AJAX, Ontario – For the past four years Ajax, a small city east of Toronto, has been part of the Conservative heartland.
It’s suburban, middle class, and bestowed with a cabinet minister: Chris Alexander.
But now, the immigration minister is fighting to keep his seat.
“We’re feeling good. I’m not making any predictions,” Alexander said in his Ajax campaign office, as volunteers stuff envelopes behind him.
It was in this riding – and especially on this minister – that the most explosive issue of the campaign landed: the Syrian refugee crisis.
“There are different views on refugee resettlement, not only the ones we’ve seen in some headlines, but some people who are deeply skeptical – in Ajax and across the country,” Alexander said.
But Alexander has more local problems.
Once hailed by the Ajax Muslim community, he’s no longer their favourite son.
“In last election, my brothers and sisters, they supported Chris Alexander, because he served in Afghanistan…he knows our culture very well,” said Wassaq Syed, president of the Islamic Society of Ajax.
But they’ve been disappointed, he told Global News.
“Big time, big time, they’ve been disappointed, when I talk to them, I get a sense that they are not happy.”
The disappointment is found not only in the government’s handling of the refugee crisis, but frustrations about obtaining visas.
Syed said his 75-year-old father was unable to obtain a visa to travel from India – a common problem.
“My daughter was going to get married, and his visa was denied,” he said.
But Alexander told Global News that this isn’t always the case.
“For every story where there’s disappointment, where an independent decision maker has said no, based on the rules, based on the criteria that are applied around the world, I would say there are five or ten very positive stories.”
Liberal Mark Holland previously held the Ajax seat for three terms, and he wants it back.
In 2011, Alexander won the riding with 44 per cent of the vote, while Holland received 38 per cent.
“There’s no question this campaign is resonating,” Holland said.
“The plan that Justin Trudeau has is really resonating with voters. Last time our national campaign just didn’t resonate.”
If Holland wins, it’s a big deal for the bigger picture, according to Scott Aquanno, a political scientist at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology.
“If Alexander goes down it’s an important loss, but also it’s an important loss because it’s a suburban 905 seat, and these are the types of seats the Liberals will need to win in a minority government,” Aquanno said.
For his part, Alexander has no regrets about how he’s handled immigration issues, including his party’s position that a woman must remove her niqab to swear the citizenship oath.
“I think people do see it as a problem, when some individual wants to change the rules – longstanding rules, governing citizenship – to suit themselves,” he said.
Alexander said he’s optimistic about his chances on election day – even though the polls suggest change may be on its way.