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Did wind turbines blow away rural Liberal seats?

The Liberal position favouring wind turbines may have contributed to Thursday night’s election defeat of Agriculture Minister Carol Mitchell and Environment Minister John Wilkinson.

The two cabinet ministers were among several Liberal defeats as the party lost more than half of the seats it previously held in southwestern Ontario. But the Liberals still managed to squeak out their third election victory winning a minority government with 53 seats, while the Progressive Conservatives won 37 seats and the New Democrats have 17 seats.

PC Lisa Thompson, general manager of the Ontario Dairy Goat Co-operative, won in Huron Bruce with 19,126 votes to Mitchell’s 14,663 votes and NDP candidate Grant Robertson’s 9,374 votes. He is a former Ontario coordinator for the National Farmers Union (NFU).

Thompson, who raises goats for meat on her farm, says turbines were only one reason for her win over Mitchell.

“Over the last seven years rural Ontario seemingly has lost its voice,” she explains. In Huron-Bruce, the riding has been losing schools, jobs and its municipal autonomy. She says corporations drove wind energy developments in a top-down fashion “as opposed to an economic strategy that made sense for local communities and municipalities.”

The election results are a loud and clear message to Premier Dalton McGuinty “that rural Ontario matters and they want to be treated as equal partners at the table,” she says.

Is there an agriculture critic’s position in Thompson’s future? She says her number one priority is to represent the hard working families of Huron-Bruce and anything that comes after that she will take in stride.

Maria Van Bommel, Mitchell’s parliamentary assistant and the MPP for Lambton-Kent-Middlesex, lost to PC Monte McNaughton. He won with 19,348 votes to Van Bommel’s 12,424 votes. Environment Minister John Wilkinson, 13,652 votes, was defeated in Perth-Wellington by PC Randy Pettapiece, who got 14,282 votes.

Neither Mitchell nor Van Bommel could be reached for comment.

In eastern Ontario, a former agriculture minister, Leona Dombrowsky, the current education minister, lost in her Prince Edward-Hastings riding to PC Todd Smith. He won with 18,732 votes compared to Dombrowsky’s 15,688 votes.

Mark Wales, Ontario Federation of Agriculture vice president, says the election was fought based on issues that were important to the people of each riding and who the candidates were. It really wasn’t about the parties or the leaders.

He agrees with observers who say wind turbines may have been the deciding factor that blew Mitchell and Wilkinson out of their ridings. He isn’t sure what happened in Van Bommel’s riding but “it could have been a bit of spill over on the wind.”

Wales believes a Liberal minority government is a positive development in the provincial political landscape as far as the Federation is concerned. “It offers lots of opportunities. All three parties had many of our policy positions in their platforms.”

All parties supported the business risk management programs, environmental goods and services payments and properly funded rural municipalities, he says, noting there was a difference in energy policies between the Liberals and Conservatives.

Wales says it was nice to see a farmer elected to the NDP caucus – dairy farmer John Vanthof who won in the Northern Ontario riding of Timiskaming Cochrane.

Joe Dama, NFU Ontario coordinator, agrees a minority government is positive. “They’ll all want to listen to us and I think that will help us out,” he says. All three parties are in favour of the risk management program and they will all be trying to help “us out to make sure the risk management program is fully funded through the feds as well.”

Dama says he was surprised by Mitchell and Van Bommel’s defeat. He says he thought they both worked hard for farmers.

As for who takes over Mitchell’s job as agriculture minister, a spokesperson at Ontario Liberal Party headquarters says her replacement hasn’t been named yet. On Friday morning, the Liberals issued a press release announcing Dwight Duncan will remain as finance minister and he has been asked to immediately start working on an economic update for Ontarians.

Henry Stevens, president of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, couldn’t be reached for comment. BF