Thunder Bay·Analysis

Parties head into Ontario election campaign on relatively even footing in the northwest

For the first time in decades, the Progressive Conservatives, Liberals and New Democrats are each hitting the campaign trail in a position to retain seats in northwestern Ontario.

All major parties have something to lose — or gain — in this spring's election

The NDP's Judith Monteith-Farrell, Progressive Conservative Greg Rickford and New Democrat Sol Mamakwa, left to right, head into the 2022 Ontario election as incumbents in their ridings. Liberal incumbent Michael Gravelle is not running. (Andrew Schwab/Ontario NDP, Adrian Wyld/ The Canadian Press/Legislative Assembly of Ontario)

Ontario's three main political parties all enter the provincial election campaign with something to lose in the northwest, but potentially more to gain. 

For the first time in decades, the Progressive Conservatives, Liberals and New Democrats are each hitting the campaign trail in a position to retain seats in the region.

At the dissolution of the Legislature, the NDP held two of the four seats in the northwest, while the Progressive Conservatives and Liberals each had one. This election marks the first time since 1987 that the Progressive Conservatives will have an incumbent candidate in the region.

Here's a rundown of candidates in the four ridings:

Kenora-Rainy River

Rickford is running for re-election in Kenora-Rainy River, marking the first time since 1987 the party has had an incumbent in the riding. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press )

Greg Rickford, a former two-term federal MP, broke through in 2018 to give the governing Progressive Conservatives a presence in the region.

As a member of Doug Ford's cabinet, whose ministerial responsibilities included northern development, mines, natural resources, energy, and Indigenous affairs, Rickford was involved in moving forward with construction of the East-West Tie electrical transmission line, as well as the development of the government's critical minerals strategy announced earlier this year.

The NDP officially nominated JoAnne Formanek Gustafson, a First Nations educator and teachers' union official, on Wednesday night. Prior to 2018, the riding had been a stronghold for the NDP, mainly by former party leader Howard Hampton.

The Green Party will be represented on the ballot by Catherine Kiewning, while Kelvin Boucher-Chicago is running for the New Blue Party of Ontario. The Liberals have yet to nominate a candidate.

Thunder Bay-Superior North

Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca, left, is shown with Michael Gravelle. Gravelle became MPP in 1995 and subsequently was re-elected six times, but won't be running for the June 2 election. (CBC News)

In Thunder Bay-Superior North, one of the longest-serving representatives in the Legislature won't be returning to Queen's Park. Liberal Michael Gravelle, who was voted into office in 1995 and subsequently won re-election on six occasions, announced last week he's not running again as he faces health challenges.

In 2018, Gravelle was one of only seven Liberals to be elected across Ontario as the governing party for the last 15 years lost its official status in the Legislature.

The departure of the former Liberal cabinet minister throws open the race. The NDP's Lise Vaugeois, the 2018 runner-up who came within 813 votes of winning, is taking another try at turning the riding orange. Current Thunder Bay city Coun. Peng You is running under the Progressive Conservative banner. The Liberals are also looking to Thunder Bay city hall, tapping Shelby Ch'ng to try to retain the seat.

Other candidates include the Green Party's Tracey MacKinnon, who most recently ran federally for the Greens last year, as well as Kathy Suutari for the New Blue Party of Ontario.


Sol Mamakwa, shown at Queen's Park during question period in March, is vying for re-election in Kiiwetinoong. (Legislative Assembly of Ontario)

The NDP is the only party that will find themselves looking to defend multiple seats in the region.

Incumbent Sol Mamakwa is seeking a second term in Kiiwetinoong. The riding, first established before the 2018 vote, has the largest land area in the province, but one of the smallest population bases, and is the one with a majority Indigenous population. Mamakwa was the party's key critic on Indigenous affairs and raised awareness about issues facing remote communities.

He will be joined on the ballot by Pickle Lake Mayor Dwight Monck, the Progressive Conservative candidate. Also running are Suzette Foster of the Green Party and Alex Dornn for the New Blue Party.

The Liberals have yet to nominate a candidate.

Thunder Bay-Atikokan

Montieth-Farrell is running for re-election in Thunder Bay-Atikoken. (Andrew Schwab / Ontario NDP)

The other NDP incumbent, Judith Monteith-Farrell, is bidding for re-election in Thunder Bay-Atikokan. She unseated 15-year Liberal incumbent Bill Mauro four years ago by a razor-thin 81-vote margin to swing the riding to the NDP.

Mauro, who went on to be elected as Thunder Bay's mayor, isn't jumping back into the provincial race. Instead, Rob Barrett, a social worker and owner of a consulting business, will make his political debut as the Liberal candidate,

The Progressive Conservatives nominated a well-established regional politician, though this will be his first foray into the provincial level. Kevin Holland, the longtime mayor of Conmee township west of Thunder Bay, has been an elected official in his community for 30 years and has served on various municipal advocacy boards.

That riding also includes Green Party candidate Eric Arner and the New Blue Party's David Tommasini.

Candidates have until May 12 to register.