By Dylan Powell
Voters in St. Catharines showed up last week to vote out Conservative Incumbent Rick Dykstra and elect Liberal political newcomer Chris Bittle. The result, 43.2% for Bittle and 37.6% for Dykstra, was considered a pretty massive upset in a night of upsets as the Liberals gained a whopping 148 seats to form a majority. Although Dykstra squeaked out his initial seat win in 2006 against Liberal incumbent Walt Lastewka, he dominated in 2008 and 2011 winning by over 8,000 and over 13,000 votes. Many knew the Liberals had momentum this time out, Trudeau’s last minute stump speeches in the area in the final week were an indication of that, but no one projected a Bittle win. This is only because everyone underestimated one of Canada’s biggest gold digger ridings – we simply do not mess with politicians who will not be able to keep the Federal money train running.
St. Catharines as a riding has been around since 1966. Since 1984, my entire life, the riding has elected an MP of the governing party. The result last week makes that 10 straight elections – the threshold I have created to move a riding from bellwether status to full gold digger status. Voters in St. Catharines don’t care about your party platform, your political personality and experience – we want bag men, men who can ensure access to Federal funds (we’d elect a bag woman but haven’t had the chance yet).
Only twice have voters here not elected an MP from the governing party. The first being in ‘72 (when it was so damn close to call with just a two seat difference, that we can at least say we tried real hard), and in 1980, by electing incumbent Conservative Joseph Reid with a 1,400 vote margin over his LIberal challenger.
Local Conservatives were pretty confident and cocky that Rick was going to get re-elected at the beginning of the campaign. They stayed that way just about til the last few weeks where they amusingly tried to make a scandal out of the youth unemployment numbers that Chris Bittle was using in debates, but Chris wasn’t the only candidate in the riding who got in trouble for mixing up numbers like 19 and 16 this time out. The last minute appeals from their camp relied on all of the positive charity and community work Rick has done as an MP, recognizing their impending doom and trying to turn this gold digger riding into a conscience based riding. No dice. Thanks for all the hard work Rick, but if you and your party can’t deliver large sums of federal investment money in the riding then to hell with you.
Voters didn’t even care how awkward this result would now make the political situation in St. Catharines after many City Councillors campaigned hard for Rick – namely Mike Britton, Mat Siscoe and Matt Harris and our unelected Regional Chair Alan Caslin and some staff were huge supporters as well. The usual bag men in previous collaborative funding projects, we now have a Liberal MP, MPP and Governments with many card carrying Conservative members in positions of power in our municipal and regional Government. If they try and disrupt, or leverage the Liberals and put any Federal infrastructure money at risk they will face the wrath of our gold digging riding. The Liberals will be attempting to shift the balance of power to their supporters on City and Regional Council and the transition will not be smooth. There is too much entrenched power on both Councils, so this should at least be interesting.
Outside of just how damn awkward our political situation will be now in the post-Dykstra era, our gold digger status should maybe push us to start revisiting our voting strategies in this riding. We back the winning horse, the Federal investment money flows, and yet we still cannot manage to turn it around – the decimation of manufacturing, a housing crisis, growing poverty and basement employment rate levels are all trends that have happened while we voted for bag men. The re-gentrification process of the downtown through Federal investment money is the perfect current example, as Queenston St. is left to rot and we struggle to afford the operating costs of new buildings with a stagnant tax base. This riding has never had a cabinet minister, we don’t cultivate political literacy and we have never produced a political heavyweight with this specific focus of electing someone from the governing party. The most notable MP elected in the history of our riding, Gilbert Parent, had to shift to Niagara Centre to make his political career possible. How boring is our riding? We have elected 8 white men, 4 of them have been lawyers (lawyers make great bag men btw). We shouldn’t even hold elections and just walk into any local lawyer’s office and let that person be our MP – their party can be whoever wins Federally.
The kind of access to power and prestige that St. Catharines voters want by employing this gold digger strategy can only be accomplished if we churn out an actual polished and solid politician, something we don’t seem to be able to do by chasing bag men and Federal money. The chronic and long term issues in St. Catharines are not being solved by this revolving door. It’s mo’ money, mo’ problems in St. Catharines for at least 4 more years.