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Liberal candidate John Wilkinson wins handily in Perth-Wellington

by Chris Daponte

PERTH-WELLINGTON - Four more years. That’s what supporters of Dalton Mc­Guinty could be heard chanting after last week’s provincial election.
And for residents in Perth County, that’s exactly what they’ll get locally as well - four more years of representation from incumbent Perth-Middlesex MPP John Wil­kin­son, who won a decisive victory in the newly-formed riding of Perth-Wellington.
For those living in the north­ern part of Wellington County - Mapleton, Minto, and Wellington North - Wilkinson will be a new face and voice for them in Queen’s Park.
He won by receiving 18,249 votes (47%), almost 6,000 more than his closest opponent, Progressive Con­ser­vative candidate John Ruth­erford, who had 12,391.
Wilkinson said last week he is obviously thrilled with the results, and was overwhelmed by the support he received, particularly from those in Well­ington County.
When asked to what he attributed his decisive win, Wil­kinson said his tireless campaign effort was the most important factor.
“If hard work and effort count for anything, that was likely the difference,” he said, noting he also made a wise decision to get nominated last year, which gave him extra time to visit constituents.
As the incumbent in Perth, Wilkinson said he was able to run on his record, but that was not the case in Wellington.
And rather than rest on his laurels and rely on support in Perth County to get him elected, he said he made an extra effort to visit those in the new part of his riding, whom he said were very welcoming.
He referred to his own “rural mentality,” to explain that to win an election you have to knock on as many doors as possible and ask for support.
“Why would you vote for someone you never met?” he wondered.
When asked if he was surprised by his margin of victory, Wilkinson said he really had no clue what would happen.
He knew he had strong support in Perth County, but noted the people in northern Welling­ton are losing a great MPP in Ted Arnott, who has now moved to the Wellington Halton Hills riding.
But he feels he and Arnott are “cut from the same cloth,” despite being members of different political parties; and that may explain some of the support he received inWellington.
“Now it’s my job to prove to them that I deserve to be there,” he said. “I look forward to spending as much time in Wellington County as possible.”
Wilkinson acknowledged there is some discontent with electoral boundaries that seem to be constantly changing, but he feels under the new boundary at least lower tier municipalities will be represented by just one MPP, and not two or three, as has been the case in the past.
And despite being from Stratford, he has made a commitment to the new consti­tu­ents in his riding.
“It’s important for the people of Wellington County to know I’m available to them,” he said, adding that just two days after the election his of­fice had already received three calls from Wellington constituents asking for his help.
As for the next four years, Wilkinson said supporting farm­ers, improving rural health care, and keeping rural schools  open will be a few of the main issues he hopes to address in the riding.
Wilkinson said he was not surprised by the results of the referendum, nor was he disappointed. Personally, he has al­ways maintained that any system with larger ridings, specifically in rural areas, is a bad idea.
About 63% of those those who voted want to maintain the status quo and stick with the First Past the Post electoral system, while just 37% voted in favour of the alternative, Mixed Member Proportional. In Perth-Wellington the discrepancy was even larger, with nearly 68% voting for the First Past the Post system.
Liberal candidate John Ruth­­erford, who received 32% of the votes, had a mixed reaction to the results of the local election, which he felt for some time he had a good chance of winning.
He said on one hand he was surprised with the size of Wilkinson’s margin of victory, but on the other, he is not really that shocked at the outcome.
When asked to explain the reason for the margin of Wilkinson’s victory, Ruther­ford said it can be partially attributed to low voter turnout, but it really boiled down to one issue, education funding.
“I think that issue really haunted us,” Rutherford said of Progressive Conservative  lead­er John Tory’s $400-million proposal to extend public funding to faith-based schools.
He explained that many voters are opposed to that plan, so some chose to abstain while others gravitated to different parties this time around.
“The people have spoken,” he said, adding he congratulated Wilkinson on election night, and has nothing personal against the Liberal winner, who also ran a good campaign.
Rutherford said many people have said his results are great for his first election, but he  considers himself his greatest critic and is still disappointed he didn’t do better.
But despite the loss, he feels he ran a very good campaign locally, and thanked his team of volunteers, which numbered about 50, for all their help, including door-to-door canvassing and help with fundraisers.
Rutherford also thanked all the people in the Wellington County portion of the riding for all their support and for making him feel at home during his campaign.
Donna Hansen, the local NDP candidate, said last week she is unhappy with her results (3,922 votes).
While she was not surprised with the overall outcome of the election, she said she is disappointed she personally did not fare better.
Particularly, she is upset she did not match the provincial percentage of her party (Han­sen garnered 10% of local votes, while her party received nearly 17% throughout the province).
She said part of the problem is the local NDP riding association is so small, meaning she had fewer people working on her campaign. She said the association will be seeking more members in the future.
Personally, Hansen is “very disappointed” with the results of the referendum.
However, Hansen said she was “not hopeful” going into the  election that the MMP system would be supported be­cause there seemed to be a lot of confusion about how it would work. She feels voters were not given all the information necessary to make an informed choice.
Green Party candidate Anita Payne was also disappointed with the results of the referendum, and like Hansen, feels voters were not adequately informed.
“It seemed like the whole process was doomed to failure,” she said.
She added that the Liberal party can now safely say they tried the referendum and can shelf electoral reform for quite some time.
Payne said strategic voting had a large influence on her personal results in the election (2,997 votes). She explained that some voters felt they had to vote for Wilkinson to keep Rutherford out of office, at the expense of the Green Party.
Overall she was not surprised with the local results, and while she would have liked to receive more votes, she said it really wouldn’t have made a difference in the outcome.
She was however, pleased the percentage of votes she received was almost identical to the overall provincial percentage for the Green Party (8%).
Family Coalition Party candidate Pat Bannon, who re­ceived 760 votes, said he is not really disappointed with his personal results.
He feels he presented a viable option for voters and explained that his party stands for certain things that people will either support or not. He said regardless of the final numbers, the way he sees it, all candidates, with the exception of Wilkinson, lost the election.
As a supporter of the MMP voting system, Bannon’s main source of disappointment  is the result of the referendum.
“We still think it’s a good idea and feel it should be revisited in the future,” he said.
Independent candidate Kevin Allman and Freedom Party candidate Rob Smink, who each received less than 1% of votes, were unavailable for comment by press time.


Vol 40 Issue 42


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