Berns-McGown takes Beaches-East York in east-end NDP sweep

Arthur Potts was philosophical about his chances of being re-elected Beaches-East York MPP as the results started coming in.

“You get swept in with the tide, you get swept out with the tide,” he said at an election night party of about 30 supporters at the Beach House on Queen Street East.

The Liberal candidate, however, unlikely realized how strong the tide would be that swept his party out of most Toronto seats and swept the New Democratic Party in across the downtown core and the east end on June 7.

The NDP’s Rima Berns-McGown won Beaches-East York handily with 24,064 votes, almost double Potts’s 13,480 votes.

Progressive Conservative Sarah Mallo received 9,202 votes, and the Green Party’s Debra Scott got 2,128.

Berns-McGown joins fellow NDP victor Peter Tabuns in Queen’s Park after he won his fifth straight election in the neighbouring Toronto-Danforth riding. Tabuns took 32,938 votes, more than four times the second-place candidate — his widest margin yet.

Even the Scarborough Southwest riding on the east side went orange, with the NDP’s Dolly Begum also toppling an incumbent Liberal, Lorenzo Berardinetti, who had held the riding since 2003.

Surrounded by about 80 supporters crammed into one room of the Firkin on Danforth bar, Berns-McGown in an interview attributed her victory to “this village of people who helped me do this.”

The message that resonated with local voters was “society doesn’t work for anyone unless it works for everyone,” she said. “Even though many people are doing okay, they can see that lots of their neighbours aren’t and it means a lot to them to change that.”

Issues varied across the riding, which includes both affluent and more modest neighbourhoods, Berns-McGown said, but she picked out dental care, child care and transit as NDP issues that everyone responded to.

“The idea of fixing things from the foundation up and not just waiting until there’s a crisis and throwing dollars at it — that was an issue that definitely resonated with people,” she said.

The gathering on Danforth Avenue cheered raucously every mention on TV screens of NDP victories across Toronto, ignoring the larger PC tide that swept across much of the rest of the province.

Berns-McGown said she wasn’t surprised at the poor showing of the conservatives in  Beaches-East York, despite the upsurge for them elsewhere.

“The PC candidate never came to any of the debates and was barely present,” she said. “And on top of that, it’s a very progressive riding.”

Pronouncements from PC leader Doug Ford did not resonate in Beaches-East York at all, she said.

Since 1967, the provincial riding and its predecessor Beaches-Woodbine have been solidly NDP, except for a term with a PC representative in the 1970s and the recent Liberal term with Potts.

Before the ballots were counted, Potts said he thought he had a chance of making history by being the only non-NDP candidate to be re-elected in Beaches-East York. He also predicted the Liberals would do better than expected, winning up to 20 seats.

“We have so many good retail politicians in our party,” he said, referring to MPPs who stay connected with voters by being involved in local events.

In the end, the Liberals did do slightly better across Ontario than the polls showed, winning seven seats, rather than the five most often predicted, and retaining 19 per cent of the popular vote. But it was far from enough to stem the orange and blue tides that swept incumbents like Potts out of office.

Asked what role she hoped to play in the NDP caucus at Queen’s Park as part of the official opposition, Berns-McGown, a long-time activist on numerous issues, said, “I really am interested in equity and ensuring we get the kind of systemic change we need to ensure that our systems are equitable — and they’re not at the moment.”