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Is Jim Wilson beatable?

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In Issues
May 13th, 2014
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By John Edwards Collingwood Connection 

Is Jim Wilson beatable?

“I run like I’m behind, in every election,” said Wilson.

The Simcoe-Grey MPP is in his seventh election, quickly approaching former MPP Wally Downer, who won 10 elections from 1937 to 1975.

Wilson, first elected in 1990, has carried on a tradition of Tory rule in Simcoe-Grey. His mentor, George McCague, was MPP from 1975 to 1990.

Wilson won a close election in 1990 over then NDP candidate Leo Losereit, winning by 1,840 votes.

Since then, he’s been a landslide winner nearly every time, winning by 18,847 in 1995, 19,169 in 1999, 11,823 in 2007 and about 15,000 in 2011.

His slimmest margin of victory since 1990 was in 2003 when he defeated Liberal challenger Mark Redmond by 8,609 votes.

Redmond was asked whether he believes Wilson is a beatable candidate in the riding.

“I feel the riding association has a structure in place that is very difficult to overcome,” he said.

Redmond said if you go into nursing and retirement homes in the area, you will see certificates on the walls, congratulating residents on various milestone birthdays.

He feels the success of Wilson has more to do with his team behind him than Wilson himself.

“His riding association and his employees cultivate a culture of engagement,” he said.

“Jim himself, is not engaging one damn bit. I consider him a recluse. They will always be challenging to beat.”

Wilson disagrees with Redmond that he doesn’t play a part in his success.

“I created that system, so it is me and the team,” he said. “I credit the team as well. The decisions are mine at the end of the day.”

Terry Geddes is a former warden of Simcoe County and former mayor of Collingwood. Geddes, who said he’s a member of the federal Conservatives and a strong supporter provincially, says Wilson continues to be successful because he’s effective.

“If you’re not effective, you’re not going to get re-elected, I don’t care what colour you wear,” he said. “When somebody runs for an election, you have to look at their record.”

Geddes gives Wilson full credit for the new Highway 26 between Collingwood and Wasaga Beach as he felt Wilson fought for funding on behalf of the area.

“I think of what I call Wilson Way, the new bypass between Collingwood and Wasaga Beach,” he said. “It was becoming a very dangerous situation.”

George Czerny is a retired local newspaper publisher and over the years has watched Wilson’s career in politics.

“Anytime I go to Jim Wilson with a question, I always got an answer,” he said. “One thing I’ve learned about politics is you can never take anything for granted.”

Doug West is the associate professor of political science at Lakehead University in Orillia. While he’s only been in the area for three years, he’s studied similar cases in ridings across Ontario.

“Everyone is beatable,” he said. “You have a machine that has been well-oiled and well-formulated and is connected to every possible element of the voter registration. They do their job well”

West said Conservatism is strong in rural ridings because part of the Conservative values is conserving the land for farming, something that was developed decades ago.

“There is a natural conservatism there,” he said. “Conservatism is part of being a rural Ontarian.”

But times could be changing.

“The Liberal Party is suggested to be a party of multiculturalism,” he said. “What I’m suggesting is as multiculturalism becomes more prevalent in Simcoe County and in Grey County, there will be more of a demand for diversity in approaches to things.”

As more people move into the area from the GTA, West says, “people bring their values with them.”

“It might start to loosen somewhat,” he said. “You get a shift, slowly, gradually, towards a different set if issues.”

Redmond agrees.

“I think the demographics of the riding are changing and I think the Conservative brand is becoming very tired,” he said.  “We live in a riding, that has conservative values. We live in a riding, and rightly so, that considers self-sufficiency as being a goal to be attained by all of us. Social aspects sometimes aren’t carried to the same extent as they would be in an urban riding.”

Wilson has already recognized this and says it’s one of the reasons he knocks on so many doors.

“When I see a new subdivision, I’ve got to get to those doors and get something out to them,” he said. “They probably don’t know who Jim Wilson is and they probably aren’t Conservative.”

In the end, West says, good service can trump any party affiliation.

“Consistency and reliability, the person speaks for you,” he said.  “They (rural MPPs) are probably more visible than people in the city.”

Wilson believes the service his staff provides is the reason he continues to be re-elected.

“We give good service. Our service is second to none,” he said. “If you phone our offices, you will get some sort of action.”

Wilson said the question of whether he’s beatable or it’s a forgone conclusion that he will win, has caused his voter turnout to slip in recent years.

“My biggest problem and I ran into it the first time, last election, is everybody has that attitude,” he said. “They say, ‘You’ll have no problem.’ A large percentage of my vote, didn’t vote.”

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