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'I definitely don’t feel done,' Lehman says after narrow defeat

Three-term Barrie mayor comes within 609 votes of unseating cabinet minister in Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte
2022-06-02 Lehman watches results BB 1
Jeff Lehman, the Liberal candidate in Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte, watches early coverage of the provincial election on Thursday night at the Symposium Cafe.

Jeff Lehman’s political winning streak came to an end in Thursday’s provincial election.

Lehman, the Liberal candidate for Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte (BSOM), lost to Progressive Conservative incumbent Doug Downey in a close race.

Downey had 16,114 votes or 42.45 per cent of the ballots cast, while Lehman had 15,505 votes or 40.85 per cent of the ballots.

That’s a difference of 609 votes.

“We ran a campaign that came within a per cent of unseating a cabinet minister (attorney general) in an election where obviously the Liberal party was defeated pretty handily, so I believe people responded to what we were about,” Lehman said. “We came ever so close, but what this tells me is there’s still room for the kind of politics that we try and practise.

“I may have been defeated tonight, but I definitely don’t feel done.”

Early in this election campaign, Lehman said the major issue of our time is whether Ontario was going to have a populist government or a pragmatic government that’s focused on getting things done, as COVID exposed the weaknesses of populist government. 

The Tories won a second straight majority government Thursday night.

Lehman, 46, announced earlier this year he was stepping out of the Barrie mayor’s chair for greener political pastures at Queen’s Park.

After almost 12 years heading city council, and one term as the downtown councillor, Lehman set his sights on being Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte MPP.

Lehman said he’s not changed his position on a fourth term as Barrie mayor.

“I think I’ve still got a contribution to make. I’m not sure what that looks like tonight,” he said. “I said I was all in, I was all in on this race. I said I wasn’t running for Barrie mayor, I’m not running for mayor.

“I’m sure there’s a few people who think I should, but you know I made that decision before I ran provincially. There will be other ways for me to make a contribution and I don’t think I’m done in politics yet. But no, I don’t go back on my word.”

Lehman couldn’t say enough about his campaign team and praised them at Symposium Cafe, located on Cundles Road East, where supporters gathered Thursday night to watch the election results roll in.

“To come that close with such a devastating result for the Liberal party across the province is an incredible win for everyone in this room,” he said. “It’s heartbreaking, but at the same time that’s a campaign to really be proud of.

“It doesn’t feel good, it never feels good, especially when you put your heart into it as we did here.”

Ontario Liberal Party Leader Steven Del Duca ran in the riding of Vaughan-Woodbridge and lost, then resigned as party boss. Del Duca lost in the same riding by nearly 8,000 votes in 2018.

Lehman was first elected to city council in 2006 as Ward 2 councillor, then served as mayor from 2010 to 2022.

But June 2 was the first time Lehman faced a strong field since 2010, when he defeated former Barrie-area MPP Joe Tascona, city councillor Mike Ramsay, former mayor Rob Hamilton and Dave Aspden, the incumbent, in that order, for mayor.

The 2014 and 2018 Barrie mayor elections were political cakewalks for Lehman, as he took more than 90 per cent of the vote. 

Lehman said he will be chairing Monday night’s Barrie city council meeting, and hopes to continue and finish some of the projects started during this term of office.

Gerry Marshall, Alex Nuttall and Rob Haverson have filed nomination papers as candidates for mayor in the Oct. 24 city election. Coun. Natalie Harris filed her nomination papers, then withdrew from the election.

The Oct. 24 city vote will determine the next Barrie mayor, 10 ward councillors and school board trustees.

The nomination period for candidates closes Aug. 19 at 2 p.m.