Uninterested, unhappy, but not quite ready for change: Why apathy in some Toronto suburbs might let Trudeau keep his job

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On a hot summer afternoon in Brampton, on the southern edge of town, where it borders Mississauga, Chris Mahadev stood painting the front porch of the bungalow he shared with his mother. There was a Conservative Party lawn sign in Mahadev’s grass. But ideologically, he says, he is probably closest to the NDP, and in the end, he will likely vote for the Liberal.

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“We haven’t seen what they are capable of,” he said. “(If we) suddenly change, we have to go back to the drawing board again. So what’s the matter?”

Mahadev lives in the western suburbs of Toronto near the geographic center of the Peel area. He is not excited about this election, to say the least. “Honestly it (shouldn’t) happen in the first place,” he said. “We are in the middle of a fourth wave of a pandemic.”

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Housing is a big issue for him. He is 36. He earns $19 per hour. A tiny house in their street recently sold for over $1 million. “I live in a basement,” he said. “I know I can’t afford to buy a house. I can’t even afford to rent.” But neither side has really impressed them with their housing offers.

“Justin Trudeau, his idea of ​​raising taxes on banks … I think it will work,” he said. “But then again, I’m trying to work in the stock market as well.” So he is also worried about high taxes. “It’s useless,” he said.

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Trudeau and the Liberal Party have owned the Peel area since 2015. But this year, the Conservatives are hoping to flip several seats, especially in Mississauga, all part of a suburban strategy they still hope, with a few days left in the election, will make Erin O’Toll prime minister. .

But the party’s most pressing problem at the moment may be voters like Mahadev: uninterested in elections, unhappy with the status quo, but not yet motivated enough by conservatives or the NDP to vote for change.

“It’s going to be all about voting intensity,” said one Conservative, who has been volunteering with several campaigns in Peel. “But I think looking at the number of people who are saying they’re going to vote, it’s actually less than in 2019, which was less than in 2015 … just doesn’t seem like much intensity. “

The Conservatives still feel they should have won several races at Peel. They are bullish on the Mississauga-Lakeshore, currently held by Liberal Sven Spenceman, where lobbyist Michael Raas, whose wife is a popular local councillor, is carrying the party banner.

He should get the lead in Mississauga-Streetsville, where the Liberal incumbent, Gagan Sikand, stopped going to work in 2020, never fully explaining why (he was on otherwise undefined “medical” leave) again just before the campaign. Declared that he would not contest re-election. (They should also hold on to Dufferin-Caledon, Peel’s northernmost and least urban, seat, barring disaster.)

But there are now signs, in just a few days, the kind of wave that allowed Doug Ford’s progressive conservatives to sweep the region in 2018, or allow Stephen Harper to dominate the majority path in 2011.

“Erin can pull it off if she has the organizational strength,” said a Conservative not directly involved in O’Toole’s campaign. “But my understanding right now, I think, if I had to choose, is that (those swing seats) would be broken again for the liberals. And Trudeau could form a minority government with a lower level of popular support than in 2019. .

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On a Wednesday night in mid-September, Jagmeet Singh, once Peele’s brightest political star, got off his campaign bus and walked into a modest crowd in a Brampton parking lot. As he prepared to speak, the crowd moved towards him, breaking physical distancing rules, and formed a tight half circle in front of the cameras.

“It’s really great, because that’s where it all started for me,” Singh said into the microphone. “This is the community that gave me so much love and support. From here we started a political movement.

When pundits talk about the political significance of 905, Peele is often associated with York, Halton, Durham and even Hamilton. But the region, Mississauga, is a manufacturing and distribution center made up of Brampton and a larger, less urban north. culturally and economically distinct from those areas as Laval is from Victoria, BC

Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh addresses hundreds of supporters during a rally in Brampton East on 15 September.  Singh, who provincially represented Brampton before entering federal politics, remains a political figure in Peel.

Carved on its own, Peel would be Canada’s third largest city, smaller than Montreal and Toronto. It also has 12 ridings, more than Calgary, and nearly all of them have swung between parties over the past 10 years, which is why various leaders have spent so much time at Brampton Banquet Hall and Mississauga Parks in the past four weeks.

“Ontario is holding the cards in this election. And by Ontario, everyone means swing riding in GTA,” said one Conservative strategist. “Places like Brampton and Mississauga: the way those riders break, it’s the same Who is going to determine who forms the government.”

Singh, who provincially represented Brampton before entering federal politics, remains a political figure in Peel. And while some believe his party will win a single seat in the region in this campaign – despite a late visit to his old political home in Brampton East – he may still play a decisive role.

To win in Mississauga, and even win seats in Brampton, the Conservative Party needs the NDP to garner significantly more votes in Peel than in 2019. A real difference,” said one Conservative who was deeply involved in 2011, the last time the party dominated Peele.

But according to a Conservative who has been active in the region in this election, NDP support on the ground has been “non-existent”. “There is no NDP vote,” he said. “So it comes down to the Conservatives (or) the Liberals.”

That’s a problem for O’Toole because, unlike Ford in 2018, he’s not up against a leader like the historically unpopular Kathleen Wynne. He cannot rely on the will of the electorate for change alone to bring him to power.

In fact, a recent Abacus data poll found that Canada’s desire for change is actually lower than in 2019 and did not increase significantly during the campaign. “What people don’t talk about is total voter apathy,” said Mississauga politics expert Ajay Sharma.

Challengers like O’Toole need passion, but according to Sharma, Peele doesn’t have much passion to travel around. “You can’t imagine an election is going on here,” said Sharma, who teaches politics and public policy at the University of Guelph. “That is exactly what the Liberal Party wants. Because when change is about to happen, highly motivated people will come forward and they usually punish the incumbent.”

There is another problem for conservatives. Peele is angry. Many voters actively dislike Trudeau. But, for the first time in decades, those angry voters may not necessarily be turning to the Conservative Party. This campaign, they have another potential home.

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Tom Fehr has voted for almost every party over the past 50 years. He voted Liberal in the 1960s and the NDP in 2019, with a lot of Conservative votes sprinkled in between. For a while this year he thought about voting for Enemy Paul and the Greens.

But Fehr, who owns a trucking company in Mississauga until he retired after an accident several years ago, doesn’t think he can ever vote for Trudeau. “I don’t like the way he talks. I don’t like the look of his face,” he said. “I never liked his father. He brought in a lot of immigrants, a lot of immigrants. So they are birds of one wing. “

Fehr, 72, does not believe in vaccination. “I’ve always looked for myself, not the government,” he said. He is against the mask mandate and vaccine passport. And by the middle of the campaign, he had planned to vote for Conservative candidate Cathy-Ying Zhao at the Mississauga Center.

But somewhere along the line, something changed for Fehr. His daughter, who “follows Rebel News and all that stuff,” told him about Maxime Bernier and the People’s Party of Canada, a far-right upstart that rejects the scientific consensus on climate change, as well as vaccines. , lockdown, masks and other COVID-19 measures. (Bernier has also accused Canada of having a “cult of multiculturalism”, called for lower levels of immigration, and positioned his party in such a way that critics accused intentionally of a racist and conspiratorial fringe. prepared to appeal.)

On 9 September, Fehr let local PPC candidate Eli Diab into his house. Together they pulled Zhao’s sign off his lawn and replaced it with a purple PPC sign. “I grew up here all my life. And it’s like that, so it’s not free anymore,” Fehr said. “Give me my freedom back, son.”

Most conservative strategists are still not sure what to do with the PPC boom. In the poll, the party is sitting between six and nine percent at the national level. And the party was placed at 10 percent in GTA in a recent Forum Research poll. But whether those voters will actually come on election day is an open question.

Conservatives believe the PPC vote is soft. He does not think that the party has the infrastructure to identify and drive out its supporters. Nor do they think that all, or even most, PPC voters are essentially disaffected conservatives. “The numbers kind of show that these people are not traditional voters,” said one Conservative currently campaigning in Peel. “So will they vote this time? I do not know. I do not think so.”

But that doesn’t mean the party isn’t worried. “Even if they’ve got half the level of support they’re pulling in now, it could make a difference in the close ride,” said another…

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