Ontario Election 2011: Endgame on Brant Street

As published on the Speak Your Mind section of the Toronto Star’s website today and reprinted by their kind permission.

Six weeks.  Six weeks of hand-shaking, baby-kissing, promise-making, mud-slinging and it’s all down to this.  By nine tonight it will all be over and the work of digging Ontario out of its troubles will resume.  Democracy at its finest.

If you believe the polls, and who doesn’t on occasion, Dalton McGuinty and the Liberals are on the cusp of staging a political comeback almost unheard of in Canadian history.  Who would have imagined in the dog days of August when the McGuinty crew was 20 points down, that reporters would be predicting a third consecutive Liberal majority in Ontario?  For Liberals like myself, still smarting from the federal pasting we took on May 2nd, it may well represent a turning of the red tide – and a welcome reminder that we are still part of the conversation, that we haven’t had the fight beaten out of us yet.  But we’ll wait and see where things are by the end of the night before Team Red pops the champagne corks.

The question remains as to how Burlington will fare when the last votes are tallied.  The massive Forum Research poll conducted a week ago had Conservative Jane McKenna leading Liberal Karmel Sakran by nine points.  As I mentioned in my first post, Burlington has a long tradition of voting blue, sending a Conservative to Queen’s Park in every election since 1943.  Will the tradition continue?

McKenna has hit most of the key issues, promising to fund the expansion of Joseph Brant Memorial Hospital and pledging to keep the proposed Mid-Peninsula Highway – which could potentially cut an asphalt swath through the fragile Niagara Escarpment – out of Burlington entirely.  But some of the other promises made by her boss haven’t sat especially well here.  A small Burlington-based green-energy business held a protest on Monday morning against Tim Hudak’s plan to repeal the Green Energy Act, saying it would destroy emerging jobs in this growing sector.  And local municipal politicians are raising concerns over the potential resumption of downloading in service costs that took place under Mike Harris, warning that tremendous property tax hikes could result.

Karmel Sakran and the NDP’s Peggy Russell appear to have both run strong campaigns.  But as it did six weeks ago, the race remains Jane McKenna’s to lose.  The Conservative ethos is so entrenched in the voting population of Burlington it will take a tremendous surge in support for one of the other major party candidates to pry this riding out of their hands after almost 70 years.  Still, it’s noteworthy that Tim Hudak has made several visits to Burlington and chose to stop here on the final night of the campaign to shore up support – as if his internal polling is telling him something else.  We won’t know until tomorrow night if history will repeat itself, or offer up a big surprise.

Joseph Brant himself once said, “We are tired out in making complaints and getting no redress.”  It is crucial that whoever is fated to be Burlington’s next MPP hits the ground running as a committed advocate for our community.  We have seen too many of our representatives acting as invisible seat-fillers, and this great city deserves so much more.  It deserves a champion.  Someone who knows Burlington’s soul and can channel the spirit of its people – cheering the Teen Tour Band during Sound of Music and inhaling barbecue at Ribfest.  Perhaps those expectations are a little lofty for something as ostensibly pedestrian as a provincial election, but if you are selecting an advocate for 175,799 of your neighbours, there’s nothing wrong in aiming as high as you can.  The greater crime is to settle for less.

See you at the polling station, friends.