This is my final post for the Toronto Star’s Speak Your Mind, as published on their website this morning and reprinted here by their kind permission. Please ignore the shameless self-promotion in the final paragraph as it was meant for non-regular readers of this blog.
In the City of Burlington, the more things stay the same, the more they stay the same.
In a result that surprised only the politically naïve, Conservative Jane McKenna maintained the PC’s 70-year hold on the riding by a few thousand votes over her closest opponent, Liberal Karmel Sakran. The NDP’s Peggy Russell was a distant third, although she improved the NDP’s vote totals from 2007. None of the other party candidates made a dent. In the end, the status quo reigns.
A couple of lessons to take from this result – primarily, that the Blue Machine in Burlington remains formidable in its city-wide presence and get-out-the-vote efforts, and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. Despite the troubled and controversial candidate nomination process Team Blue underwent in the pre-writ, this riding boasts a solid bloc of Conservative voters who will remain loyal no matter whose name is on the ballot. It is noteworthy to mention that what distinguishes Burlington from next-door neighbour Oakville, where Liberal Kevin Flynn was re-elected to his third term, is that most unlike Oakville, Burlington boasts a fairly large rural community. Province-wide, the Tories cleaned up in the rural ridings. Many rural voters are upset with Liberal policies like the Greenbelt, a swath of which dominates Burlington’s north, and a general feeling, justified or not, that their concerns are passed over in favour of the urban areas. Those voters tend to be get-government-out-of-the-way conservatives and they always make it to the polls in large numbers.
And yet, the combined total of Liberal and NDP votes exceeded McKenna’s numbers by a considerable margin, suggesting conservatives are outnumbered in Burlington by a majority of generally progressive voters who could finally tip the balance if a single progressive candidate could rally their support. Burlington’s council leans progressive and its mayor once ran federally for the Green Party, so it’s a misconception to assume that the city’s political leanings are as far to the right as say, somewhere in Alberta. Despite the apparent Conservative lock, the riding remains poachable.
One of the things that the federal Conservatives are regularly pilloried for is to have their nominees or failed candidates acting as “shadow MP’s” in their ridings, establishing a community presence and visibility with an eye to the next electoral cycle. More often than not, it pays off – witness their gains in the GTA on May 2nd – and there is no reason why the Liberals or NDP couldn’t do that in Burlington either. Find a face and get out there at local events and rallies starting tomorrow – not to undermine the MPP, but to humanize an alternative, and to try and suck some oxygen out of the traditional charges levelled too often without response against Liberals and New Democrats.
That’s tomorrow’s challenge, anyway. Right now we offer congratulations to Jane McKenna as she takes her seat in the Legislature and hope that Dalton McGuinty’s foray as the leader of a minority government is more productive than Stephen Harper’s – that McGuinty’s focus will be on governing, not playing political games and seizing every opportunity to make the opposition look bad. McGuinty can solidify himself as a true statesman by making this minority work and proving that Ontario was smart in trusting him with a third mandate, that the unpopular choices he made were the right ones. Who knows – if he is successful in shepherding Ontario back to economic prosperity, there might be another job opening up in 2013 he’d become the odds-on favourite for – one that is currently held by another Premier of Ontario.
I’d like to thank the Toronto Star and Speak Your Mind for the wonderful opportunity to share my thoughts about my hometown and this election with you. I’ll be continuing to blog at www.grahamscrackers.wordpress.com if you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read here and would like to see more. Or you can follow me on Twitter at @thegrahammilne. In closing I’d just like to remind everyone that our democracy is one of the most precious possessions we have, one that is envied the world over and is yet the most fragile of gifts. We have been entrusted with this flame and we are morally bound to keep it bright. Because the road back to the worst of dictatorship and despotism begins when good people choose to stay home and close their eyes.
Keep them open.