By Connie Woodcock, Sudbury Star
After a few decades of elections, you get used to it. You sit down in front of the television on election night, knowing you’ll never hear your riding mentioned all evening and that you’ll have to wait until the next day to find out what happened. So imagine my surprise on Oct. 6 to hear my obscure, little, provincial riding mentioned repeatedly on all the broadcasts, right to the end of the evening.
Turns out Northumberland- Quinte West was the last seat declared — and the last hope of the McGuinty Liberals to form a majority government.
In the end, it chose the rookie Progressive Conservative, Rob Milligan, a
teacher/beef farmer, over Liberal incumbent Lou Rinaldi, owner of Brighton Speedway.
Along with its neighbouring riding, Prince Edward-Hastings, which unceremoniously dumped Liberal education minister Leona Dombrowsky in favour of another rookie PC, Belleville radio broadcaster Todd Smith, it’s a perfect example of why the rural-urban divide in Ontario is today bigger and more intractable than ever.
Rural people have more reasons to despise the McGuinty government than urban voters.
It costs more to live out here. Our taxes are higher and the price of electricity is always greater because we’re farther from the source of production.
Meanwhile, incomes are usually lower in rural communities, so the HST and skyrocketing electricity prices hit us harder than city people.
The most enduring conversation starter I’ve run into the last few years has been Hydro One — the big bills, the expensive alternate energy plans and the hated smart meters.
People just haven’t gotten over them — especially since more price increases keep kicking in to remind us.
All around, we see the evidence of why it’s happening.
In Northumberland, the landscape is littered with hundreds of solar panels, many of which are earning 80 cents per kilowatt hour, the exorbitant rate the McGuinty government was forced to back away from as more and more applications flooded in. Many local farmers were quick to see the opportunity and got in before the price came down.
In Prince Edward-Hastings, they’ve had long and bitter battles over wind turbines and the fighting continues. There’s another such project being fought in Northumberland. The same story repeats across Ontario.
PC leader Tim Hudak’s promise to kill the Samsung megaproject to build wind turbines appealed to us, even as we wondered what cancellation would cost.
It’s bad enough the McGuinty government never seemed to understand or care about rural issues from the start. But it never woke up in its entire eight years of majority government.
Rural voters wanted jobs. They gave us all-day kindergarten — a massive disconnect.
Rural folk were furious when they first heard of Premier Dad’s “no NIMBY-ism” policy that short circuits municipal councils’ right to reject wind and solar projects.
They were further enraged when they realized that policy doesn’t apply to Scarborough, where off-shore wind farms were scrapped, or to Oakville and Etobicoke where gas-fired generating station plans were scuttled — all to preserve Liberal seats.
These issues aren’t top of mind in heavily urban areas but they rubbed rural people raw in many ridings.
Hudak’s promises to drop the HST on electricity and home heating fuel, to make time-of-use billing optional, kill the old Ontario Hydro debt repayment charge on every bill and to end many of the Green Energy Act’s excesses were music to our ears.
So on election day, the map of Ontario outside large urban centres like Toronto, turned blue.
At least, with no majority, the next four years should be more interesting than the last — if the government lasts that long.