The long road to upset victory for Eleanor McMahon in Burlington

Liberal Eleanor McMahon credits an unlikely person for helping her win the long-time Tory stronghold of Burlington – Andrea Horwath.
Eleanor McMahon and Kathleen Wynne campaign in Burlington earlier this year. McMahon is the first non-Conservative MPP in Burlington in 71 years. (Elect Eleanor McMahon Facebook page)

Burlington's new Liberal MPP Eleanor McMahon credits an unlikely person for helping her win the long-time Tory stronghold – Andrea Horwath.

Voters elected McMahon, a long-time community activist, as their new MPP, the first Liberal to serve in the area in 71 years.

McMahon made history in Thursday’s provincial election when she unseated Conservative incumbent Jane McKenna. She earned 43.34 per cent of the vote to McKenna’s 36.96 per cent, or 23,826 votes to McKenna’s 20,319.

We worked as hard as we possibly could. We met as many people as we possibly could.- Eleanor McMahon

This happened in part because the “progressive vote” in the riding was confused by the NDP’s apparent swing to the right, which left an opening, McMahon said.

“A lot of the voters in the riding were confused by Ms. Horwath’s intentions and her decision to call an election,” McMahon said. “I think that confusion helped serve ridings like this one where people said, ‘Maybe I can support a Liberal candidate that’s progressive.'”

McMahon is a well-known advocate for road safety. Her husband, OPP Sgt. Greg Stobbart, was killed in a cycling collision in 2006 by a driver with multiple driving suspensions. She lobbied to establish “Greg’s Law,” 2010 legislation that reduces the number of suspended drivers on the road.

When pondering a run, McMahon said, she noticed that the Liberal and NDP vote in Burlington totalled more than the Conservative vote. It was just a matter of rallying all of those voters.

But it was more than just luring NDP voters, she said. It was also a broad volunteer team that focused on the task at hand rather than the competition.

“We worked as hard as we possibly could,” she said. “We met as many people as we possibly could. We knocked on as many doors as we possibly could.”

McMahon’s win was part of a red sweep Thursday that saw Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals form a majority government.

'I don't think it's hit me yet'

Compared to the 2011 election, the Liberals took 59 seats, up from 53 in the 2011 election. The Conservatives dropped from 37 to 27 seats, while the NDP gained from previously, going from 17 to 21 seats.

McMahon spent much of Friday doing interviews with reporters interested in how she cracked a long-time Conservative dynasty.

“I don’t think it’s hit me yet,” she told CBC Hamilton.

“It’s really quite extraordinary. Seventy-one years is a long time.”

McMahon’s strategy appears to have worked. In 2011, Peggy Russell ran for the NDP in Burlington, earning 9,370 votes, or 18.87 per cent of the popular vote.

NDP saw decline in Burlington

In this election, Jan Mowbray saw a decline, with 7,854 votes, or 14.29 per cent of the popular vote. That loss is about 2,000 votes shy of the margin over which McMahon defeated McKenna.

The Burlington riding was established in 1999 by combining slightly more than 80 per cent of the former Burlington South riding, 30 per cent of Halton Centre and 14 per cent of Oakville South.

The old Burlington South riding was a Tory stronghold, with George Kerr holding the seat since the 1960s. Cam Jackson was elected in 1985.

Jackson won the new Burlington riding in 1999 with a margin of nearly 15,000. He resigned his portfolio in Premier Ernie Eves’s cabinet in October 2002 when it was revealed that he charged more than $100,000 worth of dinners, hotel rooms and travel costs to Ontario. He was vindicated in August 2003, the province’s integrity commissioner ruled that his expenses were “reasonable and appropriate.”

In 2007, Conservative Joyce Savoline won Burlington, followed by McKenna in 2011.


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