Blais, who won by a convincing 7,000 votes, originally won his seat in 2020 following the resignation of Marie-France Lalonde

Written by Matthew Lapierre in the Ottawa Citizen

Stephen Blais, the Liberal incumbent in Orléans, was re-elected to his seat in Queen’s Park Thursday evening.

With all 57 polls reporting, Elections Ontario tallied nearly 24,000 votes for Blais, giving him a 7,000 vote lead over his closest runner-up, PC candidate Melissa Felián. NDP candidate Gabe Bourdon was poised for third, with 7,000 votes and Greens candidate Michelle Petersen was behind him with 2,300 votes.

Just over 46 per cent of Orléans’ 111,995 voters cast a ballot.

In a speech to his supporters, Blais thanked his volunteers, who, notably, he said, helped put signs up after the Ottawa wind storm sent them flying. He also addressed the Liberal party’s poor showing.

“In a democracy often times other people win,” he said, “that’s just unfortunately sometimes how it goes but we’re going to work hard to ensure that we advance the issues of Orléans, advance the issues of Ottawa.”

Incumbent Stephen Blais will return to Queens Park as a Liberal MPP for Orléans. PHOTO BY ERROL MCGIHON /Postmedia
Incumbent Stephen Blais will return to Queens Park as a Liberal MPP for Orléans. PHOTO BY ERROL MCGIHON /Postmedia

Blais said in an interview his priorities as an MPP would be to get the government to pay attention to Franco-Ontarian issues and build schools in the fast-growing area.

His convincing win was a rare bright spot for the Liberal party, which was projected to win fewer than 10 seats — hardly the comeback they were looking for, said Blais. “It’s hard to say that this is anything other than disappointing from a party level,” he said. “I think there will be some difficult conversations over the next steps.”

Elsewhere, at the PC watch party, at a restaurant off of St-Joseph Blvd., about 25 people gathered. Felián gave a short speech and thanked her volunteers.

“I think democracy has spoken and that’s okay,” she said. “That’s a part of our electoral process. And, you know, I was happy to put my name on a ballot. I’m a young female at the end of the day, and representation and diversity remains important to me, remains important to the PCs, but you know what the result is the result of the people have spoken.”

Earlier Thursday evening, several Orléans polling stations were quiet, although a steady stream of voters arrived. “I just think it’s important to vote,” said Gordon Malcolm, a 64-year-old retiree. “If you want to hold and be able to express an opinion, you should participate in the voting process. One vote out of millions. They all count.”

Katlynn Jaenen, a 27-year-old student and former personal support worker, said she cast her vote for the Liberals. Elder care, education, and support for healthcare workers were her top priorities.

“For the first six months we were heroes,” she said, “and then it was like a ‘you’re old news.’ So there definitely needs to be more support and resources for those individuals [health care workers].”

Voters who highlighted high gas prices, inflation and francophone issues, which, in highly bilingual Orleans, were top of mind to some voters. At the polling station at St. Peter Catholic High School, voters said they hardly had to wait to cast a ballot.

Orléans is a largely suburban riding on Ottawa’s eastern flank. More than half of its 128,000 residents are bilingual, speaking both English and French, according to 2016 Statistics Canada data.

The area has a history of electing Liberal representatives at the provincial and federal levels. Blais, the incumbent, originally won his seat in a by-election in 2020 following the resignation of Liberal MPP Marie-France Lalonde, who left provincial politics for the opportunity to represent the area federally. She now represents Orléans as an MP with the federal Liberals.

Blais’s platform included a promise to protect Francophone services in Ontario and a desire to upload Highway 174, which runs through Orléans, to make it a provincial responsibility. During his relatively short tenure at Queen’s Park, which has been marked by the pandemic, he pushed a private members bill that would allow a city councillor or mayor who violates workplace violence or harassment policies to be removed from office by a judge.

Blais is a former Ottawa city councillor who represented Cumberland Ward from 2010 until 2019. He won the 2020 by-election in a landslide, taking home 55 per cent of the vote and 8,000 more than the closest runner-up, Progressive Conservative candidate Natalie Montgomery.

Gabriel Bourdon, the NDP candidate, was a lifelong Orléans resident and local labour leader who held various positions with the Public Service Alliance of Canada. Bourdon ran on a promise to be an advocate for “better healthcare, universal dental care, and removing profits from long-term care,” according to a party media release.

PC candidate Melissa Felián had previously run for the federal conservatives in the 2021 election, vying unsuccessfully for the MP seat in Markham-Thornhill.

Greens candidate Michelle Peterson, who grew up in Orléans, campaigned on climate action, particularly following the powerful May derecho that swept through Ottawa and caused significant damage in the rural areas in the southern parts of the riding.

With files from Cleo Ding and Wafa El-Rayes