On election night, political observers across Ontario scrambled to learn more about Bobbi Ann Brady, the independent candidate who seemingly came out of nowhere to win the race in Haldimand-Norfolk.
But Brady is no stranger to the riding.
As Conservative MPP Toby Barrett’s executive assistant for 23 years, Brady estimates she has helped “thousands” of residents while liaising with numerous community groups, businesses and non-profit organizations.
That familiarity with local issues helped the Lynedoch resident pull off an upset win over Haldimand Mayor Ken Hewitt, who ran for the Conservatives.
“We defied the odds,” Brady said to a jubilant crowd of more than 100 supporters and volunteers at her campaign headquarters in Simcoe.
“We won it the old-fashioned way, by word of mouth and with hard, hard work.”
The Conservatives lost a seat held by Barrett for 27 years after the premier’s office rejected Brady as Barrett’s chosen successor and instead appointed Hewitt, who supports a planned subdivision around the Nanticoke industrial lands that Brady and Barrett vociferously oppose.
An irked Barrett became Brady’s campaign manager, lending his considerable local influence to her campaign.
“Not only was Ken Hewitt running against Bobbi Ann Brady, he was running against Toby,” said Brady.
Local Tories, stung by what they considered the party’s shabby treatment of Barrett and skeptical of Hewitt’s Conservative bona fides, flocked to Brady.
“Let this be a lesson to newly re-elected Premier Doug Ford that we the people of Haldimand-Norfolk choose who our representative is,” said Dustin Wakeford, a former riding association president who praised Brady’s “defiance” of the Conservative establishment in pulling off “one of the greatest political miracles of our time.”
Barrett called Brady’s win “truly historic.”
“Bobbi Ann is the party of all of you,” Barrett told the election-night crowd. “Nobody tells her what to do except the people in Haldimand-Norfolk.”
But Brady’s supporters were not only found among disgruntled Conservatives. Residents from across the political spectrum marked their ballots for the independent, citing Brady’s decades of service to the community through her work in Barrett’s office.
As an MPP, Brady said she will push the Ford government to speed up approvals for internationally educated nurses to work in Ontario and invest in home care to keep patients out of the hospital.
She plans to table a private member’s bill that would create a standing committee focused on rural affairs and agriculture in response to the loss of farmland to development and what Brady sees as the government’s lack of focus on rural issues.
Brady has never held elected office but she is a savvy political operator, having worked on provincial and federal Conservative campaigns and led the local riding association for 20 years.
That experience should help her see to constituents’ needs at the local level, but being outside the party system will make it difficult for Brady to advance her policy goals, according to Jonathan Malloy, a political science professor at Carleton University.
As an independent, Brady cannot sit on parliamentary committees and will not enjoy the resources a party caucus provides.
“On the other hand, because (independents) don’t have party status, they’re able to actually operate a lot more freely and say a lot more things than party MPPs do,” Malloy said.
Brady said she has no plans to rejoin her former party, saying some “housecleaning” is in order among the Conservative ranks.
Brady’s surprise win may have her on the outside looking in politically. But the national kick-boxing gold medallist said she is primed to rattle some cages at Queen’s Park.
J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator