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Election was a lesson in politics for Orillia elementary school teacher

‘We’re seeing a slow but sure progressive shift,’ says Simcoe North NDP candidate, who offers high praise to retiring MP Bruce Stanton
Janet-Lynne Durnford 09-01-21
New Democratic Party candidate Janet-Lynne Durnford.

Simcoe North NDP candidate Janet-Lynne Durnford said she learned a lot during her first election campaign.

The first-time candidate spent Monday night immersed in the local election results while sharing a virtual congregation with other fellow Simcoe County NDP candidates and supporters.

"The NDP was very clear that we were not to hold any election night gatherings, which I respect completely," said Durnford, who watched the results at home with her family.

This was Durnford’s first official political campaign, after putting her name forward as a nominee for the 2019 federal election. She later withdrew over frustration with the party's vetting process.

“I definitely hope to run again. If I win the nomination for the next federal election, I would be very happy to run again,” said Durnford, a wife and mother of two, and an elementary school teacher in Orillia where she has lived for nearly 50 years.

Durnford and the NDP party finished third in Simcoe North, which proved to be a Tory stronghold for a sixth straight election. Rookie Progressive Conservative candidate Adam Chambers topped the polls with almost 43% of the vote, while Liberal candidate Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux was second, capturing about 30% of the votes cast.

Durnford earned 9.480 votes or just under 16% of the votes Monday night. In the 2019 federal election, then NDP candidate Angelique Belcourt garnered 8,850 votes or 14% of the ballots cast in the riding.

This year's campaign was unique thanks to the brevity of the campaign and COVID-19.

“It was such a short election period, and I think every candidate thought, ‘oh if I only had another week or two more weeks’. We did feel like we were really getting into the swing of things in the last week or so, but we were all on the same footing," she said.

Durnford found that the pandemic posed quite a challenge for her campaign strategy, causing her to rely heavily on social media.

“It’s hard to get the attention of people who don’t necessarily already follow you unless you’re going viral with something crazy,” said Durnford. “We did swing toward the very end of the campaign to do some door knocking which we hadn’t planned to do just to get out there, to make sure that we were seeing people face-to-face -- masked, of course.

“We had a lot of signs out on lawns, we had a ton of positive feedback, and we’re very satisfied with how it went.”

The platforms campaigned upon were in line with leader Jagmeet Singh’s core promises for the NDP, a party of equity, inclusion and hope for the future, according to Dunford. Safe housing affordability, higher education, universal healthcare, a green economy, and child and elder care of quality were just a few promises Dunford gave to residents.

“I have respect for all of the other candidates in Simcoe North,” Durnford shared, “and I think that we’ve all learned from each other about how to run a campaign. I think each of the candidates had a slightly different approach, and that’s a learning experience, too.

“For the next one, I think we can take a little bit of that and a little bit of this. Hopefully it’s not a pandemic campaign for the next one, and we can go back to having some normalcy like having a campaign office,” Durnford added with a soft laugh.

When asked what the legacy of long-time MP Bruce Stanton would be upon his passing of the mantle to Chambers, Durnford noted his connection to the people of Simcoe North as one of his most valuable traits.

“I think Bruce Stanton was very genuine in his connections that he made with his constituents, and he listened to people,” said Durnford.

“I was at a rally down at the Champlain monument a few months ago and he just came very quietly with his family and he listened; he just really listened. He wasn’t there for the attention or as an MP; I think he was just there as a person," she explained.

“I think he did a good job at that, at doing his best to connect to his constituents to really listen to what their issues were and advocate for them when he could.”

As election results came in, Durnford was pleased with how well her party had done.

“I’m happy that we have a higher percentage of the vote than we had in 2019,” Durnford shared. “We’re seeing a greater percentage of the vote go to the NDP across the Simcoe ridings, and I think we’re seeing a slow but sure progressive shift there.”

Yawning throughout the Google Meet group caught up to everyone, including Durnford; trailing behind the Liberal and Conservative candidates, conversation in the group became social more than celebratory.

“I just want to end with such gratitude for everyone who helped with the campaign,” said Durnford of the numerous volunteers, staff and supporters who helped her along the way. 

“I’m back to my teaching job on Monday,” admitted Durnford, “so there’ll be a switching of gears this week.”


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Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

About the Author: Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Derek Howard covers Midland and Penetanguishene area civic issues under the Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the Government of Canada.
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