BY NELLIE EVANS
Lakeshore Advance staff writer
PETROLIA - Progressive Conservative Marcel Beaubien was narrowly re-elected to a second term in the Ontario legislature last Thursday night, defeating Liberal Larry O'Neill by only 846 votes.
It was the closest race Beaubien has ever encountered.
"I feel real great. It was a cliffhanger there's no doubt about that. But a win is a win and we'll take it...We knew it was going to be close, but not that close," said Beaubien at his campaign office in Petrolia. The small storefront office was jam-packed with campaign workers and media.
Beaubien lost in his home-town of Petrolia but won handily in Strathroy and northern Lambton County, north of Highway 402, in Grand Bend, Forest, Arkona and Thedford. In one of Grand Bend's polls, for example, Beaubien's PCs defeated the Liberals by 80 votes. In a Thedford poll, thc PC votes doubled the Liberal vote. In Kettle Point, though, where the community is hurting after the 1995 shooting of a native at Ipperwash, Beaubien got only six votes.
Total votes received from electors in the new riding of Lambton-Kent-Middlesex were 18,914 for Beaubien, followed closely by O'Neill of Enniskillen Township at 18,068. New Democrat Jim Lee of Wallaceburg received 3,999 votes while Freedom Party candidate Wayne Forbes of Grand Bend received 1,041 votes. Beaubien acknowledged there was strategic voting at work against his PC campaign.
"It was a good fight and I'm glad that I ended up on top," Beaubien said ahout the race against O'Neill.
With Tory leader Mike Harris also re-elected in his riding and the party getting a comfortable majority in the Legislature, electors showed that while Harris' cuts hurt initially, the Conservatives are on the right track to improving Ontario's economy, said the MPP-elect.
"lt goes to show that the people of the province of Ontario support what Mike Harris has been doing the past four years. There were difficult changes but it's for the good for the province, good for the people of this province. It gives us the opportunity to compete with other jurisdictions. It wasn't pleasant, it wasn't easy, it wasn't fun, it wasn't warm at times, but we've got the vote going in the right direction and people want to keep it going the same direction," said Beaubien.
The larger riding, that's the size of Prince Edward Island, made it more difficult for all candidates to get to know their electors.
"It was a challenge. There's no doubt we were trying to assess how to get the vote out, get to know people. We had good workers in Kent and Middlesex and I thank them. What can I say," said Beaubien.
The shorter campaign period, 28 days rather than 37 days, was also an obstacle but one that was reported to have worked well for incumbent MPPs like Beaubien.
"That was long enough, because I tell you my knees and my ankles right now are killing me. I've walked and I've knocked on doors, my volunteers who work with me, we knocked on doors. I feel it tonight," he said.
A few minutes later, at the Royal Canadian Legion, Beaubien told his supporters, "there's a task ahead us."
The Conservatives will continue with its goal to improve health care and education, to name only two issues. He said the PC government will spend over 50 cents on Ontario's health care.
"Ontario's health care is still very good," he said. "People fell through the cracks in the 40s. People fell through the cracks in the 50s. People will continue to fall through the cracks and we will try to reduce that."
On a personal note, Beaubien pledged to his supporters a deep commitment to their future needs.
Freedom Party candidate Wayne Forbes of Grand Bend received 1,041 votes from Lambton-Kent-Middlesex electors, double the number he received in the 1995 election.
"I'm happy with what happened," said Forbes on Friday. "It tells me more people aren't satisfied with the main stream parties."
Forbes received more local support in this election with one person donating funds and another organizing an all-candidates meeting for the area. Otherwise, Forbes spent his own money on the campaign.
One aspect of the election that did disappoint Forbes was the treatment the fringe parties received. Media reports were centred on the leaders of the three main parties, forgetting fringe party leaders.
Forbes is already planning to run in the next provincial election with a goal to raise the number of candidates in Ontario to over 14.
The local businessman also says he's pleased that Premier Mike Harris has been re-elected.
"It's about time somebody's got his act together and do something for this province," he said, adding the province has been mismanaged.
last updated on April 28, 2002