How these former Liberal MPPs found new life in municipal politics

OPINION: Six party stalwarts who lost in last spring’s provincial election will soon be moving into new offices. And their Queen’s Park experience should come in handy, writes John Michael McGrath
By John Michael McGrath - Published on October 23, 2018
Kathryn McGarry
Former Liberal cabinet minister Kathryn McGarry defeated incumbent Cambridge mayor Doug Craig in the October 22 municipal election. (Chris Young/CP)

Patrick Brown’s surprise win in Brampton’s mayoral campaign may be the biggest political comeback story of the year, but the former Progressive Conservative leader isn’t the only one who made a return to elected politics last night. The Ontario Liberal Party — reduced to just seven seats at Queen’s Park after the June election — may find some consolation in the municipal-election results: six party stalwarts, many of them former cabinet ministers, will soon be heading to their home-town city halls as councillors or mayors.

In Thunder Bay, Bill Mauro will be replacing Keith Hobbs as mayor. (Hobbs, currently fighting charges of extortion, did not run for a third term.) Mauro’s career has featured a lot of narrow margins over the last decade or so. He lost his seat of Thunder Bay–Atikokan in June to NDP challenger Judith Monteith-Farrell by only 81 votes. In 2007, he’d won the seat by only 50 votes — a victory that gave rise to the Queen’s Park nickname “Landslide Bill.” But last night’s margin was a bit healthier: he defeated runner-up Frank Pullia by 762 votes.

Another Liberal who ended up mayor is Kathryn McGarry. McGarry defeated incumbent Doug Craig in Cambridge, marking the first time in 40 years that an incumbent mayor of that city has failed to win reelection. In the last two years of the Liberal government, she served first as minister of natural resources and forestry, then as minister of transportation. She also acted as parliamentary secretary to then-transportation minister Steven Del Duca, and her expertise may come in handy in her new role. Craig had been a perennial critic of Waterloo Region’s light-rail transit plan and argued that more emphasis should be placed on buses and GO Transit expansion. In the heat of this campaign, he went so far as to attack McGarry for having favoured Kitchener over Cambridge during her provincial career. Now McGarry will be advocating for her community’s transit plans in the face of a Tory government whose GO train plans are still a mystery.

Not all the Liberals who were victorious last night will be sitting in the mayor’s seat — four won seats on council.

Jim Bradley will be an elected politician once more, having secured an at-large seat on the St. Catharines council. First elected to that body in 1970 (at the age of 25), he won a seat at Queen’s Park in 1977. If he serves out his full term as councillor, he’ll have been in elected office for all but 137 days (between June 7 and October 22) of the past half-century.

Also back in municipal politics is Mike Colle, who defeated Christin Carmichael Greb in Toronto’s Ward 8. Colle served on the York municipal council and the Metro Toronto council (both of which were amalgamated into the current city in 1997) in the 1980s and early ’90s before being elected to Queen’s Park in 1995. From 1991 to 1994, he served as the chair of the TTC — a job his son, Josh Colle, later filled under Mayor John Tory — and from 2005 to 2007, he served as minister of immigration. During his 23 years at Queen’s Park, he was known for championing causes he thought deserved more attention. For example, he fought to protect gas-station workers from “gas and dash” crimes — and to have the tomato declared Ontario’s official vegetable.

The spirit of second chances also smiled on some lesser-known former Liberals: Dipika Damerla, who held a handful of modest cabinet positions from 2014 on, won a council seat in Mississauga. And in Durham Region, Granville Anderson won a regional council seat to represent the municipality of Clarington.

These MPPs may all have found new political life at the municipal level, but they’ll almost certainly find themselves drawing on their provincial political skills going forward. This summer, the Tories made the unprecedented decision to cut Toronto’s council mid-election; they’ve since made clear that they’ll be taking a fresh look at everything from regional transit planning to the very organization of the province’s regional municipalities. Some of the councils these Liberals will be working for starting in December may not be recognizable by the time the next election comes around.

They may not be at Queen’s Park anymore, but that doesn’t mean Queen’s Park is done with them.

Correction: An earlier version of this article mistakenly stated that Mike Colle had never held a cabinet post. It also stated that Keith Hobbs was fighting charges of obstruction of justice—charges that were, in fact, withdrawn in September. TVO.org regrets these errors.

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