| Sep 15, 2011

Editorial Jeff Green

Liberal candidate Bill MacDonald has been preparing for the provincial election campaign that is now underway for at least four years, and he is putting everything he has into it.

But in electoral politics the local campaign is usually limited in its impact on the election because people trend towards political parties based on the leaders’ campaigns and sometimes on crude but effective advertising.

There are a number of polling companies working on this campaign, and as well as tracking voter intentions regionally and province-wide, some riding-by-riding predictions have also been made.

Conservative MPP Randy Hillier received just under 2% more votes than Liberal Ian Wilson last time around (40.58% to 38.76%), a margin of 820 votes. So, as Bill MacDonald put it on the eve of the campaign, he only has to convince 411 Conservative voters to change their vote to him in order to win.

MacDonald has been out on the hustings throughout the summer at each and every event imaginable, talking to voter after voter, in search of those 411 votes.

There are other factors, however. One is the popularity of Randy Hillier himself, particularly in his home base of Lanark County, and another major one is the relative overall support for the parties. And this is where Randy Hillier has an advantage. In 2007 the Liberals received over 40% of the votes and the Conservatives 31%.

Even though the most recent polls show a change in favour of the Liberals, at best the two major parties are each about 35 or 36 per cent, which is the highest the Liberals have risen to in a couple of years. The Liberal surge of recent weeks has taken place in every region of the province, save one. In Eastern Ontario the Conservatives still hold a commanding lead, at 46%. The Liberals came into this election holding 70 of the 107 seats and the best they can realistically hope to do is retain as many as those as possible. Gaining seats anywhere in the province, particularly this part of the province, is a long shot for them at best.

There are, on the other hand, always local factors. Randy Hillier is not your average politician. He started in politics as an anti-government activist with a libertarian bent. If it was not Hillier who coined the Lanark Landowners’ slogan “Back off government, get off my land,” he certainly has personified it.

That makes him a bit of an odd fit for an MPP and a member of one of the political parties responsible for creating the bureaucratic structure that he has made his name by attacking and ridiculing.

As an MPP he has worked with constituents in their own battles with the bureaucracy and has been involved in a lot of the internal political struggles within his party. While he was the darling of the City of Ottawa newspapers when he was organizing tractor rallies at Parliament Hill or delivering manure to government offices with the Lanark Landowners, he has become the whipping boy of the Ottawa Citizen of late. There was an article attacking Hillier for the role he played in the selection of his Landowners colleague, Jack McLaren, as the Conservative candidate in the riding of Carleton-Mississippi Mills over long-serving incumbent and Hillier rival, Norm Stirling. This week there have been a number of pieces about a dispute between Randy Hillier’s wife and Revenue Canada over property taxes. These articles may have more of an impact on his party’s chances in Ottawa ridings than on Randy Hillier’s own campaign for re-election.

If the Conservatives happen to win power and Hillier is re-elected it will be interesting to see what kind of role he plays. He has said that if the Conservatives are elected a number of regulatory frameworks, including environmental regulations, will be streamlined or done away with, freeing up rural landowners to do more with their land. This is not the type of policy that his leader, Tim Hudak is talking about during the election campaign, although it is consistent with the smaller, less intrusive government that Hudak favours.

For his part, Bill MacDonald is promising to bring more of the province into the riding, in the way of government investments in local infrastructure and business.

As the two men face off in all-candidates’ meetings, we can look for these differing views of the role of government to come to the fore.

The other factors in all this are the Green and NDP candidates, Nancy Matte and Dave Parkhill. The Greens have polled reasonably well in this riding at times; in 2007 Rolly Montpelier received 7% of the vote for the Greens and Ross Sutherland 12.3% for the NDP.

On a provincial level, the NDP are well up in the polls from where they were in 2007, which may give Dave Parkhill a leg up. But barring a huge increase, such as the orange wave that happened federally last April and May, the NDP will not win this riding.

This raises the possibility of a strategic voting initiative.

During the provincial election in 1999, in the former riding of Hastings Frontenac Lennox and Addington (HFL&A), Leona Dombrowsky was running for the Liberals. She campaigned as hard as she could and openly courted NDP and Green supporters, saying the only way to prevent a second majority for the Mike Harris Conservatives was to vote Liberal. The strategy failed on a province-wide level, but it worked in HFL&A, and Dombrowsky won handily.

For Bill MacDonald to win LFL&A on October 6, he will need to do more than pick up 411 votes because his party is not as popular now as it was in 2007. He will need to “borrow” some of the 5,000 plus NDP votes and 3,000 plus Green votes to prevent Randy Hillier from being re-elected.

If the Liberal party continues to rise in the polls at the expense of the Conservatives, and if that rise extends to Eastern Ontario, then a strong local campaign may give MacDonald a fighting chance to win the riding. But it will not be easy to unseat Randy Hillier, as controversial a figure as he may be, partly because there are more than a few people in this riding who kind of like the idea of sending a rogue to Queen’s Park.

The Frontenac News will be providing opportunities to meet, listen to, and question all the candidates.

Next Monday, September 19, we are presenting an all-candidates meeting, at 7 pm at the Verona Lions Hall on Verona Sand Road, (which runs west off of Main Street / Road 38 at the southern end of the village)

On Friday, September 23 also at 7:00 there is a meeting at the Kaladar Community Centre on Hwy. 7 just east of Hwy. 41 on the north side (next to Bence Motors).

A third meeting to discuss the candidates’ positions on Public Education, is being organized by the Limestone District School Board. It is scheduled for Monday, September 26 in Sydenham at Loughborough Public School, also at 7:00 pm.

I will be moderating all three meetings.

We will also be publishing profiles of the candidates in our September 29 issue.

In my view, we have four dynamic candidates with radically divergent views and ideas about what should be done in Ontario.

It will be interesting to hear what they have to say.


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