Michael Gravelle (right) with former mayor Lynn Peterson at Thunder Bay-Superior North Liberal party's election headquarters at the Prince Arthur Hotel.
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Northwestern Ontario’s lone cabinet minister is heading back to Queen’s Park.
Liberal Michael Gravelle, admittedly nervous in the hours leading up to 9 p.m., when polls closed across Ontario, won relatively easily over his closest competitor Steve Mantis of the NDP.
Gravelle, who won by 2,400 votes in 2007, won his fifth straight mandate on Thursday night, with early results putting him more than 1,400 votes up on Mantis, a first-time contender. Gravelle won 45 per cent of the vote, compared to Mantis’s 34.9 per cent.
Conservative Anthony LeBlanc, a former Research In Motion executive, finished a distant third, earning about 17.6 per cent of the vote, while Green Party hopeful earned a 2.2 per cent share.
“It’s great. To have the support of my constituents is great. I’ve worked very, very hard to represent Thunder Bay-Superior North with all my energy and all my passion. Certainly it was a tough campaign. To be honest with you, I’m still not feeling really comfortable with the declaration of victory. But this job means a great deal to me. Fighting for my constituents is the greatest job I’ve ever done. To be rewarded with support for a fifth term is enormous.”
LeBlanc, hunkered down at Tony and Adams restaurant, said he thought the race for Thunder Bay-Superior North would have been a lot closer.
“Our internal polling was obviously not up to snuff because we came into today really thinking we had a good chance of winning this so at this point I’m not really sure what we did wrong obviously it didn’t resonate the way it should have with the voters and that’s unfortunate,” LeBlanc said.
LeBlanc, who like Mantis was running for the first time, said he’s learned a lot from the experience and wants to run again.
“I look forward to the next fight,” LeBlanc said.
Meanwhil, Mantis, surrounded by family and supporters at the Moose Hall, congratulated Gravelle on a good, clean campaign.
“Congratulations you did a heck of a job,” Mantis said with a smile on his face. “He deserves this victory.”
Midway through the campaign the riding was projected to go to the NDP. Mantis said the loss did surprise him, but admited that in the final days of the election people did seem fearful of a Progressive Conservative win with Harris-style cuts coming to Ontario.
“People kind of went ‘OK, we know where we can go where it’s going to be safe and that’s with the Liberals’ and I think that’s what happened,” Mantis said.
Ever the optimist Mantis said he’s happy with his campaign and, short of cloning himself so he could knock on another 10,000 doors, there’s nothing more he could have done.
“Everyday when I was out on the campaign trail I felt like we were actually making a difference in peoples lives,” Mantis said.
Gravelle, first elected in 1995, called it his toughest campaign to date.
“There was no doubt in my mind that the Ontario government had the most clear and detailed and strongest plan for Northern Ontario,” Gravelle said.
“I truly felt that the opposition did not have a strong platform for Northern Ontario. Having said that, there was this perception that the government has not been paying enough attention to the North. And that seemed to play fairly strongly with some people.”
Gravelle said his opponents all ran great races.
“It was a great civil campaign, with a great deal of respect amongst all of us and I really have a great deal of respect for Steve and Anthony and certainly for Scot,” said Gravelle, who lost best friend Raymond Mercier in the middle of the campaign.
Gravelle, the Minister of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry in the last government, said he will take on any task Premier Dalton McGuinty asks of him in a Liberal government, majority or minority.
At this hour it's still too close to call, though the Liberals will form the next provincial government.
"It's been a tremendous thrill for me to be given the honour of being a minister for four years. Whatever role Premier McGuinty asks me to take on will be one that I take on with vigour and with gusto. It is too early to think in those terms, but I've really felt very fortunate to be in a postion where the premier would ask me to help make some decisions related to Northern Ontario that obviously had an impact on the North."
Gravelle, 62, said it's too soon to tell whether or not this will be his last campaign.
"This is more like a mission or a vocation than a job. I honestly can say to you I believe I had at the beginning when I started this 16 years ago. So certainly I see no reason why not again. Again, you're always there at the will of the people, so we'll see what happens. But right now I'm just celebrating with my incredible team of supporters."
Kyle could not immediately be reached for comment.
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