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Burlington No longer a Tory Blue Stronghold

The 1984 federal election, which brought the Brian Mulroney government into power, was held on Sept. 4.

Except for the riding of Burlington, that is. Conservative incumbent Bill Kempling all but guaranteed himself a return to Ottawa by defeating city councillor George Whyte at the Tory nomination meeting in January.

In the circles where the kingpins of what was then the ‘Big Blue Machine’ moved, it was referred to as “election night”.

That’s what a stronghold Conservatives held on Burlington even in the years Canadians elected Liberal majority governments.

Kempling went on to gain more than 60 per cent of the vote in September and had a plurality of 26,000 votes, one of the largest in the country. 

Provincially, a majority of Burlingtonians voted Progressive Conservative for 71 years before Eleanor McMahon won a single term at Queen’s Park for the Liberals in 2014.

Thirty-five years later the local Conservative association seems to be a shadow of itself. While Liberal Karina Gould, the Minister for Democratic Institutions, was re-elected the big news was that she increased her plurality by about 8,000 votes against declining support for her own party nationally.

Conservative candidate Jane Michael running with what appeared to be less than full support of her riding association lost to Gould by more than 10,000 votes.

Mike Wallace, who was the Conservative MP for Burlington from 2006 to 2015, said the fact Michael was acclaimed the Tory standard-bearer at a so-called nomination meeting left a bad taste in the mouths of some volunteers.

“The federal party didn’t give us enough time to do a proper candidate search,” Wallace said. “They wanted you to have a certain amount of money in the bank and a certain number of members.”

Another theory is that Michael might have been conceded the nomination as a sort of consolation prize for losing the 2016 provincial riding nomination to Jane McKenna. In that race, Michael’s team filed a protest, claiming voting irregularities but it was denied by party headquarters.

McKenna subsequently was elected MPP for Burlington in 2018.

Wallace said that when he left politics after losing to Gould in the 2015 election, the Burlington Conservative Riding Association had lots of volunteers and lots of money in the bank.

He also said he doesn’t think the new wave of immigration had any effect on the result in Burlington.

“Most of the growth of new Canadians has been in the north of Burlington and that portion is in the riding of Oakville North-Burlington.”

On the other hand Michael, former chair of the Halton Catholic School Board, says she was more than satisfied with the job her campaign workers did.

“We were very fortunate to have strong support from the Burlington Conservative Association, “ she said. “Not only did they provide us with the necessary financial resources, countless members came out to provide volunteer support throughout the election.”

Michael also countered the argument that the Conservative organization locally is fractured.

“I think it is the opposite,” she said. “Conservative losses in Burlington in 2011, 2014 and 2019 are only bringing us closer together.

“I also reject the premise that new immigrants are automatically Liberal. Our party has a great opportunity to expand support in new immigrant communities.”

Gould, who polled 48.3 per cent of the vote running more than 15 percentage points ahead of the national figure for the Liberals, said she started campaigning as early as April. She increased her margin of victory to almost 11,000 votes, compared to only about 2,500 in her first election four years ago.

“We had more than 100 volunteers, we went to the area of every single poll in the city and knocked on about 32,000 doors,” she said.

“I worked really hard over the past four years and demonstrated I can deliver for the community. This time most of the people knew who I was and even people who said they wouldn’t vote for me were respectful.”

Gould already has been traveling back and forth to Ottawa and will be there again when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveils his new cabinet on Nov. 20.

There is speculation she could be promoted to a more important portfolio.

Meanwhile, she will continue to serve her constituents with the aid of four staffers at her Burlington Mall office.

Dennis Gibbons

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