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Blizzard

Honeymoon Capital kissing goodbye to Liberals

By Christina Blizzard, Special to the Sun

Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak speaks to reporters about job losses in Niagara as Niagara Falls PC candidate Bart Maves listens. Mike DiBattista/QMI Agency)

Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak speaks to reporters about job losses in Niagara as Niagara Falls PC candidate Bart Maves listens. Mike DiBattista/QMI Agency)

NIAGARA FALLS - 

Consummated in 2003, it was always a marriage of convenience.

Now the wedded bliss is about to end in an ugly divorce as voters in the Honeymoon Capital kiss goodbye to the Liberals in Thursday’s byelection.

The seat became vacant last September when popular longtime Liberal MPP Kim Craitor called it quits. This was more his personal fief than a Liberal stronghold.

While polling for byelections is difficult, there are strong indications that Liberal Joyce Morocco, a Niagara Falls councillor, is running a poor third behind the NDP and the Tories.

The big issue is jobs, jobs, jobs.

Fort Erie’s economy has been hard hit. The Liberals’ announcement in the 2012 budget that they were shutting down the slots at racetracks has caused the town immense heartache.

While the NDP claims victory for pushing for transition funding to keep the historic racetrack alive, the Tories point out that the NDP supported the budget that pulled the slots in the first place.

“We (Tories) put slots in the tracks back in 1999 and ushered in the best 10 years of horse racing Fort Erie had seen in 50 years. The Liberals, in the 2012 budget, killed the slots at the racetrack program and the NDP supported it,” says PC candidate Bart Maves, a regional councillor.

About 1,000 direct and indirect jobs are on the line in a part of the riding that has been hard hit by job losses in the manufacturing sector.

He was at Tim Hudak’s side this week as the PC leader pitched his “million jobs” plan at a furnace manufacturer in the riding.

Liberal plans to build 29 casinos province-wide will hurt the Falls’ gaming business. With 54% of their business coming from the GTA, casino operators have told Maves that move would cost 1,000 jobs in the city.

New Democrat candidate Wayne Gates is a Niagara Falls councillor and union activist.

He says the NDP’s pledge to bring in tax credits for companies that create jobs is proving popular.

“If you hire someone, you get the credit,” he told me.

“What’s happened over the past 10 years under the Liberal government, supported by the Conservatives, is corporate tax cuts — and it’s not any creating jobs.”

The new south Niagara hospital has proved a hot topic, with the Liberal government announcing funding just as the election writ was dropped. New Democrats have come under fire for pushing for the new hospital while also demanding other hospitals in the area — notably in Welland — remain open, which Health Minister Deb Matthews says, “makes no sense.”

In a last desperate effort to drum up support for the Liberal candidate, Matthews toured a health clinic in Niagara Falls with Morocco this week.

I asked Morocco if she was disappointed that her campaign appeared to be heading over the Falls — without a barrel.

“I’ve put the best foot forward and fought a good, hard fight,” she told me.

“I’m very positive and my passion is about my community and will always continue to be about my community,” she said.

“Buy-election” spending in Niagara has hit $100-million — $26.2 million for the new hospital and $75 million for a “wine and grape strategy.”

Morocco defended the hospital announcement, saying the facility is old and needs replacing.

With the Liberals out of the picture, this is a showdown between the NDP and Tories.

The NDP is hoping to make gains in Fort Erie, but you can’t count out support for Hudak, who’s a hometown boy.

In this casino town, you can gamble on just about anything — except this race.

It’s too tight to call.

When it comes to the byelection, all bets are off.


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