ALEXANDRIA -- Incumbent Liberal Grant Crack pulled off a decisive win in Glengarry-Prescott-Russell, shattering Progressive Conservative hopes for a breakthrough in arguably the only real' rural district held by the Grits in the southern half of the province.
Just as his party and leader, Premier Kathleen Wynne, defied observer expectations by winning a majority government on June 12, Crack reaffirmed his position by capturing an outright majority of votes in G-P-R.
A shade over 50 per cent of ballots cast in the riding -- 23,662 -- went to Crack, dispelling a perceived vulnerability forged in the last election. When first elected MPP in 2011, Crack received a modest 1,372-vote margin over his Tory competitor of the time.
But current PC rival Roxane Villeneuve Robertson -- daughter of Harris government Ag minister Noble Villeneuve -- finished more than 8,500 votes back of Crack in the latest contest.
It was the future of both the Kemptville and Alfred agricultural campuses that the defeated Tory brought up during a sometimes tearful address to her supporters and core team members at the Bonnie Glen, outside Alexandria.
Her voice breaking with emotion inside the subdued venue, Villeneuve Robertson recounted how she "fought to keep Alfred and Kemptville college open. I don't know what's going to happen with those two colleges now."
"It's hard to be up here and be positive because I know how it feels to win, and I know how it feels to lose," she said, sadly, reflecting in part on her father's storied political career.
She and her mother watched some of the election results come in earlier at home that evening with Noble Villeneuve, the former Agriculture and Francophone Affairs minister who was debilitated by a stroke several years ago.
"My dad couldn't be here tonight ... He has been probably the main reason why I ran, the work that he's done."
Promising to seek the party's nomination in the next election, Villeneuve Robertson, who finished with 15,118 votes, opined: "The people in Ontario didn't want to believe what Tim Hudak and the PC party had planned."
Naturally, Crack's campaign office in downtown Alexandria brimmed with bubbly, excited supporters -- some of them enjoying specially labelled "Grant Crack" beer. The victor spoke with the media after learning of his re-election and his party's return to government.
"It's glorious, let me tell you. It's something we've strived for ever since we were one seat shy of a majority in the last," he declared of the province-wide outcome. "We're going to be able to put forward the necessary measures to ensure the growth of the province, job creation, and taking care of people who are in need," he said, then repeating his party's talking point of Tories "tearing down" the province and Liberals "building it up."
He said he looked forward to working with his old and new colleagues at Queen's Park and praised the premier. "She is a strong leader. She exemplifies everything that leadership is in these challenging times in the Province of Ontario. She has stood tall; [I'm] so proud of her."
Crack also unabashedly highlighted taxpayer grants to key businesses that serve as important employers in the small communities of his riding.
He said local Grits ran "a very strong, well-organized" campaign, but suggested they had an easy sell in light of the PC platform to cut 100,000 public service jobs. "When you want to cut families loose across the province, after a decade of rebuilding what the Tories had destroyed in this province, I think the fact that Tim Hudak came out and said [that] ... and he's going to cut the 30 per cent tuition grant across the province ... so we can't cut families lose ..."
He also repeated the Liberal pledge to balance the budget by 2017/2018, saying they would do it "one step at a time, in a financially responsible manner."
Year three of that plan calls for an $800-million spending reduction, foretelling -- according to Bloomberg news -- the biggest cuts since the Harris regime. But Crack insisted the deficit's elimination would be handled "thoughtfully."
"Keep in mind our government does not have a spending problem," he declared. "We have a revenue problem... We are the lowest province in the country on spending on programs per capita."
On the region's hot topic, he pledged to "not only save" Alfred College "but to grow the programs there, for Francophones and managed by Francophones."
Added Crack, "So I think this is going to be a challenge, but I'm committed to doing it, and we're going to find a solution that's in the best interest of our Francophone community right here in Ontario."
The University of Guelph's announced closure of the Kemptville and Alfred campuses coincided with the MPP's tenure as parliamentary secretary to the individual ministers then responsible for Francophone Affairs, Agriculture and Food, and Rural Affairs.
Those titles evaporated with the election. Crack has since been named parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Education -- who has no say over post-secondary institutions -- and remains on the back bench of the Wynne caucus.
In the neighbouring riding, Crack's fellow Glengarrian, Jim McDonell, also pulled off a commanding re-election with more than 50 per cent of the vote. The Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry MPP was among a diminished Tory roster of 27 who returned to Official Opposition benches this month.