There was a general air of voter apathy surrounding the recent by-election in the riding of Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes, as the expected Conservative win surprised nobody, given the traditional leanings of the region’s voters. There was, however, some surprise at the size of Michael Barrett’s victory.
In the last General Election, Gord Brown’s majority had been clearly reduced by the Liberal candidate, Mary Jean McFall, and there was a suggestion that the majority might be even further threatened by the same candidate for the Liberals this time around. After all, with the loss of Gord Brown, the Conservatives were running a relative unknown against someone who has had a high level position within the federal government of Justin Trudeau.
The visit of the Prime Minister to both Kemptville and Brockville in support of Mary Jean McFall during the last days of the campaign was expected to give the Liberal vote a boost. His drive-by visit to Kemptville certainly drew a bigger crowd than that of Andrew Scheer or Elizabeth May, both of whom were visitors to the municipality around the same time.
Instead, Michael Barrett took 58% of the total vote cast, increasing his party’s share by 11 points, whereas the Liberals won just 36% of votes, a drop of five points on the general election. The Green’s Lorraine Rekmans came within a couple of dozen votes of overtaking Michelle Taylor of the NDP for third place.
A few things can be gleaned from these results. First of all, with a voter turn-out of just 34%, it seems the people of Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes are tired of elections. Three of them this year may have been one too many. The short campaign this time also took away from voter attention and a chance to take a close look at the candidates. The NG Times could not find a date to hold an all-candidates meeting in this municipality for that reason.
The sometimes extreme reaction to Justin Trudeau visiting Kemptville also underlined the deep antagonism which exists in this part of the world for the Prime Minister personally, and this must have expressed itself in the voter turn-out for Michael Barrett. In brief, the Tories turned out in numbers, the Grits didn’t match that. And so, normal service has been restored in North Grenville. That will please many and displease others. But the demographics of this riding are changing, however slowly, and the next round of elections should prove very interesting indeed.