Former Ontario finance minister Charles Sousa is headed to Ottawa after winning Monday’s federal by-election in Mississauga-Lakeshore.
With 99.5 per cent of polls reporting, Mr. Sousa, a Liberal, had 51.2 per cent of the vote, well ahead of his Conservative opponent, Ron Chhinzer, a member of the Peel Regional Police, with 37.3 per cent.
By way of comparison, Liberal Sven Spengemann won the riding with 44 per cent of the vote, versus his Tory opponent’s 38 per cent, in the 2021 federal election.
Mr. Spengemann vacated the seat for a job at the United Nations.
Turnout for Monday’s by-election was just 26.48 per cent, according to the Elections Canada website, but that figure does not include voters who registered on election day.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau touted the Liberal win in Parliament on Tuesday, responding to an unrelated question from Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre.
Mr. Trudeau said, amidst the back and forth of the House, there are occasionally chances for Canadians to weigh in on what’s going on in federal politics.
“The residents of Mississauga-Lakeshore had a choice. They could choose between the Conservative Party politics of division and reckless proposals that included recommending you opt out of inflation by investing in crypto or in our government’s approach of being there for Canadians every step of the way and putting more money back in their pockets,” he said. “Well, Mr. Speaker, the people of Mississauga-Lakeshore have spoken and elected a Liberal member of Parliament.”
It was the first time Canadian voters have gone to the polls since Mr. Poilievre was elected Conservative leader in September.
Mr. Poilievre did not campaign in the riding, whereas Mr. Trudeau campaigned for Mr. Sousa and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh campaigned for his party’s candidate, who won 4.9 per cent of the vote.
Mr. Poilievre had conceded the Tories would face a challenge in the riding, which has been held by the Liberals for all but four years since 1993.
“It’s a difficult riding for us, but we have an excellent candidate,” he said in a rare news conference on Parliament Hill last week.
Pollster Nik Nanos said the results are good for the Liberals because they double the party’s margin of victory over the Conservatives in the 2021 federal election, with Liberal support up while NDP support is down, suggesting some strategic progressive voting.
In a statement Tuesday, Mr. Nanos, the chief data scientist at Nanos Research and official pollster for The Globe and Mail and CTV News, said the results have to be disappointing for the Conservatives considering that Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives, under Doug Ford, won the provincial iteration of the riding in this year’s provincial election.
Political scientist Alex Marland said in an e-mail exchange Tuesday that Mississauga-Lakeshore is exactly the type of seat the Conservatives need to flip from the Liberals if they hope to form government.
“The result is a lump of coal that should be cause for reflection for Mr. Poilievre and the Conservatives over the holiday season,” said Prof. Marland, the head of the political science department at Memorial University in St. John’s.
But Conservative strategist Kory Teneycke, the campaign manager of Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s 2018 and 2022 campaigns, said Mr. Poilievre should stay the course.
“The key to politics is consistency and having a solid strategy and sticking to it and trying to pick your battles very carefully and trying to be disciplined in your message always,” Mr. Teneycke said in an interview Tuesday.
“The idea that leaders should be taking campaign advice from Twitter or from pundits in the media is fraught with peril. I would not recommend doing it. Sticking to the main topics – if you’re the Conservatives – stay on the economy, pocketbook issues around affordability, interest rates, housing affordability, crime and public safety. These are all areas where they have a 10- to 15-per-cent advantage all the time.”
He also conceded that the Liberals had a strong candidate, noting that in by-elections the local candidate matters a lot.
“There’s nothing wrong with the Conservative candidate as an individual, but being a police officer doesn’t have the same profile as a former minister of finance of the province of Ontario. You’ve got a big differential in terms of the public profile of the two main candidates, so that’s usually worth a good five points for whoever is better known.”
Mr. Nanos agreed that having a strong candidate was a key advantage for the Liberals. “In a world where Canadians are unenthusiastic about the federal leaders and less loyal to parties, local candidates may increasingly be a key differentiator for campaigns,” he said.
Conservative commentator Tim Powers, vice-chairman of Summa Strategies and managing director of Abacus Data, was also skeptical about the relevance of by-elections to larger party efforts, but he said in an e-mail exchange that the most meaningful outcome of the by-election is not the win but the winner.
He said the talented Mr. Sousa gives the federal government options for cabinet, which is something any prime minister wants.
Mr. Sousa was elected a member of the Ontario legislature in 2007 and was a minister of labour and later of citizenship and immigration before serving as finance minister from 2013 to 2018, when he was defeated in that year’s provincial election.
The Liberals are currently governing as a minority government, with 158 MPs in the 337-seat Parliament. The Conservatives have 118, the Bloc Québécois have 32, and the NDP have 25. There are two Green Party members and two Independent MPs. One Liberal MP, former cabinet minister Jim Carr, died Monday.
For subscribers: Get exclusive political news and analysis by signing up for the Politics Briefing.