Despite the retirement of popular long-time MP Bruce Stanton, it appears Simcoe North will remain a Conservative stronghold.
As of 11:47 p.m., with results from 200 of the 282 polls in the riding counted, rookie Conservative candidate Adam Chambers seemed well on his way to a victory over his rivals in Monday’s federal election.
Chambers led the way with 14,309 votes, followed by Liberal candidate Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux, who had garnered 10,235 votes.
NDP candidate Janet-Lynne Durnford was in third place with 5,693 votes, while People’s Party of Canada (PPC) candidate Stephen Makk was in fourth place with 2,756 votes, followed by Green Party candidate Krystal Brooks (1,130 votes).
While local candidates were reluctant to comment until all the votes were counted, Chambers said he started with a bit of a head start.
“I inherited a strong organization from Bruce, including a large transfer of volunteers from Bruce,” Chambers said earlier today. “And having Bruce and Heather active in the campaign helped.”
Wesley-Esquimaux was disappointed with the results.
"We had hoped they would choose differently this time," she said. "We hoped they would choose a female and somebody Indigenous, we hoped they would be interested in reconciliation, but I guess they are going to go with what they had."
Due to the pandemic, there were no public gatherings or celebrations for any of the local parties. All candidates chose to watch the results privately; the NDP in Simcoe North hosted a Zoom session for supporters and volunteers.
This is the sixth straight election won by the federal Conservatives in Simcoe North.
Stanton, who was elected five times between 2006 and 2019, served as co-chair - with his wife Heather - of Chambers’ first election campaign.
While Chambers is new to politics in Simcoe North, he has some notable experience in the corridors of power of the federal Conservatives.
He served as executive assistant to the late Jim Flaherty, who was Canada’s finance minister during the financial crisis in the late 2000s.
Chambers, 36, is married and has two young children; the family lives in Midland.
He is the assistant vice-president of Canada Life and a member of the Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care board of directors. He went to the University of Western Ontario and was a practising lawyer for a time.
Durnford said the pandemic proved to be a challenge for her campaign strategy, causing her to rely heavily on social media.
“It’s hard to get the attention of people who don’t necessarily already follow you unless you’re going viral with something crazy,” said Durnford, an Orillia teacher.
“We did swing toward the very end of the campaign to do some door knocking which we hadn’t planned to do just to get out there, to make sure that we were seeing people face-to-face - masked, of course.”
While the Conservatives won, the PPC garnered a much higher percentage of the vote across the country.
Makk said his party’s libertarian message was well received throughout the riding.
“It exceeded all my expectations,” said Makk, who also ran in 2019. “We've had so much growth. It's incredible. We have a large organization now with multiple offices, special software. I mean, it's a whole different party from last time around (2019), that's for sure.
“We're just growing our slice of the pie, and we're going to keep going,” Makk said Monday night.
Chambers’ victory continues a dominant string of success for the Conservatives in Simcoe North.
In the 2019 election, Stanton cruised to victory with 27,241 votes — or 43.4 per cent of the ballots cast.
First-time Liberal candidate Gerry Hawes was second with 19,310 votes (30.8%), followed by rookie NDP candidate Angelique Belcourt with 8,850 votes (14%). Veteran Green Party candidate Valerie Powell tallied 5,882 votes (9.4%), while Stephen Makk (PPC) earned 1,154 votes (1.8%) and Christian Heritage Party candidate Chris Brown was selected by 341 voters.
The race was much tighter in 2015, when former Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital CEO Liz Riley carried the Liberal colours. She gave Stanton a run for his money, falling just over 2,000 votes short of a big upset.
In that election, Stanton garnered 24,836 votes (43.5%), while Riley finished second with 22,718 votes (39.8%). Richard Banigan of the NDP was third (6,037 votes) followed by the Green Party’s Peter Stubbins (2,543 votes), Co-operative Interdependent candidate Jacob Kearey-Moreland and Christian Heritage Party candidate Scott Whittaker.— With files from Andrew Philips, Tyler Evans and Derek Howard