Ontario Conservatives stage comeback, take Ajax for second election in a row

No Rod Phillips, no problem for Patrice Barnes and the PCs

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Call it a comeback.

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Despite late polls indicating the Ontario Conservatives were 8-10 points back of the Liberals in Ajax, school trustee Patrice Barnes held off Liberal candidate Amber Bowen, an elementary school teacher, on Thursday night in the provincial election.

It was the second straight PC victory in the former Liberal stronghold, though this time with a different leader, thanks to the well-publicized departure of Rod Phillips.

The NDP had finished second in 2018 in the riding, but Christine Santos was well back in third on Thursday.

Barnes has been a Durham District School Board trustee for nearly a decade and is a member of the Durham Regional Police Services Board. She was born in Jamaica and immigrated to Canada at 18.

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“I am running to make life more affordable for hard-working Ajax families; make our community safe again; create well-paying jobs in the trades and manufacturing; and protect the investments that the PC government has made in hospitals, long-term care, schools, and major infrastructure,” she said prior to the election.

The Ajax riding did not lack for controversy when the calendar turned to 2022.

In January, two high-profile candidates officially bowed out of the race. Phillips, the one-time Tory leadership candidate and former Doug Ford cabinet member and winner of the last election in Ajax, announced that he would not be seeking re-election. And the previously named NDP candidate, former Ajax mayor Steve Parish, was turfed by NDP leader Andrea Horwath over his support of naming a street after a World War II Nazi officer.

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The Conservatives had prevailed in 2018 by nearly 4,000 votes over the NDP runner-up, garnering over 39% of the vote.

But Phillips, who served as Finance, Environment and Long-Term Care Minister under Ford at different times, went on vacation to St. Barts during the COVID-19 lockdown in December 2020 and resigned from the finance post when he got back under Ford’s urging . Phillips was reassigned to the long-term care role in June of 2021, and announced in mid-January of this year that he would be resigning altogether the following month.

The Ajax riding (which was the combined Ajax-Pickering riding until it was dissolved in 2012) was a Liberal stronghold for years under the late Joe Dickson, who won Ajax-Pickering in the 2007 and 2011 Ontario elections and Ajax in 2014 after the split . But in 2018 Dickson finished third behind Phillips and the NDP’s Monique Hughes.

The Tories nearly swept the Durham Region in the 2018 election, taking four of five seats, with Oshawa (NDP) being a narrow exception.

Ajax has a population just shy of 127,000, according to 2021 census data.

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