By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
Oshawa has spoken, and they want four more years of Jennifer French.
The incumbent New Democrat MPP has once again earned her spot at Queen’s Park, defeating challengers in Bob Chapman with the PCs, Makini Smith with the Liberal Party and Deborah Ellis with the Green Party in Thursday’s provincial election.
According to results, French took 24,301 votes, ahead of Chapman at 22,694, Smith at 4,278 and Ellis with 1,957. Numbers from Elections Ontario show a voter turnout of nearly 56 per cent.
French was one of 40 NDP MPPs who earned seats in the Legislature and will now form the official opposition to the PCs and Ontario’s new Premier Doug Ford, who took 76 seats.
At the Oshawa Curling Club for her post-election party, French said she was excited and relieved with the result.
“What a night. Firstly and foremost I want to thank all the voters in Oshawa for giving me the privilege of representing Oshawa again for another term. I love Oshawa and I am so privileged to be going back to Queen’s Park to represent it,” she said, while also taking the time to thank each of the other candidates, who she said ran “hard, clean and focused campaigns.”
“This was such a positive, hopeful campaign and I’m so proud to be on this team with that positive message. Andrea (Horwath) and our party stand for the things that matter to people everyday in Ontario, strong public healthcare, a strong public service, students, young families and child care, protecting our seniors and the most vulnerable in our society…those are Oshawa’s values and those are Ontario’s values.”
As the voting numbers for Oshawa began to trickle in, the results were quite close for most of the night. Even with 43 of the 52 polls reporting, French only maintained a slim lead over the second place Chapman.
“It was a bit of a nail-biter watching the results come in,” she admits. “It was a good race here, I think it was a fair race…I’m proud of the work that our campaign did, and I’m very pleased to be sent back and have the faith and trust of our community again.”
And while the result may not have gone the way the NDP Party as a whole may have wanted it – up until the polls closing, many predictions had the PCs and NDP party neck and neck for the victory – French says she will work to hold Ford and the PC government accountable for their actions.
“I know that our plan has always been to make decisions based on what is in the best interest of Ontarians, so when we are at Queen’s Park and we are a strong Official Opposition we are going to hold this new government to account, the campaign curtain will be lifted and we will find out what this government’s plans are and we will do our best to hold them to account,” she said.
For Chapman, a former regional and city councillor for the City of Oshawa who resigned his seat to run for the PCs, it obviously wasn’t the result he was looking for. With that said, he notes the PCs were able to make up some ground from 2014.
“To lose by 1,600 votes, it’s quite a stride from the last election where I think the PCs lost by 8,000 votes in Oshawa,” he said. “It was a hard battle, and we fought well, but Jennifer’s team pulled off the victory and I wish her well.”
Looking at the rest of the region, Chapman notes that Oshawa was in fact one of the few ridings in Durham to remain NDP, while several others, including the Durham riding, which includes everything in Oshawa north of Taunton Road, went to the PCs.
French was elected for the first time in 2014 when she ousted longtime Conservative MPP Jerry Ouellette, who had held the riding of Oshawa since 1995. And while she says that first win election victory was a special one, this time around it meant something different.
“I didn’t know what I was getting into and now I know how much this means, now I know how important it is for Oshawa to have that strong voice….I’m really looking forward to continue to take Oshawa’s needs to Queen’s Park.”
During her time at Queen’s Park, French has held many different roles within the party, including being the critic for pension issues, critic for Community Safety and Correctional Services, and finally the critic for youth engagement and critic for citizenship and immigration.
She has also shown herself to be vocal on a myriad of different issues, including hydro costs, human trafficking, and protection for firefighter trainees.
For the latter, she most recently created a private member’s bill that would create legislation to protect those looking to become firefighters, from dangerous, unlicensed training courses.
“I’m excited to go back with a bigger, brighter team…it’s going to be really special to be a part of,” she said.
– With files from Dave Flaherty