His supporters were urging him to take the floor for his victory speech, but a cautious Tony Baldinelli wanted to be sure he and his team had actually won the Niagara Falls seat.
For much too long Monday night the race between the Conservative incumbent Baldinelli and his Liberal challenger Andrea Kaiser was too close to call. While one television station had declared him victorious as early as 11:40 p.m., the 56-year-old candidate needed a second opinion.
Baldinelli was alternating his time between talking to supporters and checking out the monitors dotting the walls at the Spice Lounge in Niagara Falls. As usual, some of those monitors were showing Blue Jays highlights. But the candidate was watching the TVs tuned to the election coverage, commenting on some of the races involving close friends and colleagues in Parliament.
Finally, at approximately 12:05 a.m. Tuesday morning, Baldinelli was ready for his victory speech.
To chants of “Tony, Tony, Tony,” Baldinelli took the floor to accept what he referred to as a tentative win, pending the tally from the mail-in ballots that made this year’s election the most confusing one to call in recent memory.
“Being elected in 2019 was the greatest honour ever bestowed upon me,” Baldinelli told the room full of his supporters. “I will continue to advocate for the issues of importance for the people of Fort Erie, Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake.”
Stating that the election was about getting people back to work and rebuilding the economy, Baldinelli promised to continue to advocate for his riding’s businesses and farmers on their recovery and infrastructure needs.
“I will fight for our borders to be treated fairly,” he added. “I will continue to fight for a clean environment, and for our youth and their futures, so they can stay here and be able to afford their own homes. And I will fight to ensure we will get through this pandemic and into this recovery as quickly as we can.”
Baldinelli told The Local he ran his campaign knowing he would face a stiff challenge from his Liberal opponent, who came second in the 2019 election by about 2,000 votes.
“You always expect a close race, and you have to work like that,” the Niagara Falls resident said. “You take nothing for granted. From our standpoint, for this campaign, it was the most volunteers we’ve ever had, the most signs we’ve ever had, and we knocked on more doors. We worked hard.”
He credited his Liberal and NDP opponents, both of whom also ran against him in 2019, for working hard as well.
“I got to know Andrea and Brian (Barker) in this campaign and the last one,” he said. “They ran excellent campaigns. I know Andrea had been working even before the writ had been dropped. My congratulations to them, and thanks to them for sharing their ideas and platforms.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a final hour stop in Niagara Falls Sunday, just a day before the election. He and Kaiser, along with St. Catharines and Niagara Centre incumbents Chris Bittle and Vance Badawey, greeted supporters at Heartland Forest two days after Conservative leader Erin O’Toole had stopped in the riding.
“I think it was too little, too late,” Baldinelli said when asked if Trudeau’s visit might have swayed some voters. “People had already made up their minds before they headed to the ballot boxes today. And so many people had already voted in advance polls.”
Baldinelli claimed that while knocking on those doors he met many people who were angry about the Prime Minister calling an election only two years into his mandate, and in the midst of a pandemic.
“Canadians and the people of our riding were very disappointed that the Prime Minister decided to put his own self-interests and that of the Liberal party ahead of theirs by calling this $610 million federal election campaign,” he said in his address.
Pointing out that the House of Commons will look almost exactly the same following Monday’s results, Baldinelli suggested the money could have been better spent on a new hospital, infrastructure or for assistance to the local bridge commissions in his riding.
Despite his frustration that the election was held during a pandemic, he says, he felt his campaign was effective. His team used every opportunity to get their message out, including billboards and radio, and opened three campaign offices, one in each municipality, “never taking anything for granted.” He also had a large number of volunteers supporting him, “even during COVID, and I’m so thrilled, so happy for all those who worked on the campaign.”
He spoke proudly of the Conservative platform under leader Erin O’Toole, and promised he would push the Liberal government to adopt some of his party’s promises.
“My colleagues and I will be looking at that,” said Baldinelli. “What are those items and issues that we can find cross-party support to do that. In a minority parliament, you’re going to need additional support from other parties to help do that. We’re here to help people. If we can do it by reaching out across the floor and working with our colleagues, I look forward to that.”
The re-elected MP concluded his speech by thanking his campaign manager Bart Maves. He also made mention of young Daniel Ferraro, a St. Paul Catholic Secondary School student, for whom he said he was just keeping his seat at Parliament warm.
Election day was also his anniversary, and Baldinelli of course thanked his wife Carol and his son Daniel for their support and understanding. And he wrapped up with maybe his most important promise of the last 36 days — to make sure he and Daniel get out later this week to see the new Marvel movie.