Paul's Internet Landfill/ 2023/ Kitchener Centre Provincial Byelection Preblather

Kitchener Centre Provincial Byelection Preblather

Welp, Laura Mae Lindo stepped down as Kitchener Centre MPP to take another job, so now we are stuck with a byelection scheduled for... tomorrow. I have been sitting on this entry for nine days, so if I am going to write some preblather I had better get on with it.

To nobody's surprise, I am fairly angry about this election. It seems I am angry about every election these days, but this one is particularly irritating. My anger is nuanced in the sense that I can understand of the various players that are doing irritating things, but those things are still irritating.

If you want a polite summary of the election and its leading candidates, Melissa Bowman has you covered. Note, however, that she is fairly strongly in support of Aislinn Clancy, which is very much not my position.

If a polite summary is not enough and you want an angry, underinformed rant, then read on. The primary resource I used to evaluate the three main candidates was this Rogers debate, although I also read some news articles and Reddit posts.

Laura Mae Lindo Betrayal

Laura Mae Lindo's official story is that she stepped down because childcare was too expensive. Although this is not outright false, this is deeply misleading. My strong feeling is that Lindo stepped down because (a) she got a better job, and (b) she wanted a big publicity stunt. Lindo really likes her demonstrations, so what better way to leave her job than to declare childcare costs are too expensive even for an MPP?

I am not buying the official explanation. Child care costs were high during the last term of office too. Not only did Lindo finish her term, but she ran for re-election. If childcare costs were so onerous then why didn't she stand down and let somebody else run for the NDP? If it was really that important to have the voices of single parents at Queen's Park, then why did she stay through her second term? The story is not coherent. Meanwhile, the voters of Kitchener Centre now have to go through the hassle of at least one and probably two byelections.

Overall I thought Lindo was a reasonably effective MPP. She did lots of activism at Queen's Park and apparently worked on some legislation too. But I am not happy with her decision to leave a few months into her new term.

The Haves and the Have Nots

Depending on how you count, there are only three (maybe four) contenders in this election:

Meanwhile there are 18 candidates total declared in the byelection. With the exception of John Turmel none of them are getting any attention.

Meanwhile, Rob Elliott is a paper candidate who lives in Keswick, Ontario which is apparently 160km away. To nobody's surprise, he has done no press and participated in no debates. That is the standard operating procedure for Conservative candidates, but having somebody nominated who isn't even in the Region is a new low of contempt. If I was a Conservative voter I would be pretty ticked off, but I am not, and there is some chance that the PCs could mobilize their vote and win. The Conservatives are the party that understands that "local representation" in First Past the Post is a sham, and they exploit that whenever they can. But this is a new low.

So on the one hand one candidate is doing no press and getting invited to everything, and 14 candidates are getting no press but getting invited to nothing. That's democracy for you! If I was a supporter of those small parties I would convene an "also-ran" debate inviting all the small candidates, just so they could get their voices out.

The level of contempt for democratic norms on display by both the Progressive Conservatives and the media get me real mad, but it isn't as if either institution will be punished for doing so.

Kelly Steiss

Kelly Steiss is (apparently?) actually running, but you wouldn't know it from the lawn sign war. I have seen one Steiss sign in the wild, but that's it. I think I have seen more New Blue signs up.

Melissa Bowman reminds us that Steiss ran for Waterloo Mayor in 2018, where she finished a distant second to Dave Jaworsky. At the time she was preaching taxpayer rights, and I am sure she is still on that boat. (Update: holy cow. She was the Liberal nominee in the 2022 provincial election as well? I completely forgot this.)

From the Rogers debate it was clear she wasn't interested in talking about her own suitability as a candidate. Rather she wanted to convince us that the Liberals would be the next ruling party, and that Doug Ford was a great big jerk for holding the byelection two days before the Provincial Liberals "choose" their next leader (aka coronate Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie). Sure, the Liberals don't have official party status now, but just you wait until 2026!

There is no question in my mind that Steiss is a fairly Bonnie Crombie Liberal. (She sure isn't a Nate Erskine-Smith one.) The problem is that I have an incandescent rage against Mississauga, and as such I am pretty hostile towards Bonnie Crombie, who is intent on dragging the Liberals rightward so they can compete with Doug Ford. (And apparently it is popular. Shockingly, the pro-business fiscal conservative candidate raised more money than any of her opponents. I WONDER HOW THAT HAPPENED?)

My anger is in fact irrational, and I admit that. I am no fan of Mississauga, but it was Hazel McCallion that ruined that city. I don't know enough about Bonnie Crombie's record to know for sure that I dislike her, but I have heard enough about how Mississaugians like her because she "kept taxes low" to suspect that she (like McCallion) built up a giant infrastructure debt that the city won't be able to handle. Some day that bill will come due. If nothing else Mississauga can't fund its programs through growth any more; it is boxed in by three other municipalities and a lake.

But I feel my anger towards entitled Liberal arrogance is entirely justified, and Steiss has that in spades. Like all Liberals, she doesn't feel that she needs to earn our trust; we will vote the Liberals in because what other choice do we have? (Expect lots of this on the federal level: the more whackadoodle Pierre Poilievre gets, the happier Justin Trudeau will be.) Surely as soon as the Liberals coronate Bonnie Crombie their woes will be over? The sad thing is that they are probably correct, but that does not make me less angry.

Steiss keeps going on about a Liberal majority in 2026. She should run in 2026, then.

She offered up several other misleading statements during the Rogers debate. For one thing she said that (Greenbelt aside) Doug Ford doesn't listen to people and doesn't change his mind. This is demonstrably false. He has flipped on autism, on having people deal with checkpoints during COVID, and on several other files. Nobody is saying he flips for the right reasons, but Doug Ford is not Mike Harris.

Steiss also threw Laura Mae Lindo under the bus by claiming that the riding lacked effective representation for the past several years (presumably since the amazing invisible Daiene Vernile?). That did not match my reality either. Lindo was an opposition member and a backbencher, but she was at Queen's Park doing a lot more than many of the trained seal MPPs elected to office.

I suppose diehard Liberals will vote for Steiss, and maybe disaffected PC voters who are ticked off that the party could not nominate a local candidate. But I would be mightily surprised if she took the riding.

Aislinn Clancy

Okay, fine. Let's talk about Aislinn Clancy.

The elephant in the room is that Clancy was freshly elected as a city counsellor (my city counsellor!) in Ward 10, and then she took a leave of absence after a few months to run for provincial office. That makes it seem as if she is an opportunist, but it gets worse. It turns out she stopped caring about her job as a city counsellor the day after she was elected. During her Reddit AMA she offered this explanation for why she jumped ship:

This was not the plan. I got into politics because Doug Ford is taking our province backwards on climate, on equity, and life is getting harder for people. The day after the election in 2022, he released Bill 23 (and so many after that) that changed the nature of my work on council, robbing my toolbox - almost completely.

I know that some people have had questions about this. At the start of the campaign, I delivered this letter to my constituents in Ward 10. I felt it was important to take this step to effectively represent them and keep my promises.

This line about her toolbox is the standard talking point she has been using to explain why it's fine that she abandoned her Ward 10 constituents. This talking point is deeply, deeply messed up:

Everything about her response demonstrates that yes, she is an opportunist, and no, she does not care one bit about the hardship she is putting her Ward 10 constituents in so that she can try to become an MPP.

The second thing to notice about Clancy is how tightly she is hitching her horse to the Mikes -- Green provincial leader Mike Schreiner and especially federal MP Mike Morrice. Look at that picture on her AMA. With whom is she posing? Look at her responses, and look who adds his response just below each of hers. Watch this AMA videoconference with her and Morrice and observe how half of the video is fawning over Mike Morrice's achievements. People around here seem to like Mike Morrice, so Clancy is trying hard to associate herself as the Second Coming of Mike.

I do not think that is true. I am willing to be proven wrong about this, but as far as I can tell Clancy is in no way close to the calibre of either Mike Morrice or Mike Schreiner. She is aware that as a Green MPP she will have to work twice as hard as everybody else, the way Morrice and Schreiner and Elizabeth May have through the years. But I have seen no evidence that she will do that work. For one thing, she puts up her hands in defeat the day after she is elected to city council. Secondly, I have barely heard anything from her since she was elected. Mind you, I am not following municipal politics (or any politics) all that closely, but somehow Rob Deustchmann and Mike Morrice and Dorothy McCabe have ended up on my radar. Even Debbie Chapman's antics have come up now and again. Clancy? Silence. She talks a big game about organizing apartment dwellers and advocating for renter rights on council, but I don't think I believe her.

Here's the thing. Let's say Clancy is elected and does not put in the work. That makes her look bad. It makes the Ontario Greens look bad, and appear as if it is just the Mike Schreiner party (the same way the federal Greens turned into the Elizabeth May party). Other Green MPs and MPPs have been elected, but with few exceptions (mostly in BC?) only the party leaders have been re-elected. Unless the electorate grows to appreciate Clancy and votes to keep her around in 2026, being swept away by a Bonnie Crombie Liberal is going to be a bad look.

Similarly, Mike Morrice is putting his reputation on the line here. If Clancy gets elected and proves to be a disappointment, it is going to reflect badly on him and his chances of re-election as well. In fact Morrice has already tarnished his reputation -- he has said several times that it would be much easier to collaborate with a Green MPP than with another one. What? So much for the Greens being willing to work with anyone. Is Morrice saying that (super-collaborator that he is) is not effectively able to work with Laura Mae Lindo? With Catherine Fife, who is (was?) the finance critic for the NDP? That is pretty disheartening, and pretty partisan. Shame on him.

I spent a lot of space talking about potential downsides. The potential upside is that the Ontario Greens get an additional MPP, which they will pretend means they are more of a legitimate party. Whether that is actually true depends a lot on whether Clancy does a good enough job that she will be re-elected, which (a) depends on her doing the work, and (b) depends on her not jumping ship for the next opportunity that comes along.

As far as the candidate herself? Obviously she has a campaigning machine behind her, and obviously she can spout talking points. I vaguely remember her offering at least one good insight during the Rogers debate, although (idiot that I am) I did not write it down, so all the haters can use that as ammunition that I am biased. Overall I think she speaks in platitudes and makes promises she cannot keep. She did that during the city council election and she is doing that now.

It looks like Clancy is winning the lawn sign war. I don't put a huge stock in the lawn sign war (the NDP was winning it for years pre Catherine Fife, and it did not matter) but turnout for this byelection is likely to be so low that it might be significant.

I imagine people who want to help the provincial Greens will support Clancy, as will those who like Mike Morrice.

Debbie Chapman

In principle, I ought to be as angry for Chapman running for MPP as I am for Clancy. Both of them are city councillors jumping ship to run for provincial parliament. I am still upset with Chapman (she gives essentially the same answer about her toolbox being taken away, although she uses different words), but it seems less egregious that a councillor who has spent one full term in office then leave for another opportunity.

The debate around Chapman is whether she is actually a NIMBY or whether she is pro-development. Melissa Bowman above reminds us that Chapman voted against building a (small!) apartment complex on Mill St, so they are getting lower density townhouses instead. Chapman clearly has issues with building one bedroom condos, even though there is lots of demand for one bedroom condos still. Chapman was the president of a neighbourhood association and the neighbourhood associations all love her. Given that the local neighbourhood asscociations are amongst the NIMBYist NIMBYs around, I am inclined to put her in the NIMBY camp.

During the Rogers debate there was a big exchange between her and Clancy about whether it was okay to vote against inclusionary zoning. The province said that 5% inclusionary zoning was okay, but Kitchener was only offering 1%, so Chapman voted against it. To my mind that sounds like the perfect being the enemy of the good. Having said that, Chapman does express some nuance and insight other candidates lack. For example, she was the only one to mention the Regional Official Plan as our strategy to prevent urban sprawl.

On the other hand, it very much seems that she will be a trained seal backbencher in the NDP caucus. She is prominent enough that PC housing minister Paul Calandra took a potshot at her but I do not know how much she will accomplish. She dutifully parrotted a lot of NDP talking points during the Rogers debate. Perhaps the most infuriating thing she said was giving Marit Stiles the credit for Doug Ford reversing the Greenbelt decision, when it was very clearly reporters at the Toronto Star and the Narwhal that got that ball rolling. Without that reporting Stiles would have been powerless.

In my municipal election preblather entry I claimed that Chapman would not be a disaster as a city councillor. I don't know whether she has been a disaster or not, but if you are inclined to believe Reddit you might see her as an impediment to getting more (denser) housing built in Kitchener, and on that basis you might want her to fail upwards as an MPP to clear the seat on city council. Municipal politics enjoys huge incumbent advantage, and there is little question in my mind that Chapman could hold on to her seat for several terms if she wants. However, there is no guarantee that if Chapman vacates the seat it will go to somebody is more enthusiastic about densification. Brooklin Wallace was a distant second last election, and it is completely conceivable that a big name could step in to run in the municipal byelection, vaccuuming up enough votes to win with relative ease.

Chapman vs Clancy

Reddit and the Twitterati seem to think this is a race between Chapman and Clancy. I am less convinced of that, but it seems plausible. Clancy is winning the sign war, but there are a surprising number of households sporting both Chapman and Clancy signs.

I am irritated at their justifications for leaving city council, and irritated that if one wins the other will resume her council seat. If either of them had any integrity they would live by their principles, accept the loss of their toolboxes, and resign their council seats so people who feel they can do something productive in the positions can take over. But of course they won't -- they will disparage city council while running for MPP, and then crawl back to safety when they lose.

I am not convinced that either Chapman or Clancy will survive the 2026 provincial election, but if they do good work then maybe?

I don't like either of these candidates much, but I guess I can live with whomever wins.


Uncle Wikipedia says that the turnout for the provincial election was 46%), at 39k votes. I expect turnout will be much lower for this byelection. That means a few voters could have an outsized influence, which means that if one of the major party mobilizes its supporters effectively it could win.

That means Rob Elliott could win the election, which would be a huge slap in the face to Kitchener Centre and a huge humiliation for the other parties contesting this election.