The recount in Kitchener-Waterloo is complete, and the result is that long-time Liberal incumbent Andrew Telegdi lost to newcomer Conservative Peter Braid by 17 votes. For 15 years, Telegdi had served as the riding's MP and was widely respected for his work in the community. He won the riding by 9,000 votes just two years ago. Here is the history of voting in the riding (which was created in 1996), starting with the total number of votes in each election and then showing the percentage garnered by each party.
(Note: The population of the city of Waterloo grew 22% from 1997-2005, while the number of people who voted increased 15% from 1997-2008.)
So what happened? There seems to be a confluence of factors.
In the last election, the Conservatives ran a very weak candidate. At the all-candidates meeting he seemed to do little more than read the blurb on the back of the Conservative brochure. This time around they had a stronger candidate. He put me off at the all-candidates meeting, but I was impressed by the way he handled election night and the recount. Also, a Waterloo city councillor I have a lot of respect for (who I believe is a member of the NDP), was quoted in the paper after the election as saying the Conservative candidate is a "great guy." She also pointed out that as a young man with kids, he appealed to that demographic (and that is where his strength was, according to the analysis of voting data).
A local PoliSci prof said that this area has conservative leanings and has been waiting for the right candidate. I'm not sure I buy this (winning with 36% of the vote is hardly an enthusiastic endorsement), although it's true we've had a lot of Conservative representatives. Braid is thought to be a moderate.
In the first all-candidates meeting, which was televised, Telegdi made a slip of the tongue and said he looked forward to working with Elizabeth May to elect Stephen Harper. He didn't realize he said it until the Conservative candidate called him on it, at which point he clarified what he meant and I think to the people in the room the incident seemed like a funny but inconsequential event. However, the Conservatives put the original slip on YouTube and it got a lot of local media coverage. Unfortunately, Telegdi, although he's only 62, seemed a bit vague and bumbling at times that night (probably because he has English as a second language), and the gaffe could have fed into an impression that he isn't completely with it.
Complacency among voters
Many local people, myself included, thought Telegdi had it in the bag. This was supported by the available "data". Vote for Environment said it was a safe Liberal seat and told strategic voters not to worry about a Liberal win but to vote however they wanted. The Election Prediction Project predicted a Liberal win. DemocraticSpace predicted a Liberal win (they also said that Kitchener-Conestogo was too close to call, and the Conservative got twice as many votes as the Liberals). I don't think any of these sites uses actual polling data (at least one takes the results of the last election and applies the latest national polls, a very dodgy methodology). They may be hurting us a lot more than they're helping us.
The Telegdi campaign had polls that showed they were way ahead, and they thought they had it in the bag. They even closed the campaign office for two days before the election, presumably to let everyone enjoy a break for Thanksgiving. Campaign chair Peter Cooke admits they didn't canvass as much as they could have. The polls where the Conservatives made the biggest inroads were in the suburbs, especially among residents who are new to the area and who don't, presumably, already know about Telegdi's reputation in the community as an excellent representative.
The complacency extended further than that. Liberals talk about revitalizing ridings where we haven't been in power for a long time, but another issue is "safe" seats where the party organization has ceased to feel a need to involve local party members. I have written about this before and don't want to kick these guys when they're down, but this riding has not been building its base.
The Liberal riding secretary's father died during the final week of the campaign, with a resulting loss of focus on the campaign.
Dissatisfaction with Liberal party
The anti-Liberal, anti-Dion trend swept southwestern Ontario and the 905 in this election, and while it was widely believed that Telegdi could stand against the trend, he was swept under as well. Our Liberal incumbent in Kitchener Centre, party whip Karen Redmond, also lost her seat in a close race.
Splitting the vote
The Waterloo Regional Record concludes from polling division results that the Green gain came mostly at the expense of the NDP. However, I have heard anecdotally about a lot of local Liberals who voted Green, and when the margin of victory is only 17 votes, that could do it.
Sources of information:
Parliament of Canada page on the riding
City of Waterloo Official Plan Review: Key Facts and Trends 2006.