What does an incumbent void mean for the election campaign in London West?

Statistics Canada reports 800 jobs were created last month while 600 left the labour force and 1,400 fewer people claimed unemployment. Andrew Graham / Global News

The federal riding of London West may be yielding a hotly-contested election campaign in the Forest City, as a mix of returning and new candidates look to succeed a departing incumbent.

In March, London West MP Kate Young announced she would not seek re-election in the riding she won in 2015 and 2019 for the Trudeau Liberals.

The 2021 election will now see Liberal candidate Arielle Kayabaga, Conservative candidate Rob Flack, New Democratic Party (NDP) candidate Shawna Lewkowitz and People’s Party of Canada (PPC) candidate Mike McMullen all vying to represent the riding.

As of Tuesday, the Green Party of Canada has not nominated a candidate for London West.

Read more: London West MP Kate Young announces she won’t run in next federal election

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An associate professor in Western University’s department of political science, Cristine de Clercy says the lack of an incumbent can be helpful to the democratic process by opening the field to new candidates

“It matters because incumbents, owing to their name recognition and their established profile in the riding, always have a huge advantage over people who don’t sit in office,” de Clercy said, adding that the room for new candidates can be encouraging for voters who like to see fresh faces in politics.

While the advantage of an incumbent may be absent, de Clercy says the Liberals might maintain favour in the riding thanks to the track record of Young, who won both of her elections with more than 40 per cent of the vote.

“My impression is that she was a very good constituency person… that doesn’t mean it’s a shoe-in of course, in an election, theoretically anybody can take it, but it does mean that she left the riding in good shape for Ms. Kayabaga,” de Clercy said.

Read more: Coun. Arielle Kayabaga nominated as federal Liberal candidate in London West

The 2021 election marks Kayabaga’s first run at federal politics, but she brings with her the name recognition and municipal experience of London’s current Ward 13 Councillor.

“The exciting thing is we just finished our nomination campaign which had lots of people in London West engaged, so right now things are still buzzing and people are excited,” Kayabaga told Global News.

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“I’m excited to continue to do this work, but on a platform where I actually get to be a part of the change and not the lobbying side where we’re asking the federal government to support us.”

London Ward 13 Coun. and Liberal candidate for London West Arielle Kayabaga.
London Ward 13 Coun. and Liberal candidate for London West Arielle Kayabaga. Arielle Kayabaga / Twitter

Flack, the Conservative candidate, hopes to make his political debut and sees the lack of an incumbent as an advantage.

While Flack lacks Kayabaga’s experience at city hall, along with Lewkowitz’s and McMullen’s familiarity to voters as returning candidates, he says he’s “not finding the name recognition issue a problem at all.”

Read more: Conservatives unveil election promises in pandemic-focused platform

“What resonates with people is my background in business, my background in agri-food,” said Flack, who is the president and CEO of Masterfeeds Inc., a national business that aims to advance animal nutrition. He has also previously served as the chair and director of the London International Airport.

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“What we’re really focused on is those Liberal/Conservative swing voters that sometimes want to have a reason to switch either way.”

The Conservative Party of Canada’s 2021 federal election candidate for London West Rob Flack. Rob Flack

Lewkowitz has a chance to capture the NDP’s first-ever victory in London West. One of only two returning candidates in the riding, Lewkowitz hopes to build off having a familiar name on the ballot.

“I feel like I’m coming into this election… better prepared than I was last time with a little bit more confidence about what’s ahead of me,” said Lewkowitz, who teaches at King’s University College, serves as president of Urban League London and founded the advocacy group Women and Politics.

Read more: ‘A New Deal for people’: NDP unveils blueprint for campaign platform

“Here in London West, we have a strong NDP MPP in Peggy Sattler who’s shown the riding just how hard New Democrats work and so she’s provided a good example of what NDP representation looks like.”

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London West NDP candidate Shawna Lewkowitz, who is only one of two returning candidates in the riding as of Tuesday. Andrew Graham / Global News

The riding’s other returning candidate, Mike McMullen, is vying to claim London West for the PPC, a party that failed to claim a seat in 2019.

McMullen’s first campaign captured just over one and a half per cent of the vote on behalf of a party that was still in its infancy at the time, but the candidate says, “sometimes trial by fire is a good learning experience.”

Read more: Mandatory COVID-19 vaccines a hot-button issue as election race kicks off

McMullen is hoping to gain a boost in support thanks to the PPC’s stance against health measures tied to the COVID-19 pandemic. He cites the proliferation of groups that voice opposition to measures such as lockdowns and masking as indicative of a growing popularity for the PPC.

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“A lot of these people, their political leanings are completely different. I was talking to a Green guy the other day, he used to be a campaign manager for the Green Party… he just basically defected,” McMullen told Global News.

The People’s Party of Canada’s candidate in London West for the 2021 election Mike McMullen. Andrew Graham / Global News

de Clercy, the associate professor from Western, expects a competitive campaign from Lewkowitz for the NDP, but says the PPC’s performance will be a trend worth watching.

“It’ll be interesting to see what happens with Mike McMullen’s candidacy in London West as an indicator of overall sentiment and support for the People’s Party,” de Clercy said, describing his campaign as a test of the party’s growth capacity.

Historically, London West has flipped between Conservative/PC and Liberal rule, with the latter party coming out on top more often.

de Clercy added that the Green Party, which has yet to nominate a candidate, may affect the distribution of votes in their potential absence.

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“In the last election they picked up around five per cent of the vote, that’s a respectable level of support. Those voters may sit on their hands or they may go to some of the other candidates and make the margins in this riding a little bit tighter than they have been historically,” de Clercy said.

London Mayor Ed Holder was the last Conservative to represent London West with victories in 2008 and 2011.

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Federal election early polling trends – Aug 17, 2021

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