Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives cruised to an easy victory Thursday night, outperforming expectation and securing a startling 83 seat majority. Despite the gains, it was an election that looked very similar to that of 2018, and nowhere was that more clear than in Northern Ontario.
The NDP captured most of the region’s ridings, compared to the largely Blue southern region.
In Nickel Belt, voters re-elected New Democrat France Gelinas for the fifth consecutive time, raking in over 15,000 votes. It was a decisive victory, with runner-up Randy Hazlett (PC) failing to break 10,000 ballots. Still, Gelinas saw a drop in overall popularity, only earning 50.8 per cent of the vote, compared to 63.5 per cent in 2018.
It was a similar situation in Algoma-Manitoulin, where the NDP's Mike Mantha won fairly easily.
In Sudbury, the race was closer. However, NDP candidate Jamie West, in his first bid for re-election, secured his seat by a wide enough margin, earning 40.8 per cent of votes compared to PC candidate Marc Despatie’s 29 per cent.
In a surprise upset, the NDP lost a seat in the region, with Gilles Bisson falling well short of PC candidate George Pirie in Timmins. Still, they made up for the loss by securing an additional victory in Thunder Bay.
For Northern Ontario, the success of the NDP means another four years represented by the Official Opposition, rather than the government, raising questions about the limits of what can be achieved.
While community members say they’re happy to the New Democrats back in their seats, they hope that Premier Doug Ford won’t prove to be a barrier again to northern priorities.
Jessica Montgomery, president of the Sudbury and District Labour Council, said she was happy with how the NDP performed and was looking forward to once again working with West and Gelinas.
“(They) are tireless advocates for workers and their families,” she said. “I think the polls reflected that.”
While the Conservative majority was not unexpected, Montgomery said it raises concerns for labour and health care advocates, who spent Ford’s last term protesting cuts they say had a significant impact on the region.
“The PC government needs to address the health care crisis and the staffing shortages in the North and the first thing that needs to be done is to repeal Bill 124 in order to rebuild our health-care system,” she said.
“Let’s hope he upholds his commitments to workers in this province,” added Montgomery. “Despite the PC majority, we are looking forward to Ford listening to our demands as he said in his speech last night when he stated that he is committed to building relationships across Ontario regardless of political affiliation.”
Sudbury Mayor Brian Bigger, who made the rounds Thursday night to congratulate the candidates, took a neutral stance on the performance of the parties.
“I look forward to ongoing work with Premier Ford and his ministers, and I will continue to advocate in support of Greater Sudbury’s growth and prosperity,” he said. “Top of mind is support for our local workforce, businesses, entrepreneurs and seniors.”
Bigger emphasized his hopes of securing funding for ongoing regional projects, including infrastructure, climate change resiliency, and affordable housing.
He said he would also like to see building asset renewal projects for Junction East and a proposed twin pad arena in Valley East. Funding for Laurentian University, NOSM, the University of Sudbury, and Health Sciences North will also be a top priority.
Neil Milner, board chair of the Sudbury Chamber of Commerce, said the organization didn’t have specific expectations going into the election, but highlighted similar issues that he hopes to see the provincial government focus on in northern Ontario.
“Our hopes are that the provincial government will expedite the development of mining opportunities in Ontario, as well as the Highway 69 project,” he said. “Those two specific projects the chamber has been actively lobbying the government for years. We also hope that they’ll address the labour shortage.”
He also emphasized the importance of increasing housing affordability and improving health care and mental health services.
Of Gelinas and West, he said they “work hard for the community. We hope that not just Jamie and France, but all levels of government will work collaboratively to make sure that we continue to be a prosperous community.”
While skepticism of the Ford government’s willingness to address these issues remains, former Sudbury MPP Rick Bartolucci, also a former Liberal cabinet minister, said the PCs’ success was well-deserved.
“I had the Liberals in second place and the New Democrats in third,” he said of the Liberal party's failure to live up to expectations at the polls. “But the people of Ontario spoke resoundingly clearly over the course of the election.”
He said Ford deserves a lot of credit for picking a clear message and sticking with it.
“He captured the labour vote, he captured the working person’s vote, and he deserves the win,” he said. “I look forward to Doug Ford living up to his commitment to be the premier for all of Ontario. He has a big job ahead of him.”
In the meantime, though, Bartolucci said both the Liberals and NDP need to take the election as a clear indicator that their messaging — or lack thereof — isn’t working.
“The job of the New Democratic Party is a tough one, because they have to advocate for what is needed in Northern Ontario and be very aggressive trying to get it,” he said. “The New Democrats are going to have to do some rebuilding as they move forward.”
The Liberals, who performed poorly, need to “take a good lesson from what Doug Ford said and did and try to recapture for the party where we belong,” he said. “We’ve always been a centrist and we lost our way when Kathleen Wynne became the premier.
"We haven’t articulated our centrist view, and if I had any advice, my view would be that we define ourselves as Liberals, clearly spell out what our vision is, and do it.”
The Local Journalism Initiative is made possible through funding from the federal government.
Mia Jensen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Sudbury Star