The Liberals suffered a tough blow in Southwestern Ontario Thursday night, losing more than half of the seats they previously held in the region.
Going into the election, the party represented nine out of 10 ridings in the region, which stretches from Windsor in the southwest to the outskirts of London, Ont.
But a series of Liberal retirements and the unexpected death of Liberal MPP Bruce Crozier in Essex meant multiple seats were up for grabs this time around – and both opposition parties managed to leverage those openings into wins.
In Chatham-Kent-Essex, where Liberal MPP Pat Hoy retired before the election, Tory candidate Rick Nicholls was elected, beating Liberal Paul Watson handily. Similarly, Tory candidate Jeff Yurek took Elgin-Middlesex-London, where Liberal MPP Steve Peters had recently retired.
Those wins helped Progressive Conservatives take the entire belt of four, largely rural ridings that surround the Windsor Essex area – a big gain for a party that had just one seat in this region going into the election. The sole Tory incumbent was Bob Bailey, in Sarnia-Lambton, who kept his seat Thursday night with close to 50 per cent of the vote.
But it wasn’t all bad news for the Liberals. Prominent Liberal cabinet ministers Deb Matthews, Chris Bentley and Dwight Duncan were all re-elected, and the party managed to hold onto its seat in Windsor-West, where popular MPP Sandra Pupatello resigned. Her former campaign manager, Teresa Piruzza, took that riding.
Windsor West NDP candidate Helmi Charif had hoped to take advantage of the gap left by Ms. Pupatello’s retirement, and his campaign manager, Kieran McKenzie, said the party had considered the riding one of its most hotly contested.
“The party recognized Windsor-West was in play, literally from the start,” Mr. McKenzie said hours before the polls closed. “We spent more money [in the riding]in this provincial election than we have in long, long time.”
That wasn’t enough to propel Mr. Charif to a win, however.
An ebullient Ms. Piruzza told her supporters, “This is just absolutely surreal. Amazing and overwhelmed is how I’m feeling at this moment.”
The NDP did, however, score a seat in London-Fanshawe, where Teresa Armstrong beat out Liberal incumbent Khalil Ramal. In a second regional win for the NDP, Taras Natayshak took Essex from the Liberals.
Further west, the Liberals’s wind turbine plans may have contributed to two prominent losses for the party. One of the party’s toughest defeats came when former environment minister John Wilkinson lost his seat to Tory challenger Randy Pettapiece by less than 2 per cent in Perth-Wellington.
And in Huron-Bruce, Liberal agriculture minister Carol Mitchell was ousted by Tory Lisa Thompson, who had repeatedly called for a moratorium on wind turbines during her campaign.