The resignation of PC MPP Elizabeth Witmer, who is the incumbent in the riding of Kitchener-Waterloo, to become chairwoman of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board is more than the loss of one of Queen's Park's most experienced and moderate legislators - it downright politically convenient for the ruling Ontario Liberals, who are probably more than sick of having to haggle with the Opposition NDP in order to get anything passed.
You'll hear some things like, oh, the Liberals lured her away - partially true, but Witmer is a lifelong Tory, fairly secure in her riding, and she didn't have to accept the position. She said she's not leaving because of Hudak's leadership, but I would suspect that it's more than likely the PC's rightward trajectory these days made her more than uncomfortable.
Either way, it's not a floor-crossing so it doesn't hand the Liberals a majority, but it does tie up Queen's Park. There are now 52 Liberals, 53 Opposition members (36 PC + 17 NDP), and Speaker Dave Levac. The Opposition could still theoretically take down the government at this point, but if the next MPP for Kitchener-Waterloo is a Liberal, that makes it 53-53, plus the Speaker - and the Speaker usually votes with the government (because the Speaker must vote to preserve the status quo in cases of ties).
But that relies on the singular question: can the Liberals win Kitchener-Waterloo?
The short answer is yes. As you can see with the map above, and you can see more interactively here, K-W is not exactly a Tory lock, even with Witmer in it. Here's a short riding history:
But the long answer is a lot more complicated. While this riding has been a PC-Lib fight, the NDP do have a relatively stable base here, and came in a close second in 1990 during Bob Rae's surge. And right now, the NDP are doing pretty damn well in the polls, while the Liberals are feeling the pain, and the PCs sitting stable.
Here's how I have the riding in my average, and with the two recent Forum and Environics polls:
Rolling average: 43% PC, 32% Lib, 20% NDP
Forum Research: 43% PC, 28% Lib, 24% NDP
Environics Poll: 46% PC, 26% Lib, 22% NDP
My guess is that if the current numbers hold, it's likely to see the PCs hold the riding, with the Liberals likely second and the NDP a close third. But by-elections can either be predictable or the polar opposite of it. And given the recent news of downgrades, and how well the budget gimmicks go over, we could see numbers shift even more.
So is it possible for the Liberals to win Kitchener-Waterloo? Absolutely. But is it likely? Not in the current climate, and people may want to be prepared for an NDP upset of some magnitude (either win the riding or come in second). After all, if this is a Liberal-friendly riding, it could end up being very NDP friendly as well.