One thing that you can definitely say about 2021, is that it sure hasn’t been boring as far as politics goes in Cornwall and SD&G.
Whether it is politicians mired in controversy, or appointments to the Senate of Canada, there has been plenty to upset the local political applecart.
One such bump in the road came last Tuesday, when long-time Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry MPP Jim McDonell announced his pending retirement.
With a summer provincial election looming on the horizon, McDonell decided now was the time to pull down the curtain on his 10-year-old provincial political career.
Like other changes to the political landscape that occurred over this past year, this one was a bit of a surprise. Not as much of a surprise as former Cornwall Mayor Bernadette Clement being appointed to the Senate, but a bit of a surprise, nonetheless.
I had it on no better authority than the MPP’s own office that he had been nominated by the local Conservative Riding association to run as the Progressive Conservative candidate in the 2022 election, but I guess Jim thought it was time to hang it up.
McDonell bowing out of the political scene just before the election really opens up opportunities for a new candidate to make a name for themselves.
Even without McDonell as their candidate and even with the struggles the Progressive Conservatives are having in their polling numbers at a provincial level, I think that the riding of Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry is still securely blue.
The NDP and the Ontario Liberals can still make a go of it in the election, and they have a better opportunity now without McDonell in the race, but it will still be an uphill battle for them.
A challenge for any party running in this riding is their need to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry is a big and diverse place, and any candidate who is going to be successful needs to have name recognition in Cornwall, the largest population centre in the riding, and in the United Counties of SD&G, which has a large population of its own, but is much more spread out.
The riding has been leaning Conservative for the past 15 years at least, so McDonell always had that going for him, and he was a fixture in municipal politics long before he even ran for provincial office.
McDonell was Mayor of South Glengarry three times between 2003 and 2011. His time there also saw him serve as United Counties Warden at least once, giving him that important name recognition in the rural areas of the riding. Being from South Glengarry, right next to Cornwall, and being on United Counties Council (which sits in Cornwall) made him a familiar face in the city too.
Any party will be hard pressed to find a candidate who has that combination of name recognition and political experience.
Whichever candidate wins the next election in this riding will have plenty on their plate on day one, regardless of which party they are a member of.
Education, healthcare, and infrastructure are all topics that the new MPP will have to shoulder in Queen’s Park.
For education, issues such as bell times, classroom sizes, and service delivery are all things that a new MPP will need to be aware of. Just recently, the United Counties of SD&G released a critical report on the delivery of rural education in the riding that detailed the competition between four regional school boards for the same pool of students, inconsistent delivery of programs, and administrators who view education as a business rather than a public good.
Healthcare is an obvious one. As we are reaching the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, I think it would be the responsibility of the province to review the response of each regional health unit and see how local health systems faired. Also, I do think that our health system cannot go back to the way that it was prior to the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, we saw the Progressive Conservatives introduce cost cutting measures to the healthcare system. While the healthcare system needs to be affordable, it also needs to meet the needs of the public it serves, and this cannot be a one-size fits all solution it should be regional.
Finally, infrastructure. In my nearly five-and-a-half years covering news in this riding, the issue of better internet in rural areas continues to persist. Especially with students learning at home, and many office employees still working from home, having fast internet can be a real economic driver for the region.
This is just a peak at what we might be in for in the upcoming provincial election, and like many of the changes in the political landscape over the past year, there may still be some surprises that are yet to be seen.
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