Summer is the time for barbecues, bare feet and beaches – and for residents of two Ontario ridings, by-elections.
It’s not traditionally thought of as the best season for politicking, when people are out enjoying the weather or away on vacation, but candidates in Thursday’s by-elections in Toronto’s Scarborough-Guildwood and the Ottawa area’s Kanata-Carleton swear that voters are engaged – though it was a bit of a slow start.
“I’ll be honest, when the writ dropped, and we started door knocking shortly right after, people were kind of confused because they were like, ‘I just had an election,’ or some people were like, ‘I already voted,’ ” said community organizer Thadsha Navaneethan, the NDP’s Scarborough-Guildwood candidate.
“In the last about two weeks, particularly as people have been receiving their Elections Ontario voter’s card, it’s been top of mind for people.”
Residents of the Scarborough riding in particular could be forgiven for being election-ed out. They, along with the rest of Toronto, just voted last month in a mayoral by-election, which came just eight months after the general municipal elections, and it has been only 13 months since the last provincial general election.
University of Ottawa political science professor Genevieve Tellier said running two by-elections at once will be a particular challenge for the Liberals, with no leader and depleted resources after third-place showings in two successive elections. However, it will be a slog for all parties to get their voters out to the polls, she said.
“It’s the worst time of the year, the end of July, to have an election,” Prof. Tellier said.
“The participation rate was already low in the last general election, so it will be much lower in this by-election. People will be on vacation.”
Scarborough-Guildwood is looking for a new representative after Liberal Mitzie Hunter resigned to run in Toronto’s mayoral by-election, and the Kanata-Carleton riding has been vacant since the abrupt resignation of Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Merrilee Fullerton in March.
All of the candidates for the three top parties say affordability is one of the main issues they hear about while door knocking, and the Liberals and NDP say health care is raised as a key concern as well.
“Lack of family doctors is No. 1 everywhere throughout the entire riding, and then in the rural part of the riding … the closures of those rural emergency rooms are a big concern,” said Karen McCrimmon, the Liberal candidate in Kanata-Carleton.
Ontario has seen dozens of temporary emergency room closures this year, often during overnight and weekend hours, and particularly in smaller and rural communities due to staff shortages. In the Kanata-Carleton area, the Almonte General Hospital and Arnprior Regional Health have enacted ER closures.
Ms. McCrimmon, a military veteran, brings name recognition and experience to the by-election race, as the riding’s former Liberal MP. Provincially, however, the area has long been Progressive Conservative.
“The advantage the Conservatives have is they know where their voters are and they’re going to be able to pull their voters and get them to the polls, even in the middle of summer,” she said
“So that’s what you’re up against … [but] I tell people that I have defeated the Conservatives twice in this riding in 2015 and 2019 and I can do it again.”
The Kanata-Carleton Progressive Conservative candidate, Sean Webster, said carrying the PC banner gives him an advantage.
“Premier [Doug] Ford and the government are very popular,” said Mr. Webster, who has worked as a lobbyist and government relations executive.
“People appreciate what the premier has done for the province. One of the things that I consistently hear at the doors is how grateful people were to the premier for his strong leadership throughout the pandemic.”
Ms. McCrimmon has criticized Mr. Webster for skipping the local debates. He said he can reach more voters and speak more directly with them by focusing on door knocking.
Melissa Coenraad, the NDP candidate for Kanata-Carleton, said residents feel like consecutive PC representatives have been fairly unavailable to them. And while Ms. McCrimmon did some good work as an MP, provincial politics are different, she said.
“[The provincial Liberals] don’t have official party status, they don’t have a leader right now,” said Ms. Coenraad, a medical lab technician and union rep. “So a lot of people are looking to have a voice.”
In Scarborough-Guildwood, the Progressive Conservatives are hoping that name recognition will help them turn the riding blue. Their candidate, Gary Crawford, is serving his third term as a city councillor for the neighbouring Scarborough Southwest ward and is the budget chair.
“Yes, it has been a Liberal riding for a long time,” Mr. Crawford said. “Do I feel I have a strong chance of winning? I absolutely do. I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t think I had that chance of winning.”
Ms. Navaneethan, the NDP candidate, isn’t convinced that the budget chief is necessarily a household name.
“I think that’s what the PCs were hoping for, but no, there aren’t a lot of people that are telling me that they know Crawford,” she said.
Former Toronto mayor John Tory has endorsed Mr. Crawford in the by-election.
Andrea Hazell, who is looking to keep the seat Liberal, said she isn’t concerned about the high-profile boost to Mr. Crawford’s campaign.
“It does not bother me at all because what I’m coming to this campaign with is confidence, energy, focus on what matters the most to Scarborough residents,” said Ms. Hazell, a community advocate, small business owner and chair of the Scarborough Business Association.
“My opponent can bring all the people he wants to our riding. Why do you think that is happening? Because they’re scared.”
Tara McMahon is running for the Greens in Scarborough-Guildwood and Steven Warren is the party’s candidate in Kanata-Carleton.
A third provincial by-election will have to be called in Kitchener Centre in the next few months, after NDP representative Laura Mae Lindo resigned this month.