Conservative Michael Barrett won a commanding victory in Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes on Monday night.
The 35-year-old Spencerville-area resident, who succeeded the late Tory MP Gord Brown in a December byelection, soared ahead early in his bid to keep the job of local MP and never looked back.
With all polls reporting early Tuesday morning, Barrett had 28,435 votes, or 49.2 per cent of the local popular vote. Liberal Josh Bennett was a distant second with 15,266 votes (26.4%).
NDP candidate Michelle Taylor was in third place with 8,071 votes (14%), followed by the Green Party’s Lorraine Rekmans (5,049 votes or 8.7%) and Evan Hindle of the People’s Party of Canada (978, or 1.7%).
“We have twice demonstrated that the folks in this area … they’re not interested in the program being offered by Justin Trudeau and his Liberals,” a jubilant Barrett, flanked by his photogenic family, told supporters after 11 p.m. at the Brockville Convention Centre.
He thanked his campaign’s volunteers for a vigorous door-knocking campaign that brought success on the ground.
While the Conservatives failed to form government, Barrett considers it an achievement to have reduced a majority Liberal government to a minority.
“Now we know it was a single-use majority,” said Barrett, in an ironic reference to Trudeau’s plans to ban single-use plastics.
“They’ve shortened the leash and we’re going to shorten his term in office.”
Barrett pledged to meet with local municipal leaders to ensure local needs are heard on Parliament Hill.
“Your priorities are my priorities,” he said.
“I can’t wait to get to work for you starting tomorrow morning.”
Bennett was sanguine about the results, saying his local team couldn’t have run a better campaign: It got its message out, knocked on 22,000 doors and explained the Liberal position.
“When I look back at our campaign, I can’t think of anything we could have done more or could have done better. I’m really proud of everything we’ve done as a campaign.”
That’s all you can do in a democracy, Bennett said, and the people have made their decision.
Bennett offered his congratulations to Barrett.
During the campaign, many Leeds and Grenville voters said they were disenchanted by the negative tone of the national campaign, Bennett said. But the local campaign was civil and it focused on issues, not personalities.
Bennett had hoped to reverse December’s disappointing trend for local Liberals, when his predecessor as the Grit standard-bearer, Mary Jean McFall, earned 35.8 per cent of the vote compared to Barrett’s 57.8 per cent.
That result followed a much closer battle between Conservatives and Liberals in 2015, when McFall came within striking distance to earn 40.56 per cent of the vote to Brown’s 47.38.
That, however, was a wave election that swept the Liberals to a majority.
Further down the list, Monday night was a rematch for Taylor and Rekmans, who placed third and fourth respectively in the December byelection, and finished this election in the same positions.
The local campaign was free of the acrimony seen on the national stage, where observers pointed to one of the most divisive elections in recent history.
Barrett sought to keep the discussion focused on the economy, although he did take some pointed digs at Trudeau during all-candidates meetings.
Bennett, meanwhile, joined his NDP and Green counterparts in emphasizing the need to tackle climate change, bringing in Environment Minister Catherine McKenna in September to fire up the local Liberal troops. Following the Liberal playbook in Ontario, he also made sure to refer, repeatedly, to cuts by Ontario Premier Doug Ford, warning a similar fate awaited the country should Tory Leader Andrew Scheer lead the next government.
That message, however, did not resonate in this riding, where Barrett was introduced Monday night by local MPP Steve Clark, who serves under Ford as municipal affairs minister.
(With files from Wayne Lowrie)