Results from a Greater Toronto Area byelection Monday were beginning to suggest an imminent return to government for former Ontario finance minister Charles Sousa — this time as a federal member of Parliament.
With just under 20 per cent of the vote counted, Sousa arrived at a campaign event in Mississauga declaring himself the winner, to cheers from a crowd of more than a hundred supporters.
“As your voice in Ottawa, I want you to know that I am here to provide support, to work with you and the community, and to be pragmatic at finding the right solutions to those challenges that we face,” Sousa said during a victory speech.
“It is an honour to serve this big community and to join the team in Ottawa that shares those values.”
Though Sousa’s lead was slipping slightly later in the evening, he was winning by 20 percentage points with more than a third of the votes counted, or 80 out of 234 polls in the riding reporting.
If the double-digit lead held, it would be a negative sign for new Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, said Philippe Fournier, the creator of 338Canada, a statistical model of electoral projections based on polling, demographics and elections history.
Reacting to the early results, Fournier noted that the byelection appeared to have low turnout. The first 34 per cent of votes counted only represented about five per cent of registered voters.
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That’s a turnout of only about 15 per cent, based on those early results. Fournier said such a low number could be a sign of either “apathy or general satisfaction.” Both are good signs for the incumbents.
He suggested that if Liberals retained a significant lead, that would mean that Poilievre was “doing worse” than his two immediate predecessors, Erin O’Toole and Andrew Scheer.
During a campaign that saw big-name Liberals dropping by the Mississauga-Lakeshore riding and federal ministers manning the phones, Sousa sold himself as an experienced decision-maker able to work with opponents across the aisle.
The former banker had lost his seat in the 2018 election that saw the provincial Liberals fall from the governing party to one without official status in the legislature.
“I try to avoid the partisan stuff. I don’t get to the extremes of the spectrum,” he said in an interview ahead of the byelection.
“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.”
At an event for Sousa on Monday evening, campaign volunteer Patti Jannetta called Sousa a visionary and said she had heard a lot of positivity from voters.
“I am feeling really confident because I think people are confident in him,” she said at the Oasis Convention Centre shortly before polls closed.
As dozens of supporters waited for the results to come in, they sat around tables chatting over loud blues music played by a live band, some sipping on beer or wine.
It would have been a big story had the Conservative Party managed an upset, explained Fournier.
He suggested ahead of the vote that the Liberals winning by a big margin — into the double digits — could also be seen as a significant result and a rebuke of the Conservative party’s ability to reach voters outside Toronto.
A more-modest Liberal win would simply have been “business as usual.”
At first glance, Monday’s federal byelection in a coveted Greater Toronto Area riding had seemed like a potential nail-biter.
It was the first contest under the Conservative leadership of 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, came seven years into the tenure of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose government is on its second minority stint in Parliament.
As Tories dampened expectations for their performance in Mississauga-Lakeshore, Poilievre was scarcely visible, though he tweeted his support for the Conservative candidate, Ron Chhinzer, on Monday afternoon.
Fournier said Conservatives will need to learn how to win again in the regions outside Toronto if Poilievre wants a shot a becoming 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.”
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.
Final results in Monday’s contest will not be tabulated until local special ballots are added to the tally, beginning on Wednesday.