Trinity-Spadina byelection not necessarily 2015 election preview

Tempting though it may be — and oh, it is — to view the race to fill Olivia Chow's now vacant federal seat in Trinity-Spadina as a teaser for the next general election, it may be unwise for narrative-hungry political junkies to do so. Kady O'Malley explains it all here.

Boundary changes, city politics could lead to irreproducible electoral results

The race to fill Olivia Chow's now vacant federal seat in Trinity-Spadina isn't necessarily an early preview of how the 2015 federal election could go down. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Tempting though it may be — and oh, it is — to view the race to fill Olivia Chow's now vacant federal seat in Trinity-Spadina as a teaser for the next general election, it may be unwise for narrative-hungry political junkies to do so.

1. Thanks to redistribution, the riding itself won't exist in 2015

Oh, it's not being wiped off the map entirely, of course — in fact, the southern chunk will remain basically intact, with the Annex and nearby neighbourhoods moving into the new riding of University — Rosedale, a change that is ultimately likely to make the renamed Spadina-Fort York an even safer seat for the New Democrats, barring a major ideological shift on the local level.

The byelection, however, will be waged according to the old boundaries — which, pre-Olivia Chow, tended to favour the Liberals, although to be fair, that was back in the days when Toronto itself was viewed as a fortress for the red team.

(The Conservatives, meanwhile, can take some comfort, at least, in the fact that expectations for their performance in Trinity-Spadina are, if possible, even lower than was the case in Toronto-Centre.)

In any case, presuming, at least for the moment, that a 2011-like Orange Wave-inspired landslide doesn't bury their next candidate in by-electoral rubble, it's possible, albeit unlikely, that the Liberals might have a shot at recapturing Trinity-Spadina.

Even if they did, however, it wouldn't necessarily make it any more likely that they'd hang onto it in 2015.

That said, if the Liberals don't at the very least narrow the eventual gap between their candidate and the NDP to single digits, it would be hard to see it as anything other than a blow to those counting on a continuing wave of Trudeaumania sweeping the Greater Toronto Area in 2015.

2. It's all — and always — in the timing

With Chow poised to join John Tory and — of course — Team Ford on the civic hustings, the battle for Toronto City Hall would seem to have begun, which would almost certainly relegate a late spring byelection to the political backburner, at least as far as media and public interest.

Under the new riding boundaries, the renamed riding of Spadina - Fort York is likely to become an even safer seat for the New Democrats - but the by-election will be fought along the old map. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)
Federal hopefuls could also find themselves facing a relative shortage of willing foot-soldiers to fill their campaign offices and phone banks, particularly if Chow's civic bid pulls in volunteers — and, just importantly, strategy and intel — from across the centre-left political spectrum.

There's also a good chance the byelection itself could turn into a sort of proxy advance ballot for the municipal race — although again, barring a true three-way race, it's hard to see how that would play off in what is likely to be a faceoff between the New Democrats and the Liberals.

Even if the PM were to put off calling the Trinity-Spadina byelection until the fall, depending on when House Speaker Andrew Scheer receives the official notice of vacancy, the deadline for dropping the writ would likely be no later than mid-September, which would mean the campaign would likely run straight through the mayoral election — or, alternately, vice versa.

Add to that the remote, but still mathematically possible chance that the provincial government could end up facing the electorate as well, and you've got the makings of virtually irreproducible electoral conditions.

3. As above, not necessarily so below

Byelections, it's worth noting, can be remarkably — and, from a journalistic perspective, at least, delightfully unpredictable, what with the off-season timing, the typically low turnout and the tendency of parties, pundits and, at least in theory, voters to occasionally see them as a referendum on the bigger federal political picture to a far greater extent than is the case in a general election.

Although history suggests that byelection winners usually get a return ticket to Ottawa from their next outing to the polls, that's not always how it happens — and, as noted in the preceding caveats, this particular byelection will likely take place against an over-arching political backdrop that is just as maddeningly mutable.

Add to that the laundry list of unknown factors — starting with the nomination process, which could easily spark internal skirmishing before the writ has even dropped — and it's easy to see why savvy political observers won't necessarily take what happens in Trinity-Spadina as a sign of election results to come. 


  • An earlier version of this story stated that the Annex and nearby neighbourhoods would be moving into the existing riding of St. Paul's, and not the new riding of University - Rosedale.
    Mar 13, 2014 9:36 AM ET