By Dan Rankin
When then Liberal leader and current Prime Minister Designate Justin Trudeau visited Stratford on Oct. 13, Perth-Wellington Liberal candidate Stephen McCotter said the new PM’s last words to the local Grit hopeful were “I’ll be back.” By electing his Conservative opponent John Nater at the polls on Monday, Perth-Wellington voters have all but guaranteed that will not happen any time soon.
If, for the last eight years or so, three-term Prime Minister Stephen Harper couldn’t find time to visit a riding overseen by long-serving, loyal Conservative MP Gary Schellenberger, it could take some determined work on behalf of the new, now-opposition Member of Parliament to catch the attention of the new majority federal leadership. And the Conservatives may have other things on their mind.
According to Harper’s upbeat concession speech Monday, the party he was leader of for so long will focus on becoming an effective opposition so that “when the next time comes, this party will offer Canada a strong and clear alternative,” based on their Conservative values.
This riding was not alone in the region, as Huron-Bruce, Oxford, Elgin-Middlesex-London and Lambton-Kent-Middlesex joined with essentially every rural riding in southern Ontario from Chatham to Toronto and on to Ottawa in voting for the defeated Tories. The voters of Alberta, Saskatchewan and this province notwithstanding, on Monday voters from coast to coast to coast overwhelmingly chose the change promised by Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party over more of the same from Stephen Harper and the Conservatives.
The Conservatives didn’t receive many fewer votes this time around compared to the 2011 election when they won 166 seats, acquiring about 5.8 million votes of the roughly 14.7 million votes cast (39.62 percent of the total). This past Monday, they received about 5.6 million votes, but only enough to win 99 seats. That’s a loss of 85 seats, and a drop in vote share of 6.9 percent. It’s the first time the Tories have held fewer than 100 seats since 2004. By far, most of the seats they lost went to the Liberals. Prior to the polls closing Monday, CBC.ca had highlighted 30 “Ridings to Watch” across the country where incumbents were either retiring or strongly challenged. Of those 30, 23 seats went to Liberals, three went to the NDP and just four went to the Conservatives.
Some issues that were part of Trudeau’s campaign platform included tax cuts for the middle-class, increased taxes for the wealthy, several years of deficits to pay for infrastructure spending, pulling out of bombing raids in Syria, conducting an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women, and legalizing marijuana.
In the end, Trudeau’s party won 184 seats (good for 54 percent of Parliament, the same majority Conservatives enjoyed after the 2011 election when there were only 308 seats), based on the 6.93 million votes cast in their favour. It’s the first time in history a formerly third-place party has claimed a majority. That’s because the NDP, who under Jack Layton held opposition status with 103 seats, shrank to controlling just 44, receiving over a million fewer votes this election compared to 2011.
Voter turnout was up for this election, from 61 percent in 2011 to over 68 percent nationally Monday. That is about the amount who turned out to the polls locally here in Perth-Wellington. That’s just a shade less than in Lambton-Kent-Middlesex (69.89 percent) and Huron-Bruce (72 percent).
Of the five Conservative candidates who were elected in our immediate vicinity, our new MP won with the slimmest percentage of votes. His 22,255 votes were just 43 percent of the total cast in Perth-Wellington. In Oxford, Dave MacKenzie was re-elected with 45.6 percent of ballots, beating out Liberal challenger Don McKay by 7,614 votes. In Elgin-Kent-Middlesex, Conservative Karen Vecchio received 10,393 more votes than second-place Liberal Lori Baldwin-Sands.
Commenting on the concession speech of former Prime Minister Harper late Monday night, CBC anchor Peter Mansbridge said he felt Harper had known he would lose the election “for some time.” A pundit sitting next to Mansbridge said she expected Harper had “only planned one speech.”
During his victory speech, Trudeau thanked Harper for his service to the Canadian people, pointing out that “Conservatives are not our enemies; they’re our neighbours.”
That’s us in rural Ontario for the 42nd Parliament. Not part of the leadership. Just the neighbours.