Glengarry-Prescott-Russell is the most easterly provincial riding. Bordered by Quebec on two sides, the majority of its voters are francophone, yet there are also deep cultural roots involving Ontario’s English and Scottish heritage. The people whom the territory has sent to Queen’s Park as its Members of Provincial Parliament reflect it too, but past representation also went against many of the other political and cultural trends that characterized Ontario politics in decades past.
The old Glengarry riding existed from 1867 to 1975. From Confederation to 1948, it alternated between a series of anglophone Liberals and Conservatives, most of whom had Scottish surnames. Two interesting exceptions to this were from 1894 to 1898 when David McPherson represented Glengarry for the Patrons of Industry, a rural, progressive, labour party, and from 1919 to 1923 when the MPP was Duncan Ross of the United Farmers of Ontario, yet another rural progressive party. Glengarry MPP’s included Osie F. Villeneuve and Fernand Guindon, who served in the cabinets of PC Premiers John Robarts and William G. Davis. From 1975 to 1999, Glengarry was part of Stormont-Dundas-Glengarry, and then Stormont-Dundas-Glengarry-East Grenville. Osie Villeneuve served as the MPP until 1983 when his distant cousin Noble Villeneuve became the PC MPP. He served in Premier Mike Harris’ cabinet from 1995 to 1999.
Russell existed as its own riding from 1867 to 1967. It alternated back and forth between Liberals and Conservatives who were both anglophones and francophones. The last MPP for Russell was PC Bert Lawrence, who served in the Robarts and Davis cabinets.
The former Prescott riding had similar periods of anglophone-francophone, Liberal and Conservative representation from 1867 to 1967. Prescott’s last MPP was Louis-Pierre Cécile, who served in the PC cabinets of Leslie M. Frost and John Robarts.
Prescott and Russell were merged into a single riding in 1967 that lasted until 1999. Those 32 years were almost evenly split by PC and Liberal representation, first under Conservative Joseph Belanger until 1981, and then under Liberals Don Boudria, Jean Poirier and Jean-Marc Lalonde, who was first elected in 1995. Before then, he had served as a councilor in Rockland from 1963 to 1976 and as Mayor from 1976 to 1991. He has been a councilor on Clarence-Rockland city council since 2014.
In 1999, the number of provincial ridings was reduced to match their federal counterparts. That’s when Glengarry-Prescott-Russell was formed. In 2005, parts of the Glengarry and Cumberland portions of the riding were transferred to other ridings. Glengarry-Prescott-Russell has only ever had Liberal MPP’s, first with Jean-Marc Lalonde until 2011 and then with Grant Crack.
Historically, linguistic and religious divisions determined political affiliations in Ontario. The Conservatives were traditionally the party of most English-speaking protestants, and the Liberal support base was an unusual mix of Scottish Presbyterians and Roman Catholic francophones. Glengarry-Prescott-Russell has always kind of gone against that custom, electing francophone Catholic Conservatives and anglophone Liberals at various points in history. Jean-Marc Lalonde said that any traces that did exist of those old divisions based on language and religion are gone now. “As long as they speak French,” was his answer for the basic prerequisite any candidate who wants a strong chance of winning the bilingual riding should have.
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