ottawa red while holding on to the party's seat in eastern Toronto in the face of a hotshot challenger.
Karen McCrimmon beat out Tory Sean Webster and NDPer Melissa Coenraad in Kanata while Andrea Hazell defeated big shot Progressive Conservative Gary Crawford and the NDPs' Thadsha Navaneethan in Scarborough. "I am excited to once again serve," McCrimmon told supporters huddled at her victory party. "I am the face of Scarborough," Hazell declared.
These were two ridings the Tories threw their full weight behind — and were expected to win in at least one. Staff were deployed to canvass with radio ads airing and a blitz of funding announcements flooding Ottawa. Former Toronto Mayor John Tory and Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown hit the hustings, with Tory recording a robocall for his former budget chief. Key cabinet ministers door knocked in both battlegrounds.
"The results are not what I had hoped for," Crawford said.
Premier Doug Ford's "disappointed," he added. "But you know what? We move on. We have an incredibly strong government." Ford had canvassed for Team Crawford in the eastern Toronto riding earlier in the day.
"Ottawa's future is bright," tweeted Webster.
Internally, Liberals are viewing the victory as a precursor to a larger red wave coming to the province.
"The Progressive Conservatives put a lot of firepower into both ridings and came up short," a senior Grit source said, crediting interim Liberal captain John Fraser for the "smart move" of recruiting McCrimmon to carry the party's banner in Kanata. "It shows once again that the Ontario Liberal Party is a resilient political force," the source added.
"A great candidate, a referendum on Ford, problems between the federal Conservatives and provincial Conservatives and the leadership race getting attention — four interesting and valid factors at play," said another source. "If any one of those weren't at play, last night's result might've been different."
"Cannot express how excellent the Kanata result is given that it's a Tory seat," texted a third insider, calling it "outstanding organizing." "The Scarborough result is actually awful. It's one of our top ten seats," they added. "Terrible organizing to have lost ten per cent."
"A good night for the Ontario Liberal Party," texted a fourth.
The party's official line: "[The] results send a clear message: the Ontario Liberals are the only party that can hold the Conservatives accountable for their mismanagement of this province."
Meanwhile, the Tories, with a super majority at Queen's Park, aren't sweating the losses. "These were always going to be tough ridings we weren't likely to win," said one source. "The fact we were so competitive and it was so close means the campaign teams did a good job," they added.
"We were never winning Scarborough," another Tory insider said. "It’s a riding where Liberal brand is too baked in," they explained, citing Grit wins in the last two elections. "As for Kanata, don't take lessons from close byelections. Too many factors could have pushed the vote one percent in any direction."
"[Crawford's] team on the ground seemed confident," said a third source. Another described Crawford's early resignation from City Hall — that includes a guaranteed severance package — as having "hurt" the city's former budget chief with his base at the last minute. "The PC volunteers I encountered yesterday were clearly uneasy with it," one source backing another party described.
"It was all pretty wild," a Tory source explained, granted anonymity to discuss internal matters. "The party paid for people from Toronto to drive to Ottawa, even paying for their hotels out there," they added, describing the governing Tories' efforts in Kanata. "People have been there for two weeks and even still, they were looking for more people to head over there."
Behind the scenes, Conservatives are buzzing about the federal Tories' refusal to deploy GOTV support in Kanata — where the party has a strong infrastructure to be mobilized. "Ford and Pierre don't get along," a source said. "We knew from the start that the federal Conservatives wouldn't do much."
"Whereas, there was ongoing fear that the federal Liberals were deploying tons of their interns and staffers for the election," the source explained. "Federal and provincial Liberals are much more joined at the hip."
"It's just a weird flex to say 'hey, look at how we undermined the Conservative movement in the City of Ottawa' when your leader represents the City of Ottawa," another insider texted.
As for the NDP, the party is boasting about the Dippers' increased vote share in both ridings. "Good to see vote share increase in both ridings," said one NDPer. "Seems things are tightening and voters are starting to show they want change."
"Both ridings were always going to be an uphill battle," said another insider, calling the upped vote share "not a small thing." "It was also clear at the doors in Scarborough that people were starting to connect with Thadsha in the final week. The late start on that campaign was disappointing," they added. "It appears hitting the ground earlier could have made a real difference."
This was rookie captain Marit Stiles' first electoral test after Sarah Jama's easy win in traditionally orange Steeltown. "This was an excellent learning experience for the new senior leadership team," an insider said, describing a "real morale boost" internally. "I heard rank and file members say how impressed they were with Marit's efforts in these campaigns," they added.
"She's still a new leader so people are watching closely and she showed up for these candidates and their teams."
"I think our party is right to be impressed by the way [Stiles] handled it and pleased to see it paying off," party strategist Erin Morrison said in a phone interview. "One thing Marit is known for is her connection on the ground, to the ridings and to the people there."
"I think the results of the byelection in Scarborough—Guildwood are fantastic for Marit. She picked up ten points at the direct expense of the Liberals, who lost ten points," Morrison said. "I'm sure the Liberals are celebrating but I'm sure they're taking a look at how the vote broke down and they must be worried."
In Bytown, Morrison called McCrimmon's victory a "referendum on Premier Ford's performance." "I would temper all this by saying you have to take byelections with a grain of salt," she explained. "These are indicators. They're not necessarily the way things are going to look in a general election."
So what: With the two wins, the Liberals now have nine seats — with three more needed to secure official party status at Queen's Park, including financial resources for caucus and additional speaking time on the House floor.
The NDP had hoped to capitalize on the Grits' no status at Queen's Park in Scarborough — circulating a flyer to residents that said "the Leaderless Liberal Party, with just seven seats in the Legislature, don't have the strength to stand up for us." "They are limited in their ability to ask questions about local issues and debate government legislation," read the flyer. "Without a leader, we don't know what the Liberal Party stands for; we can't count on them to fight for us."
What's next: McCrimmon and Hazell will take their seats when the House reconvenes in September. A date for the newbies' swearing in hasn't been set — but is expected to take place within the month.
There's more coming. Another vote is set to be called in Kitchener Centre — where NDPer Debbie Chapman is looking to hold the seat for the Dippers later this year, facing a challenge from the Greens' Aislinn Clancy in a riding held by the party at the federal level.