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Pettapiece unseats Wilkinson in close Perth-Wellington race

by Mike Robinson and Chris Daponte

PERTH-WELLINGTON - If Premier Dalton McGuinty ever wonders what cost him his third majority government, the results in this riding should be at the forefront.

Minister of the Environment and incumbent Liberal MPP John Wilkinson was narrowly defeated by Progressive Conservative Randy Pettapiece in one of the last races to provide results late in the evening on Oct. 6.

Wilkinson, favoured by many to win the Perth-Wellington riding, led the polls several times during the back-and-forth race on election night, but ultimately he finished 630 votes short, with 13,652 or 38.8%.

Pettapiece gained momentum late in the evening, winning with 40.6% of the votes (14,282).

NDP candidate Ellen Papenberg was the only other candidate to receive significant support, with 5,596 votes or 15.9%.

The Green Party’s Chris Desjardins (877 votes or 2.5%), Family Coalition Party’s Irma DeVries (611 or 1.7%) and Freedom Party’s Robby Smink (158 or 0.5%) rounded out the race.

Pettapiece was somewhat surprised at the results, though he said he was expecting a close race, considering Wilkinson served as MPP in the area for eight years and was one of McGuinty’s key cabinet ministers.

Pettapiece admitted to being a bit nervous about his new role as Perth-Wellington MPP, and said one of his biggest concerns will be the Green Energy Act.

“I am going to encourage my party to continue its efforts to make changes,” he said.

He campaigned against the Liberals’ Green Energy Act, which effectively takes the decision making process for wind energy farms away from local municipalities.

Wilkinson had argued the province was best suited to deal with wind turbine applications and said at an all candidates debate in Alma that he would accept the decision of voters, regardless of the result.

But the Minister of Environment was very quiet following his defeat.

The London Free Press reported that upon arriving at his campaign get-together after the polls closed on Oct. 6, Wilkinson took the unusual step of sequestering himself in a private room and declining to speak with reporters.

His camp perpetuated his reticence the following morning, when campaign manager Amber Anderson told the Advertiser Wilkinson might not be giving interviews, but she would be in touch. As of Oct. 12, she had neither called back nor returned a subsequent phone call.

Papenberg, of Drayton, said she was “very surprised” Pettapiece won the Perth-Wellington seat.

She attributed Wilkinson’s loss to “a combination of a lot of things,” although two were more prominent than the others.

“People were very upset about the wind turbine situation,” she said, adding Wilkinson’s previous cabinet job of trying to sell the HST likely didn’t help him, either.

Papenberg said spoke to Wilkinson after the results were in and he  espoused the importance of democracy.

“I agree with him, but I would rather see proportional representation so it is really fair,” she said, adding many votes are wasted in the current system.

Overall, Papenberg said she is happy the NDP gained seats across the province and she thinks she would have garnered more votes personally had it not been for “strategic” voting.

She opined many local voters felt it was too risky to vote for the NDP because they felt too strongly one way or the other about the Liberals or PCs.

But all things considered, she is happy with increased support locally (she received about 3,900 votes in the federal election in May).

“I’m very pleasantly surprised my numbers are up,” she said.

Desjardins could not be reached by press time and DeVries said in an email she encourages Pettapiece to “make the difficult decisions to put our province back on track with boldness and courage.”

DeVries and Papenberg noted the local campaign was a very clean one, with candidates focusing their attacks on the issues and not each other personally.

Pettapiece also echoed that sentiment. In his election speech he thanked Wilkinson for his service over the last eight years.

“While we may not have agreed on many issues, I respect his work and I wish him and his family all the best in their future endeavours,” Pettapiece said before a crowd of his supporters.

“To the other candidates - Ellen, Chris, Irma and Robby - I say congratulations on a good campaign. We live in a great democracy and I was honoured to have run in this election with such worthy fellow candidates.”

Pettapiece took time out to thank his family, as well as his supporters and campaign workers.

“I hope that I can begin to repay your hard work with honest and sincere service as your new MPP,” he said.

Pettapiece also told the crowd he is honoured to be able to serve the residents of Perth-Wellington at Queen’s Park. He said throughout the riding, people were always welcoming and sincere in expressing their concerns.

“The people of Perth-Wellington wanted change, and today we delivered on that change,” he said.

“Now, the hard work begins as we work to build the kind of Ontario that we can all be proud of.”

Finally, Pettapiece recognized all those who cast ballots in Perth-Wellington.

“I will work hard to be the MPP for all of you, regardless of how you voted,” he vowed.

As for other pressing issues, Pettapiece said he wanted to continue encouragement of the Risk Management Program to help farm families. Yet energy seemed to be his top priority.

“Even up to the last day of knocking on doors, there were concerns about provincial energy policies,” he said.

He added some people using smart meters are seeing huge increases in their hydro bills. Pettapiece said high energy costs are also having an impact on local industry as well.

“It’s getting to the point where it is too expensive for businesses to operate in Ontario,” he said. “We need to make sure the manufacturing sector has affordable energy.”

While somewhat disappointed with the overall provincial results - and his party’s unchanged status as the official opposition - Pettapiece said “the voters have spoken.”

He added he fully intends to be part of his party’s strong voice and he believes the PC Party will be able to work together with the new minority government.

Pettapiece also gave a positive nod to newly re-elected Wellington-Halton Hills MPP Ted Arnott, whose guidance he  looks forward to receiving in the coming weeks.

“Ted’s been very supportive and encouraged me to keep at it throughout the campaign,” said Pettapiece.

In the short term, he said he looked forward to taking Thanksgiving weekend off to spend some time with his family.




October 14, 2011


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