It was a closer race than usual in Chatham-Kent-Leamington but for the sixth federal election in a row the riding will go Conservative.
Incumbent MP Dave Epp, who first won election in 2019, repeated by defeating Liberal candidate and long-time local radio show host Greg Hetherington. With 269 of 272 polls reporting Epp has 21,605 votes (40.8%) to Hetherington’s 15,054 (28.4%).
This was Hetherington’s second foray into federal politics after he tried for the Conservative nomination in neighbouring Lambton-Kent-Middlesex last election. Lianne Rood won the party backing and went on to win the riding, repeating that victory Monday night.
It took a little more than an hour after polls closed at 9:30 pm for the race to be called. By the time Hetherington arrived at the Red Barn Brewery in Blenheim for a scheduled watch party Epp was declared victor. Supporters trickling in were forced to adopt a conciliatory rather than congratulatory tone.
The result determined, Hetherington reflected on the past month.
“Disappointed, but more disappointed for my volunteer team,” he says. “Those are the people that I feel the most for. You can see it on their faces here, they’re exhausted, they worked hard, we knocked on as many doors as we could.”
Hetherington says he and his team visited tens of thousands of homes in the riding. “In the end I think we did everything right… There’s winning and then there’s learning. And we learnt something here and maybe we take that away and come up with a different plan later.”
The candidate noted a pair of factors that made for an uphill climb. “It’s just a very tough conservative riding and it’s very hard to chip away at that really strong conservative thinking.” The area has not elected a Liberal since the popular Jerry Pickard stepped down after serving the riding during five consecutive election wins from 1988-2006.
Hetherington also says there is an entrenched dislike of the Liberals and the current Prime Minister in Southwestern Ontario. “I heard it from a lot of people, ‘Greg you’re the best candidate but I can’t vote for your party.’”
“I would be surprised going forward if Justin Trudeau leads much longer, I think two minority governments back to back is a message to the leader that maybe it’s time for a change. We certainly heard that at doors when we were knocking on them,” he says.
Hetherington was happy albeit not surprised with the national result. “I think that we are going in the right direction. I think what we saw happen in Alberta with a conservative government, that's what it would have looked like if Canada was under a conservative government during COVID. Might have been messy.”
“So I’m very happy that we had a Liberal government during the pandemic… To see the numbers come in just about where they were is Canada saying yeah we’re doing pretty good.”
Hetherington added he’s happy the PPC failed to grab a seat, despite a sharp jump locally from last election. Local candidate Liz Vallee has 7,737 votes (14.6%) to place her in a virtual tie for third with Dan Gelinas of the NDP with 7,761 (14.6%).
“It’s comforting to see that the PPC wasn’t as strong as they were letting us believe they were. Because there’s a lot of hate in that party and that’s not what we need to go forward. I know people are frustrated but I think there’s a better way to relay that message,” says Hetherington.
But despite that bit of good news, the night was ultimately far from what he hoped for.
“I hate losing… I am extremely hurt, I can’t lie. I love this community and I want to represent this community and I really think my message is the best one for this community. So for them to give me a qualified ‘no, I’m not good enough for this community,’ it hurts. It’s going to take me a couple of days to get over this,” says Hetherington.
“But the voter is never wrong,” he quips.
And the feeling could perhaps fuel his future decision making. “I try to learn from losing… If we do something else politically down the road that will be a team and family decision.”
“I’ll walk away from this and think what a great experience. Not everybody gets this chance to see this many people support you. It’s pretty cool.”
Alex Kurial, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Independent