Election 2022 – What Happened in Thunder Bay Atikokan?

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PC Candidate Kevin Holland Signs
PC Candidate Kevin Holland Signs

THUNDER BAY – Analysis – Supporters of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives have something they have not had for a long time, a seat in Thunder Bay. It was in 1986 the last time the Progressive Conservatives had an elected MPP in the Lakehead.

Kevin Holland winning in Thunder Bay-Atikokan has shocked many. It should not.

Here’s why:

Kevin Holland followed a path to winning that has proven successful in the region’s past, he door-knocked and spoke directly to voters.

Next, Holland’s team embraced social media using Facebook and Youtube.

The candidate took his message via video to thousands of people. Using video on Facebook, Holland was followed almost documentary style by video cameras, and he shared more in-depth information with viewers. There were well over 100,000 viewers of his videos.

That obviously made a huge impact during the election. From the privacy of their smartphones, people got information about Holland’s experience and got a feel for the candidate.

This was something other campaigns tried, but Holland’s efforts were quite professional.

Progressive Conservative leader Doug Ford made an early campaign stop in Thunder Bay. Andrea Horwath had two campaign stops planned for the city. The first one was cancelled with the NDP leader contracted COVID-19. The second trip was cancelled due to an issue with the campaign aircraft.

It is likely that impacted the campaign as well. The leader’s campaigns in this election were not for large public rallies, but more structured for campaign workers. Rallying the volunteers is a huge issue.

The New Democrats were online advertising for canvassers to work for the campaign and paying $20 per hour. The message that likely sent was that the seat was vulnerable. Perhaps a part of COVID-19 that many people have withdrawn from outside volunteer efforts.

Part of what happened as well was overall from both the New Democrats and the Liberals was overwhelmingly uninspired campaigns. The Liberals almost appeared on the Leader’s Tour to be in a battle for second place, a strategy that didn’t generate a great deal of excitement for voters.

Progressive Conservative leader Doug Ford ran a campaign from a strategy of the front-runner.

While there has been criticism of Progressive Conservative candidates not attending debates, the Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce debate for Thunder Bay-Atikokan has had 102 views on Youtube.

The Holland campaign likely would have needed a day or two for debate preparation and a half day for the debate. All of that to reach such relatively small numbers likely explains a winning strategy in not attending the event.

What’s Next?

All things being equal, Holland should be on Premier Ford’s list for a position in his Cabinet. Simply put his political resume is very strong, and winning in what has been a political desert for the Progressive Conservatives needs to be rewarded by the Premier.

For those thinking Holland can’t be an effective voice, perhaps they are forgetting his experience being trusted in Comnee for the past twenty-five years.

Thunder Bay PC Candidates with Premier Ford at Heddle Shipyards in Thunder Bay
Thunder Bay PC Candidate Kevin Holland with Premier Ford and Peng You at Heddle Shipyards in Thunder Bay

Even some die-hard Liberals saw in Kevin Holland’s 25-years of experience a solid person with needed skillsets. Many people looking at the situation, polls showing a Ford majority government, made the decision it appears to vote Progressive Conservative, some for the first time.

The Progressive Conservatives also likely benefited from what was an obvious shift in the party direction from taking the hard political right, into working more into the political centre. Leader Doug Ford reached out to union members, and workers and effectively built a voting coalition that helped.

It is a lesson that should be heard federally if the Conservatives hope to win in Ontario in the next federal election, despite their apparent front-funner doing the exact opposite.

There are messages in Election 2022 for the unsuccessful parties

The Liberal Machine province-wide showed its age. This was not Dalton McGuinty and Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal Party, and Steven Del Duca just didn’t connect with voters.

Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca in Goods & Co in Thunder Bay
Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca in Goods & Co in Thunder Bay with Thunder Bay candidates Rob Barrett and Shelby Ch’ng

The Liberals failed to reach official party status in the Ontario Legislature.

In the past four years, in Thunder Bay, the Liberals have seen what is in effect their political machine fully show its age. Some in the Liberal camps seemed to feel that the two Thunder Bay seats, even though Thunder Bay Atikokan was New Democrat belonged to the Liberals.

The Liberals at the local and provincial level have a lot of work to do.

It won’t be easy. Looking at political history across the country, there is a very wide gap between the provincial Liberals and the federal Liberals.

In Ontario the next four years are going to be hard for the Liberals.

Without official party status in Queen’s Park, the Liberals won’t have the budget for research staff, or the other staff needed. In effect from 2018 until 2026 the Liberals in Ontario will be in the political wilderness. This will mean in effect a complete lost generation of Liberal activists and workers.

It is also likely that the failure of the Liberal machine in Thunder Bay during this election could impact this fall’s civic election as some candidates make decisions on seeking re-election.

Both the New Democrats and Liberals in Thunder Bay-Atikokan and across Ontario were going after similar voters with a message of stopping Doug Ford.

The Ontario New Democrats especially in Thunder Bay-Atikokan were also likely hit by the coalition formed between the federal Liberals and federal New Democrats.

The political shifting of Doug Ford in the past two years were also likely a factor. In the last federal election, Conservative candidates were taking heat over Doug Ford. During the pandemic, Ford overall changed his political image, and sources tell NetNewsLedger that frustration over Justin Trudeau was a factor this time for the Liberals.

At the end of the campaign, the real world of political reality hit. The Progressive Conservatives won in Thunder Bay-Atikokan and finished second in Thunder Bay-Superior North.

A year ago, no one would have predicted that would happen. Now it has.

Politics in Thunder Bay is always interesting.

James Murray