A new poll suggests that the Ontario Progressive Conservatives are well-placed to hold the riding of Whitby–Oshawa in the by-election scheduled for Feb. 11, but with the Liberals running a close second the race could come down to the wire.

The poll was conducted by Mainstreet Research for Postmedia, surveying 597 eligible voters in the riding of Whitby–Oshawa on Jan. 11. The riding, located east of Toronto, became vacant after the resignation of former PC MPP Christine Elliott a few months after she lost the campaign for the PC party leadership to former Conservative MP Patrick Brown.

PC candidate Lorne Coe led in the poll with 49 per cent support among decided and leaning voters, followed by the Liberals' Elizabeth Roy at 40 per cent. The New Democrats' Niki Lundquist had just 8 per cent support, while Stacey Leadbetter of the Green Party was at 4 per cent. 

In all, 27 per cent of respondents were undecided — a large proportion that could easily sway the results over the course of the by-election campaign.

The sample size also suggests the race could potentially be a lot closer than the top line numbers suggest. With a total of 441 decided and leaning voters, that portion of the sample carries a margin of error of just under 5 per cent. This makes the nine-point gap between Coe and Roy within that margin of error. Of course, this cuts both ways. Coe's lead could be even wider than nine points.

Low NDP support

In the 2014 Ontario election, Elliott took 41 per cent of the vote for the PCs and the Liberal candidate, Ajay Krishnan, took 32 per cent. The Mainstreet poll suggests the margin between the two parties has not shifted, but both are recording higher levels of support than they had in 2014. This has come at the expense of the NDP, which took 23 per cent of the vote in Whitby–Oshawa in the last provincial vote.


Lorne Coe, PC candidate in Whitby–Oshawa. (Durham Region)

The Liberals would have a better chance of wresting the riding away from the PCs if they were taking more of that NDP vote, but the party would also need to take some support away from the Tories. The federal Liberals managed that in the October election, winning the federal riding of Whitby (which largely, but not entirely, overlaps with Whitby–Oshawa) with 45 per cent support to 42 per cent for the Conservatives and just 10 per cent for the NDP. In that race, Justin Trudeau's Liberals took votes away from both parties to come out ahead.

But Kathleen Wynne is not Trudeau. The Ontario premier has some of the lowest approval ratings in the country, and her scores in the 905 area code (where Whitby–Oshawa is located) are even lower than they are in most parts of the province. Nevertheless, considering these low personal ratings for the Ontario Liberal leader, it is noteworthy that her party is as competitive as it appears to be in Whitby–Oshawa. 

The odds do seem stacked against Wynne — the riding and its predecessors have been held for the PCs by Elliott and her late husband, former federal finance minister Jim Flaherty, since 1995.

This is a riding that the PCs should be able to hold, particularly if Patrick Brown is looking to prove that he has put his party on the path to victory in 2018. A PC defeat in Whitby–Oshawa, or even a closer margin than in 2014, may put that in question.

The poll by Mainstreet Research was conducted for Postmedia on Jan. 11, 2015, interviewing 597 eligible voters in the riding of Whitby–Oshawa via interactive voice response. The margin of error associated with the survey is +/- 4 per cent, 19 times out of 20.