The federal Liberal caucus arrives today in London, Ont. for its two-day winter caucus retreat. As Jane Sims notes in today’s London Free Press, this part of Ontario was been a “Grit barren land” in the last general election. The electoral map, above, from J.P. Kirby’s excellent Election Atlas, illustrates that point pretty clearly. This is what happend in the 2011 general election. In fact, so far as southern Ontario goes, the Liberals now have precisely five seats west of Yonge Street, and four of those are in Toronto. The lone Liberal island otherwise in Guelph where incumbent Frank Valeriote will pass the torch this fall to a yet-to-be-nominated Liberal candidate.
But look at the same electoral map after the 2004 election, (below) the last time the Liberals formed government. It would only be a minority government that Paul Martin led from 2004 to 2006 but clearly, there were a lot of people then in this part of the country that voted for Martin’s Liberals. Notable also was the kind of Liberal elected in 2004 from this region: blue Liberals, particularly on social issues. If the same-sex marriage bill can stand as a proxy for where you are on social issues, here are the SWO Ontario Liberals elected in 2004 that voted against same-sex marriage: Middlesex-Kent-Lambton Rose-Marie Ur, Sarnia-Lambton Roger Galloway, Huron-Bruce Bruce Steckle, London-Fanshawe Pat O’Brien (would end his days in Parliament as an independent), and Guelph’s Brenda Chamberlain. Guelph is still Liberal. London-Fanshawe is NDP but the rest are all Conservative.
The question, of course, for the meeting in London this week — and for the next nine months: Can this region be persuaded to vote for Trudeau’s Liberals, arguably a more “progressive” Liberal party than the one that Paul Martin led? Will it stick with Harper’s Conservatives? Or will those tiny dots of orange grow? If you agree that Kathleen Wynne’s Ontario Liberal Party is close in tone, style and policies to Trudeau’s Liberals, take a look at how voters in this region responded to Wynne last June. (Answer: Not good). Mind you, one could argue that voters here, where the economy is doing much more poorly relative to the rest of the province, were simply in an angry mood and ready to vote against any incumbent last June. If that’s still the mood in southwestern Ontario, that could be dangerous for Harper’s Conservatives this fall.
In any event: This is a region of the country with a lot of seats and it’s a region that in the last 30 years, has tended to send a lot of MPs to the government benches, not the opposition side.