At first glance, Monday’s federal byelection in a coveted Greater Toronto Area riding might seem like a nail-biter.
It’s the first contest under the Conservative leadership of Pierre Poilievre, in an area of the country crucial to his party’s chances of success in future federal elections.
And the contest, in a district the Tories won when Stephen Harper earned a majority mandate, comes seven years into the tenure of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose government is on its second minority stint in Parliament.
Though Poilievre has been scarcely visible as parties test their ground game a year after the last general election, he tweeted his support for candidate Ron Chhinzer on Monday afternoon.
Chhinzer is a “strong Conservative,” Poilievre said, who, after a 20-year career in law enforcement, “will be a strong advocate to tackle crime and restore safe streets in Mississauga.”
But with the Liberals running a well-known former Ontario cabinet minister as their candidate in Mississauga-Lakeshore, they “should be able to win,” said Philippe Fournier, the creator of 338Canada, a statistical model of electoral projections based on polling, demographics and elections history.
Still, he warned that byelection results are not always meaningful in the grand scheme.
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“If the Conservatives pull it out, it’s a big story. If the Liberals win by five or six points, it’s just business as usual,” he said. The Liberals had won the riding by about a six-point margin in the 2021 federal election.
Fournier said Conservatives will need to learn how to win again in the regions outside of Toronto if Poilievre wants a kick at the can as prime minister.
“When you look at the riding map, the Conservatives have maxed out in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta. They could win maybe a handful more in Atlantic provinces, maybe two, three more in Quebec, maybe two, three more in B.C.,” he said.
“That doesn’t give you victory. They have to win more in Ontario. Where are the potential gains for the Conservatives? It’s into the Mississaugas and the Scarboroughs.”
Brian Gallant, 53, a Conservative voter, said he doesn’t know much about Chhinzer but will vote for him nonetheless.
“I am tired of the Liberals, and we need a change, we definitely need a change,” he said.
Chhinzer, a gang prevention expert and member of the Peel Regional Police Service serving in Mississauga, did not respond to multiple requests for an interview.
Charles Sousa, Ontario’s finance minister under former premier Kathleen Wynne, lost his seat in the 2018 provincial election that saw the Liberals fall from the governing party to one without official status in the legislature.
He said his experience representing the community west of Toronto and navigating government makes him the most qualified person for the federal seat.
“People want someone who is positive, open-minded, listens to them and gets things done. And so I try to avoid the partisan stuff. I don’t get to the extremes of the spectrum,” he said.
“Nothing’s gonna change in Ottawa, regardless of the outcome of this election. So who do you want to fight for you and be there for you? I’m getting a lot of positive feedback.”
Joining Sousa in the crowded 40-candidate race — with the vast majority of hopefuls running as Independents — is the NDP’s Julia Kole, whose party placed a distant third in the riding’s last three elections.
Kole, a former constituency staffer for a member of the provincial legislature, suggested that people who are frustrated with the Liberals should turn to the NDP rather than to the Conservatives.
“Look what the NDP has been able to accomplish. In a time where there is a lot of indecision, or a lot of delays of decision from the Liberal government, we are working to hold them accountable,” she said. “We’re small, but we’re mighty.”
The byelection was announced after Sven Spengemann, the former Liberal MP, announced earlier this year that he would resign to pursue a new job at the United Nations.
Polls were scheduled to remain open until 8:30 p.m. on Monday evening, with the first Elections Canada results expected to roll in thereafter.