Independent MPP makes history, wins in long-time PC riding of Haldimand-Norfolk

·4 min read
Bobbi Ann Brady is the MPP elect for Haldimand-Norfolk. She ran as an independent candidate and got support from the former longtime PC MPP Toby Barrett. (Submitted by Bobbi Ann Brady - image credit)
Bobbi Ann Brady is the MPP elect for Haldimand-Norfolk. She ran as an independent candidate and got support from the former longtime PC MPP Toby Barrett. (Submitted by Bobbi Ann Brady - image credit)

An independent candidate who had never run for a seat at Queen's Park before won big on Thursday night, ending the Progressive Conservatives decades-long hold of the rural, southern Ontario riding Haldimand-Norfolk.

Bobbi Ann Brady emerged from election night as the first woman to be elected as an independent MPP without a past win with a political party. She is also the only independent candidate elected as an MPP in the 2022 election.

"I don't think we really knew we were going to make history, but we have," she told CBC Hamilton, adding it took bravery from voters to bet on her instead of the established party.

Her win came as the PCs and their leader Doug Ford won another provincial election, claiming 83 seats.

The Haldimand-Norfolk riding was previously held by longtime PC MPP Toby Barrett. Instead of running for an eighth term, Barrett suggested Brady, his former executive assistant, take his place.

Submitted by Ken Hewitt
Submitted by Ken Hewitt

Instead, Premier Doug Ford opted for longtime Haldimand County mayor Ken Hewitt, setting the stage for a battle between Brady, who had the support of the longtime outgoing MPP, and Hewitt, who had the party's branding behind him.

Many considered Brady the underdog because, as an independent candidate, she couldn't spend money on campaigns until the writ was issued — but not Hewitt.

"Having the current constituency office and the current association and the current MPP all belonging to the [Progressive] Conservative party backing and working for the independent, it would suggest otherwise," Hewitt said in a phone interview on Sunday.

MZO was big election issue, Brady says

Brady said she thinks Ford didn't want her to be the PC candidate because of a controversial Minister's Zoning Order or MZO.

MZOs allow the province to immediately authorize development and bypass local planning rules to expedite what it wants built. Municipal councils request MZOs on non-provincially owned land.

Although they can be subject to a judicial review, MZOs can't be appealed or rescinded, unless the province does so.

In this case, there's a proposal to build 15,000 homes and bring in 40,000 residents into the Nanticoke industrial lands.

Hewitt supports it but Brady and Barrett don't.

Hewitt said he was picked not because of the MZO, but because of his track record as mayor.

He said the MZO issue is exaggerated and said he thinks the issue isn't relevant to the provincial election.

Brady, meanwhile, said she heard from all sorts of voters while door-knocking who were opposed to the project and said she'll oppose it every step of the way.

Brady credits win to team and 'old fashioned' campaign 

Brady said she spent election night watching her son play hockey before putting on some makeup at 8:30 p.m. while her family watched polling numbers roll in.

"Everyone had me on pins and needles," she said.

"It's very surreal after 27 days of just giving everything you have and going 'I hope it was enough' on that 28th day."

With all 62 polls reporting, Brady beat Hewitt by 2,070 votes, a margin of four and a half per cent.

Almost half of the riding's 93,511 registered voters cast a ballot.

Brady credits her experienced team and an "old fashioned" campaign to her win.

"Not only did I have PC members who knew my work … we also had Liberals and NDP members who said, 'you know what? We're helping the small town girl,'" she said.

"They all went out into their community and they spoke to their friends, neighbours and family, made phone calls just like they would have many, many campaigns ago … we just did all the right things, talked to all the right people and put in the work."

Hewitt said the surprise call from Ford was a blessing but also a curse.

"My campaigns as mayor, you run for about four or five months and this is four or five weeks," Hewitt said.

He said it "physically wasn't possible" to get in front of enough voters and also said he felt he didn't gain enough support from Norfolk County to win.

With a longer campaign, Hewitt thinks he could've won. Now, he's thinking about whether he'll run for mayor again in the fall.

He also congratulated Brady on her win.

Among her plans as MPP, Brady said she wants to improve the quality and access to home care.

She also wants to establish an all-party agriculture and rural issues MPP committee for Ontario.

Brady said some have expressed concerns about her ability to be effective at Queen's Park as an independent, but she said she has allies from all parties and there is "no monopoly on a good idea."

"Democracy needs to be upheld and the way political parties do business has to go back to what we knew many years ago where the grassroots were respected," she said.

"One of the things I want to do is ensure political parties are going to respect the people they serve. You can't take their vote for granted and you certainly can't take their money for granted."

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