In August of 1943 the Ontario Liberal Party had been cruising along after nine years of majority rule in Ontario, mostly under the leadership of the high-living and mercurial Mitch Hepburn. But Hepburn had stepped down the previous year and the party was in disarray. On August 4th that year Ontario experienced its first orange wave of sorts, as the fledgling CCF, forerunner to today’s NDP, captured 34 seats in the 90-seat assembly, only 4 seats behind the George Drew Conservatives who formed a minority government and began what became a 42-year Tory dynasty in Ontario. In Hamilton it was a CCF sweep, which ended the career of Highways Minister Thomas Baker McQuesten of Whitehern who had dominated Hamilton Liberal politics for 20 years.
Last week something similar happened as the Kathleen Wynne Liberals were decimated in the provincial election that earned Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives a comfortable majority. The NDP became official opposition as Liberal stalwarts like Ted McMeekin were swept aside in an NDP wave that captured 4 of Hamilton’s five seats. As Liberal Thomas Baker McQuesten said in assessing his defeat 75 years ago when the CCF swept Hamilton, “We were due, apparently, for a revolution, and nothing could have stayed it.” In this year’s revolution the five Hamilton Liberal candidates were collectively reduced to just 14 percent of the vote and all five finished third in their respective ridings. Observers believe the turning point in the election came just after a poll was released in late May that suggested Horwath had opened up a ten point lead on the PC’s. That poll turned out to be an anomaly, but it sparked a mini revolt by PC candidates who advised organizers the “Ford Nation” phenomenon wasn’t working outside Toronto and it was time to focus on the PC team. The following Monday Ford unveiled a team in Newmarket that had familiar faces like Christine Elliott and Caroline Mulroney, but also included Hamilton’s Donna Skelly.
Swimming against the local NDP tide Donna Skelly won her seat in Flamborough-Glanbrook by a comfortable plurality. It was a race that was billed as a showdown between two sitting city councillors, but one that ended up with Skelly getting almost triple the vote of Liberal Judi Partridge.
Reached by phone the day after the Election MPP-elect Skelly was busy pulling down campaign signs. She addressed the question of whether the Ford caucus is ready to govern. “We have an incredible team of talented experienced professionals,” she said, “we will be lucky as Ontarians to have some of them in cabinet.”
We asked if there is a danger of the party promoting socially conservative views that will offend many Ontarians. Said Skelly, “If you look at the team it is incredibly diverse representing all kinds of socio economic backgrounds, professions, minorities, our makeup speaks for itself it’s very broad and diverse with all backgrounds all religions represented.” Skelly, who describes herself as a social moderate with conservative fiscal views, says she wants to see the PC’s become the party of the center as it was in the Davis era.
The elephant in the room of course is the future of LRT now that Doug Ford has said he would allow Hamilton to use the Billion dollars earmarked for LRT for other transit modes and even other forms of infrastructure. Skelly says council can now make a decision based on what is best for the community. “I’ve been clear I do not think the LRT is the best for Hamilton and as an MPP I will advocate for the money to stay in Hamilton whether it’s LRT or a broader bus system– it’s a decision council will have to make.”
Although her time on council was less than three years, a fact that garnered some criticism, Skelly says it was time well spent. “My Council years gave me insight into government, into managing government projects and into unique challenges facing people in Hamilton.” Skelly earned a reputation for challenging councillors and staff on issues like excessive use of consultants and the cozy relationship between council and the Waterfront Trust. As a result she was often the butt of angry personal attacks and scorn from some of her colleagues, but Skelly is philosophical. “It’s pretty clear it was because of my conservative views, Council is dominated by persons with a strong left orientation who were unwilling to work with someone with a different view. I raised issues that hadn’t been raised before. Some of my former colleagues were not receptive to changing the status quo…don’t rock the boat. Some didn’t want the “rookie” coming in and changing what had become a comfortable routine.”
Despite the council criticism Skelly says the past will not affect her determination to work with council for the betterment of the whole city.
The new government is expected to be sworn in at the end of this month and in the meantime Donna Skelly is looking for a constituency office and thinking about hiring staff. “I’m definitely looking forward to engaging one staffer at least with an agricultural background,” she said.

Providing a Fresh Perspective for Burlington and Hamilton.

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