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Ford calls two Ottawa-area byelections for Feb. 27
Jan. 30, 2020
Robert Benzie

Voters in two Ottawa-area provincial ridings will be heading to the polls next month.

Premier Doug Ford called byelections Wednesday for Feb. 27 in Ottawa-Vanier and Orleans.

The contests are to fill seats vacated last year by Liberal MPPs Nathalie Des Rosiers and Marie-France Lalonde.

Progressive Conservative insiders emphasize the governing party has little chance of wresting the ridings from the Grits, who held them when they only won seven seats in the 2018 provincial election.

But sources, speaking on background in order to discuss internal deliberations, say that does not mean the Conservatives will concede the contests without a fight.

The bylections --the first since Ford became premier --are an opportunity for the Tories to road-test some messages and methodologies and gauge the electoral temperature almost midway through their first mandate.

They come against the backdrop of the most widespread labour unrest in Ontario schools since 1997, with all public and Catholic teacher unions engaged in job action.

Ottawa-Vanier was vacated by Des Rosiers last summer when she left to become principal of the University of Toronto’s Massey College. The Liberal candidate there is French-language school board chair Lucille Collard.

Collard was the runner-up for the Grit nomination to Des Rosiers in 2016 and has been campaigning since September.

Carrying the Ford flag is Patrick Mayangi, who works as a legislative assistant on Parliament Hill for Alberta Conservative MP Garnett Genuis.

The New Democrats are fielding Myriam Djilane, who works for Air Canada. Environmentalist Benjamin Koczwarski is running for the Greens.

Orleans had been held by Lalonde, who is now the local MP after winning in October’s federal election. The Liberal candidate there is Stephen Blais, an Ottawa city councillor.

The Tory hopeful is Natalie Montgomery, a doctoral candidate whose husband, Cameron Montgomery finished second to Lalonde in 2018.

Manon Parrot, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 1979, is running for the New Democrats.

Lawyer Andrew West is the Green candidate in Orleans.

Even with the labour turmoil in schools, Ford has carefully timed the byelections, which are taking place in the middle of the provincial Liberal leadership race.

With the Liberals electing a new leader at a March 7 convention in Mississauga, the votes will force the Grits to divert scarce resources to campaigning.

In the same vein, the Tories are holding their policy convention in Niagara Falls on Feb. 21-22, thereby avoiding any hangover of potential byelection defeats.

The votes are also far enough away from the budget --expected to be tabled in late March by Finance Minister Rod Phillips --that they will not be viewed as a referendum on the government’s spending plan.

Phillips is releasing the government’s third-quarter results for 2019-20 on Thursday at Queen’s Park, but those are not expected to have any impact on the byelections.

There are currently six Liberal MPPs in the 124-member legislature after the defection earlier this month of Amanda Simard, who quit the Conservative caucus to protest cuts to French-language services.