The Ontario government was forced today to break a promise over when it will hold the next provincial election.
The date had been set in stone for Oct. 4, which was to mark the province's first fixed election date. But the government said voters will now go to the polls a week later, on Oct. 10, because the initial date conflicts with a religious holiday.
"It is important that our Election Act respond to the needs of Ontarians," Marie Bountrogianni, Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, said in a statement. "Our fixed election date framework was designed with the flexibility to accommodate our cultural and religious diversity."
Under the province's Election Act, the general election is to be held the first Thursday in October every four years. But the province's Chief Election Officer recommended that the date for the next election be changed because Oct. 4 is the Jewish holiday of Shemini Atzeret. Members of the Orthodox Jewish community would not be able to vote that date, Ms. Bountrogianni said.
Premier Dalton McGuinty's government said it amended the Election Act in December, 2005 so that partisan considerations would no longer control the selection of election dates.
Meanwhile, voters will head to the polls Thursday in three by-elections in the province.
Tuesday, Mr. McGuinty, whose government is fighting to hang on to one Liberal stronghold, changed his tune on the minimum wage for the working poor.
The New Democratic Party's campaign to boost the minimum wage to $10 an hour has become the key issue in York South-Weston, a hard-scrabble Toronto riding where the average household income is the second lowest in Ontario. The campaign has picked up considerable traction and that has the Liberals worried.
But instead of attacking the NDP, the Liberals have decided to join them. On Friday, Laura Albanese, 49, an Italian-language news anchor for OMNI TV and the riding's Liberal candidate, issued a flyer saying, "Fighting for a fair minimum wage."
York South-Weston, in the northwest end of Toronto, is one of three by-elections being held tomorrow to fill seats vacated by MPPs who retired or jumped to municipal politics.
Joe Cordiano, a former cabinet minister in the McGuinty government, resigned from York South-Weston in September after 21 years at Queen's Park. Liberal backbencher Tony Wong resigned his seat in Markham and is now a municipal councillor. And Cam Jackson, a Progressive Conservative MPP for 20 years, left his seat in Burlington to make a successful run for mayor of the city.
A government source told The Globe and Mail that both York South-Weston and Markham are "in play." Losing York South-Weston to the NDP would be a blow for the Liberals, who won 61.6 per cent of the votes in the last provincial election. The Tories are expected to hang on to Burlington.
"I'm not going to speculate on the outcome," Mr. McGuinty told reporters Tuesday. "We're just working as hard as we can."
In York South-Weston, the New Democrats have tapped into a deep vein of anger over the 25-per-cent pay rise the McGuinty government awarded MPPs just before Christmas. Their increase has become entangled with the province's minimum wage, which rose 25 cents to $8 an hour on Feb. 1.
"If politicians can give themselves a 25-per-cent raise and the Premier himself can take $40,000 into his own back pocket four days before Christmas, then surely the lowest paid working people deserve a bigger raise as well," said Paul Ferreira, the NDP candidate, who is 34.
In a brief interview after a rally in the riding Saturday, Mr. McGuinty said both the Liberals and the NDP called for an $8 minimum wage during the 2003 election campaign. "We've done that," he said. "The only issue now is what's the best way to get to $10."
While the Liberals are now saying it is just a matter of time before the minimum wage rises to $10, they rejected the NDP campaign in December, arguing that many employers can not afford it.
In Burlington, a fast-growing city of 150,000 people, the Liberals are hoping to gain on the Tories, who won 46 per cent of the votes in 2003. Liberal candidate Joan Lougheed, a 55-year-old nurse and former city councillor, is running against Tory candidate Joyce Savoline, 61, who was chairwoman of Halton Region for 12 years. Both women were instantly recognized by many residents as they campaigned around the city on Monday.
"Joyce Savoline! I know you!," Merna Dack, a resident of a seniors apartment building, exclaimed. "It's terrible that you and Joan are running against each other."
Both Ms. Lougheed and Ms. Savoline said they would push for improvements at Joseph Brant Memorial Hospital if elected. But no one seemed much interested in talking about the hospital, the traffic gridlock or other issues.
Ms. Lougheed braved the bitter cold by going door to door on Delaware Avenue, where both seniors and young families live in the pretty houses. There is no answer at most of the doors, but at the very last house, Ms. Lougheed was thrilled when Jane Riccardi opened her door.
"You've got my vote," Ms. Riccardi said. "I think you're doing a great job."