TORONTO – The Progressive Conservatives have won a provincial byelection in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., taking the seat away from the governing Liberals.
Ross Romano beat out NDP candidate Joe Krmpotich, and Liberal Debbie Amaroso placed third, according to preliminary results Thursday night.
The riding had been held by former Liberal cabinet minister David Orazietti since 2003, until he announced in December he would step down, prompting the byelection.
Orazietti had been a successful politician, winning nearly 60 per cent of the vote in the 2014 election, with the PC candidate at the time coming in a distant third.
This time, it was the Liberal candidate, Amaroso, who trailed well behind.
The Progressive Conservative win doesn’t change the balance of power in the legislature, but this is the second riding the PCs have taken from the Liberals in a byelection since 2014. It follows the party’s victory in Scarborough – Rouge River last fall.
In a victory speech in Sault Ste. Marie, Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown said the Liberals can’t take voters for granted.
“There is no such thing as a safe Liberal seat,” said Brown.
“Not in downtown Toronto and not in Northern Ontario.”
Romano thanked Brown, who he attended law school with, and said his wife had encouraged him to run for the Tories when Brown became leader of the PC party.
“I want to say something to Kathleen Wynne,” Romano added, “I’m coming.”
Thursday’s byelection had been seen by many political observers as a litmus test for public sentiment going into the 2018 provincial election, said Trevor Tchir, a political science professor at Sault Ste. Marie’s Algoma University.
There had been questions about whether the Liberals could hold on to the riding despite recent low poll numbers for the party and Premier Kathleen Wynne, Tchir said.
Romano, a city councillor and lawyer, had campaigned on the idea that it was time to send a message to Wynne and the Liberal government about Sault Ste. Marie’s dissatisfaction with high electricity rates and Liberal scandals.
He got a head start over the other candidates in the campaign, securing his party’s nomination to run in the June 2018 general election last November.
He was ready to hit the ground running when Orazietti resigned.
According to preliminary results, Romano won with about 40 per cent of the vote, followed by Krmpotich with 33 per cent and Amaroso with 23 per cent.
The Liberals had lowered expectations ahead of the byelection, cautioning against reading too much into what it might indicate about how the party will fare at the polls in next year’s general election.
“Byelections are always tough for government, that’s a well-known fact,” Deputy Premier Deb Matthew had said.
NDP leader Andrea Horwath said the bigger fight lies ahead in 2018.
“Just a year from now, the people of Sault Ste. Marie – and all Ontarians – will be given a choice not just to change a seat in the assembly, but to change governments,” she said at Krmpotich’s campaign event. “We’ll give Ontario the choice to elect a government that’s focused on people.”