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Grits staying in the wilderness

Fri, 06/01/2018 - 08:15 -- Dan McCaffery

The Liberal party appears to be finished in Sarnia-Lambton.

As of this writing the results of the June election were not known. But what was known as I wrote this column is that the local Grits waited until the eleventh hour before even nominating a candidate. In fact, it was closer to 30 seconds to midnight – just a day before the deadline.

According to news reports, only a dozen party members picked the standard bearer who, it turns out, is from London. He told The Observer he didn’t consider himself a parachute candidate but someone who doesn’t even live in the riding can hardly be described as anything else.

He missed the first all-candidates meeting for the very valid reason that he hadn’t been chosen yet. Needless to say, he went into the campaign facing an almost hopeless up-hill battle.

This isn’t the first time Sarnia-Lambton Liberals have done this. The provincial riding association nominated a woman from Ottawa a few years back. I no longer recall her name and am not inclined to look it up. Suffice it to say she didn’t win.

Not that you can blame her. The Liberals are on a prolonged losing streak locally. Indeed, by my count they’ve lost six elections in a row (four federally and two provincially).

Federally, the Conservatives have held the riding for a dozen years, ever since Patricia Davidson defeated incumbent Liberal Roger Gallaway back in 2006. Davidson won three elections in all before stepping aside. Fellow Tory Marilyn Gladu replaced her and led the party to its fourth straight victory in Sarnia-Lambton.

What’s interesting about those four federal races is that the Liberals weren’t even close to winning most of them locally, even though the party was still strong nationally. Last time out, they were kicked to the curb in this riding despite the fact that their leader, Justin Trudeau, was a very popular figure.

It’s also important to remember that the last Liberal MP from this district – Roger Gallaway – was a maverick who often opposed his own government. It’s one of the reasons he was able to stay in office as long as he did.

Provincially, Bob Bailey has won the seat for the Conservatives during the last two elections, winning despite the fact that the Tories were not well liked in much of the rest of Ontario. He even managed to take the riding by upsetting an incumbent Liberal cabinet minister.

Even more worrisome for the Grits is the fact that they have finished in third place in Sarnia-Lambton in both the last federal and provincial elections. Not only can’t they beat the Tories, they can no longer compete with the NDP.

It seems like a lifetime ago now that this was a solid Liberal riding that produced such proven winners as MP Bud Cullen and MPPs Jim Bullbrook and Paul Blundy. Even the reigns of such fairly successful Grits as MPP Caroline DiCocco and MP Gallaway are starting to recede into the background.

Part of the problem, I suspect, is that this is a riding made up of a lot of old people. And seniors tend to be more conservative than younger voters. Added to that is the fact that there’s a fairly large rural population here and rural Ontario is not inclined to vote for left wing parties.

This could change at some point if the Tories shoot themselves in the foot. If they start dismantling the health care system in order to give tax breaks to the rich, for example, the Liberals could make a comeback.

But barring something like that, I think Sarnia-Lambton’s Grits are going to be in the wilderness for a very long time.

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