Ont. Liberals win minority, lose ag minister

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty’s agriculture minister was one of the casualties in Thursday night’s election that saw his Liberal government pared back just short of majority status.

Carol Mitchell, who until Thursday was the MPP for the southwestern agricultural riding of Huron-Bruce and was named to the agriculture portfolio in January last year, lost the seat she’d held since 2003 to Progressive Conservative candidate Lisa Thompson.

Mitchell, who operated children’s clothing stores before entering politics, pulled 14,663 votes to Thompson’s 19,126 and 9,374 for the NDP’s Grant Robertson.

Thompson, who farms with her family and has a degree in public administration and consumer economics from Guelph, is also known in the riding as the general manager of the Ontario Dairy Goat Co-op at Teeswater.

Unofficial results Thursday night from Elections Ontario saw McGuinty’s Liberals drop to 53 seats, compared to 37 for Tim Hudak’s Tories and 17 for Andrea Horwath’s NDP.

Replacing Mitchell in the ag minister’s chair may not be easy for McGuinty, whose cabinet and caucus are now largely gutted of experience on the file.

Prince Edward-Hastings MPP and former ag minister Leona Dombrowsky, who until Thursday was the provincial education minister, lost the seat she had held since 1999 to Tory candidate Todd Smith by a spread of just over 3,000 votes.

Mitchell’s parliamentary assistant for agriculture, food and rural affairs, poultry farmer Maria Van Bommel, also lost her riding of Lambton-Kent Middlesex to Tory candidate Monte McNaughton by a spread of almost 7,000 votes.

Former Brighton mayor Lou Rinaldi, who Van Bommel replaced as parliamentary assistant on the ag file, also lost his riding of Northumberland-Quinte West to the Tories’ Rob Milligan by a spread of 685 votes.

In opposition

Finding an ag critic will be much easier for Tory leader Hudak, whose incumbent critic, Oxford MPP and former ag minister Ernie Hardeman, handily won the riding he’s held since 1995, pulling 20,651 votes compared to 9,407 for the Liberals’ David Hilderley.

Other potential candidates for the Tories’ ag critic file, if need be, include Huron-Bruce MPP-elect Thompson; longtime Haldimand-Norfolk MPP Toby Barrett, a farmer at Port Dover; and Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington MPP Randy Hillier, a founder of the Ontario Landowners’ Association.

On the NDP benches, potential ag critics include dairy farmer John Vanthof of Earlton, a former board member with Dairy Farmers of Ontario, the Timiskaming Federation of Agriculture and the International Plowing Match. He stole the Timiskaming-Cochrane riding Thursday by a spread of 6,100 votes over the Liberals’ Denis Bonins.

The NDP’s Essex candidate, Taras Natyshak, the director of training for the Labourers’ International Union of North America, bills himself as a campaigner for “a national agriculture policy protecting family farms from the pressures of globalization.” He beat the Tories’ Dave Brister by a spread of over 1,300 votes, for another steal from the Liberals.

The NDP’s last ag critic, former party leader Howard Hampton, did not seek re-election and was replaced Thursday as MPP for Kenora-Rainy River by Sarah Campbell, his former constituency assistant.

Related story:

Ontario names new ag minister in shuffle, Jan. 19, 2010

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