Low voter turnout a concern as Hamilton Centre constituents head to polls for byelection Thursday

Nine of 10 candidates in the Hamilton Centre byelection are hoping to break a 33-year streak Thursday and end the Ontario NDP’s dominance over the region after seven straight election wins.

Byelection day is March 16 and with last week’s advance polling numbers checking in at less than six per cent, McMaster University political science professor Henry Jacek says voting during March break likely won’t help with turnout.

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“A lot of people will be travelling… so …the number of people who normally vote will probably be lower this time,” said Jacek.

Just 5.2 per cent of registered voters in the riding voted during advance polling which ran between March 8 and 10.

Thursday’s winner will replace former NDP leader Andrea Horwath, who stepped down to become the mayor of Hamilton.

The riding’s election boundary essentially runs east of Highway 403 from the west to Kenilworth Avenue North to the east, and from just below the escarpment in the south to the Hamilton Harbour in the north.

An Elections Ontario map of the Hamilton Centre riding as of the 2023 byelection set for March 16. Elections Ontario

The candidates hoping to become a member of provincial parliament (MPP) for the riding include Pete Wiesner for the Progressive Conservatives, Sarah Jama for the Ontario NDP and Deirdre Pike for the Ontario Liberals. The Ontario Green candidate is Lucia Iannantuono.

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Ontario Liberal Party candidate Dierdre Pike says the biggest issue she’s encountered in her door to door campaign is concern over the number of people unhoused in the city.

“What I hear at the door is, ‘This is not acceptable, I want to see something change here, what can you do?'” Pike told Global News.

Housing was paramount for three of the big party candidates during their campaigns visiting constituents. Of particular concern was the Ford government’s plan to deal with it via Bill 23: The More Homes Built Faster Act.

The initiative aims to speed up home construction in the province but with some cost to farmlands and removal of land from the Greenbelt.

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Pike says the matter was the catalyst for putting her name into the race following advocacy with Climate Justice Niagara in the fall.

“I stood there to protect our farmland … it became clear this is something that you can’t deny. A strong voice, a passionate voice that represents everyone in Hamilton Centre is needed,” said Pike.

Green party candidate Lucia Iannantuano ran on an agenda renewing a call to protect the city’s surrounding farmlands and green spaces from the bill by building middle and affordable housing on vacant plots and not farm or wetlands.

Iannantuano characterizes Bill 23 as an “absolute disaster” which she says encourages the “wrong type” of development.

“It wants high-cost, single-family homes built far away from Hamilton’s centre out in the periphery of Hamilton,” she told Global News.

“When we know that we need is retrofits and building on vacant lots to make affordable units inside the city centre.”

NDP candidate Sara Jamma bemoans the high cost of living in the city and has been promising to be a proponent for tighter rent control.

“I definitely believe that everyone deserves the right to live with dignity here in Hamilton, and that hasn’t been the case,” Jama told Global News in a mid-February interview.

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“I think that encampment evictions should come to an end. I think that people deserve the right to accessible, affordable homes, and that’s not the case here.”

Jacek says an issue tied to a B’nai B’rith Canada statement calling on the NDP to drop Jama as a candidate for past criticism of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians may play a factor in Thursday’s voting.

B’nai B’rith characterized Jama as radical activist associated with groups that have frequently targeted Israel.

Jama addressed that tag during a debate last week saying she was “against antisemitism in all of its forms” but also suggested one can “stand up and say Palestinians have the right to exist while also saying we are adamantly against antisemitism.”

“Wandering into international relations in Middle East politics … that just turns people off,” Jacek said.

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“Especially when somebody is running for the Ontario legislature, which has nothing to do with the peace work down in the Middle East.”

Political analyst Kim Wright says the matter “is one of those very unfortunate late in the campaign conversations” that may deter some voters but suggests antisemitism is a stance not tolerated within the NDP.

Wright is not sure the circumstance will have any significant effect on voting pointing to a positive campaign approach from Jama to get people involved with politics.

“If…you’re like, it’s always the New Democrats that win and I don’t need to show up, I’ll tell you this, you absolutely should show up,” said Wright.

“I’ve seen campaigns that have been won and lost by as little as nine votes.”

Polls will be open March 16 from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Registered voters should have received their voter information card with information about their assigned voting location for election day. Eligible voters who have not yet received a card can still vote but will need to bring a piece of ID to update or add their information to the voters list at a polling station.

Here’s the full list of the registered candidates:

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  • Peter House, Electoral Reform Party
  • Lucia Iannantuono, Green Party of Ontario
  • Sarah Jama, Ontario New Democratic Party
  • Matthew Lingard, independent candidate
  • Deidre Pike, Ontario Liberal Party
  • Mark Snow, Libertarian
  • John Turmel, independent candidate
  • Lee Weiss Vassor, New Blue party
  • Pete Wiesner, Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario
  • Nathalie Xian Yi Yan, independent candidate

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