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Oct. 16, 2021 | Saturday
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Election '21: Baldinelli campaign celebrates 3,500-vote victory
Conservative MP Tony Baldinelli watches the votes come in during Monday night's election party at Spyce Lounge in Niagara Falls. (Richard Harley)

It was a long night at Spyce Lounge in Niagara Falls, as Conservative candidate Tony Baldinelli and his campaign team awaited the election results.

Inside the dimly lit bar at the Hilton Niagara Falls, a crowd of about 50 Tory campaigners and supporters gathered around the TVs as information came in from across the country.

While Justin Trudeau's Liberals reclaimed a minority government nationally, Baldinelli's numbers held steady, as he defeated Liberal candidate Andrea Kaiser to win the Niagara Falls riding, which includes Niagara-on-the-Lake and Fort Erie.

The race was between Baldinelli, Kaiser, NDP Brian Barker, the Green party's Melanie Holm and People's Party candidate Peter Taras.

As of Tuesday morning, with 244 of 245 polls reporting, Baldinelli had 25,920 votes (38.2 per cent), Kaiser had 22,410 (33 per cent), Barker polled 12,414 (18.3 per cent), Taras garnered 5,826 (8.6 per cent) and Holm had 1,343 (two per cent).

Baldinelli's 3,500-vote plurality widened a gap between the Liberals and Conservatives from the 2019 election, when he beat Kaiser by 2,061 votes.

Before the night ended and more numbers came in, including about 2,800 mail-in ballots, Baldinelli offered a "tentative" victory speech.

"We'll wait to see those final numbers when they come in on Wednesday, but we've seen some of the results come in and some of the projections from the media so I want to say first of all thank you to the good people of Fort Erie, Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake for tonight's result," he told the crowd, to applause.

"I think that Canadians and the good people of our riding were incredibly disappointed that the prime minister decided to put his own self-interest and that of the Liberal party ahead of theirs, by calling this $610-million federal election campaign," Baldinelli said.

"Parliament was functioning for everyone but Justin Trudeau himself, and people saw this election, for what it was, it was nothing more than a cynical power grab because Justin Trudeau thought he could win. Well, I tell you, ladies and gentlemen, we proved him wrong here in Niagara, and thank you for that."

Baldinelli and his wife Carol celebrated their 18th wedding anniversary on election night.

Campaign manager Bart Maves said while the victory is sweet, he also saw the election as unnecessary.

"It was a really strange election to do in a pandemic," he added, noting it was difficult not being able to have people in the campaign office.

The Tory total grew by about 1,200 votes and Maves said he wasn't sure where the additional votes came from this time around. Last election independent candidate Mike Strange got 4,997 votes.

Maves doesn't think the extra votes came entirely from Strange voters, "because the PPC ended up taking a very similar amount to what Mike had taken, and I think Mike took from Conservatives, because Mike's a Conservative, but I think he took from other people too — people who just weren't interested in politics before in any way, people that didn't vote. He took some from the NDP."

The campaign was initially worried about the potential of the People's party to siphon away Conservative votes, but doesn't think that happened.

"They had lawn signs all over the place, on every street corner. So we were nervous about it, you're watching the polling all the time, but the polling I saw around here never really had them past six (per cent)," he said.

 "I think the PPC, as they've been dissecting it, they probably took 40 or 50 per cent of their vote from us, but the other 50 per cent was the same thing — anti-establishment people, anti-vax, anti-mask, no more locked down people — so they came from all walks of life too."

Historically the Niagara Falls riding has been a battle between the Liberals and Conservatives, echoing the national stage.

Over at Casa Mia restaurant, Kaiser and her Liberal supporters also awaited the results.

Kaiser was calm as the night got under way. Very early on she was leading the incumbent MP by a 100 votes as her supporters were slowly trickling in to the empty tent.

“I go back and forth, like, ‘I got this,’ and then, ‘Oh, maybe I don’t,’ ” Kaiser said in an interview as votes started coming in.

But she stayed positive, chatting with supporters, until the polls turned.

Around 11 p.m., as the vote turned strongly in favour of Baldinelli, she was absent from the big tent for roughly 30 minutes.

She came back and entertained for another 15 minutes, until the clinking of glass was heard.

“We don’t think we will necessarily have the results tonight,” Kaiser said to the hushed room.

“But we have some wonderful news tonight, it looks like the CBC is projecting another Liberal government,” she said to applause.

“Regardless of the outcome I have been so privileged to meet you all, to work with you all and to have you by my side.”

Kaiser said she would be waiting until all the advance polls and mail-in ballots are counted before considering herself out of the race.

Read Leask, a representative of the Kaiser campaign, said 38 per cent of identified Liberals in the riding voted in advance polls. 

Kaiser said she had “mixed feelings” in an interview.

“It’s a bit surreal, a bit weird, but, you know what, it was always going to be a tight race,” she said.

When someone joked the third time's the charm (Kaiser has run in the last two federal elections), she laughed and said, “I don’t know if I could survive a third.”

“Yeah, not sure I’m going to make it for a third,” she repeated.

At the beginning of the night, Kaiser said she had just woken up from a much-needed nap after 36 days of campaigning.

She said after the election result is official, she is looking forward to “a whole week of napping.”

In the 2019 election, Baldinelli won a smaller victory over Kaiser, securing 24,751 votes to Kaiser’s 22,690. Barker received 12,566 votes and the Green party, represented by Sandra O’Connor, took home 3,404 votes.

Last election also saw People’s Party of Canada candidate Alexander Taylor receive 968 votes, independent Mike Strange got 4,997 votes and Trisha O’Connor earned 358 votes for the Christian Heritage Party.

 

— With files from Evan Saunders

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