MEGAN STACEY Updated: June 7, 2018
The NDP-orange tide that washed over London’s urban ridings didn’t spill over to Elgin-Middlesex-London, where two-term MPP Jeff Yurek scored an easy win for the Progressive Conservatives.
“I treated this election like I was 20 points down every day and just worked as hard as I can,” Yurek said. “I’m happy with the way the campaign went . . . we did the best we could. You can’t ask for anything else.”
Yurek, a pharmacist by trade, was declared the victor minutes after polls closed, with a two-to-one margin over New Democrat Amanda Stratton. Yurek has held the riding since 2011, since Liberal MPP Steve Peters, a former St. Thomas mayor and later Speaker of the Ontario legislature, retired from his 12-year provincial run.
Elgin-Middlesex-London — a largely rural riding that stretches across Elgin County, St. Thomas, Thames Centre and London’s southern reaches — has been part of the area’s PC bedrock since the aftermath of the brutal 2008 recession and the closing of Ford’s St. Thomas assembly plant, which devastated the region and made it Ground Zero for industrial job losses in Southwestern Ontario.
After eight years as an opposition MPP, Yurek will now be a member of a PC government, led by self-styled populist leader Doug Ford. The riding is also held by the Conservatives federally, under MP Karen Vecchio.
Yurek has been a strong voice for agricultural interests in the region, part of a vast Southwestern Ontario farm belt. Earlier this year, he won a years-long battle to save the Glanworth Bridge, a Highway 401 overpass that’s heavily used by farmers and was earmarked for the wrecking ball.
Green energy projects pushed by the former Liberal government — such as a hotly contested wind farm in Dutton Dunwich that was imposed on the area even after 84 per cent of voters cast ballots against wind turbines in a referendum — further alienated rural voters. Thursday’s race continued a tough fall for the Liberals, a party that in 2003 captured a whopping 57.3 per cent of the vote in the riding.
The results were no surprise to Stratton, a rookie NDP candidate who won the riding nomination after a failed bid to represent the NDP in London North Centre. Despite Thursday’s loss, Stratton said her team never considered backing down.
“We ran a positive campaign and talked to lots of people. We’ve been running to form government,” she said, citing the volunteers. “I think every single person is here because they care about their community.”
Voters in EML haven’t swung NDP in a provincial race since 1990, when Peter North was elected in the sweep that propelled Bob Rae to victory. He was re-elected in 1995, but as an independent.
— With files by Louis Pin, Times-Journal reporter