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Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford boards his bus as he leaves a press conference at the HVAC-R training facility in Brampton, Ont. on May 25, 2022.Cole Burston/The Canadian Press

Voters in Brampton, Ont. turned out at rates even lower than the exceptionally low province-wide rate in Thursday’s Ontario provincial election, raising questions among some residents about whether the Progressive Conservative sweep of all five of the city’s ridings is partly a product of public apathy.

The province-wide turnout in the election was 43 per cent of eligible voters, according to Elections Ontario, which was an all-time low. But in Brampton’s ridings, turnout ranged from a high of 36.35 per cent to a low of 33.53 per cent. Before dissolution, three of those ridings were held by the Ontario NDP. Now all of them are controlled by Premier Doug Ford’s PC party.

Voters in Peel Region, of which Brampton is a part, played a key role – along with voters in the rest of southwestern Ontario – in helping the Conservatives remain in power at Queen’s Park.

Manan Gupta, a voter in Brampton North, said the Liberals and the NDP did a poor job of reminding voters of what he sees as Mr. Ford’s missteps.

Ontario election: Turnout hit all-time low with just 43% of eligible voters casting ballots

“Did you see Steven Del Duca or Andrea Horwath talk about the 13,000 Ontarians who died of COVID? Did they talk about the fact that hospitals in Brampton were overwhelmed? The campaign was so weak, they didn’t even remind people of all that had gone wrong,” Mr. Gupta said.

As of June last year, Brampton had the highest per-capita rate of COVID-19 infections in the province. Wave after wave of the virus stretched the city’s already overwhelmed health care system to its limits.

Prior to the election, political observers had expected health to be a major issue for Brampton voters. There seemed to be a possibility that the PC party, which has been in power throughout the pandemic, would be punished at the polls for the infections that occurred on its watch. Thursday’s results suggest that reckoning didn’t happen.

Manmeen Oberoi, a Brampton East resident, lost a 36-year-old son to COVID-19. She said she doesn’t blame anyone who didn’t vote. “None of the parties gave us anything to be excited about. They all did eventually talk about building hospitals in Brampton, but they left it too late, and they didn’t get the message out. All campaigns were lacklustre.”

Mr. Gupta said he believes the PCs would have fared worse in Brampton if the election had happened while the virus was particularly rampant. “It was the timing of the election that helped Doug Ford,” he said. “If this election was happening during the Omicron wave, the result could have looked different. But now people want to move on. Everybody is keen to get back to business. Doug Ford’s message about easing restrictions made sense to people.”

Mr. Gupta said Mr. Ford’s push to build a new expressway, Highway 413, also resonated in Brampton. “People in ridings like Brampton North and Brampton East will directly benefit from Highway 413. That promise of connectivity really helped people connect with the Conservatives,” he said.

Some Brampton residents said technical glitches, which were reported across the province on Thursday morning, may have dissuaded voters from waiting in lines. Shontal Cargill, a voter in Brampton South, said delays at her polling station on Thursday morning were so severe she had to leave without casting a ballot. She returned to vote in the evening, but she wonders how many others bothered to do the same. “It’s possible that they didn’t go back,” she said.

The riding with the highest turnout in the city was Brampton Centre, where 36.35 per cent of eligible voters cast ballots, down from just over 50 per cent in the 2018 election. PC candidate Charmaine Williams unseated NDP incumbent Sara Singh there by just over 3,500 votes.

The lowest turnout in the city was in Brampton West, at 33.53 per cent – a drop from around 48 per cent in 2018. The winner there was Amarjot Sandhu, a PC incumbent.

Brampton East had a turnout of 36.18 per cent, down from nearly 52 per cent. Gurratan Singh, the brother of federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, was unseated by PC candidate Hardeep Grewal.

In Brampton North, the NDP changed its candidate from incumbent MPP Kevin Yarde to Sandeep Singh, who finished in third place in Thursday’s election. PC candidate Graham McGregor won the riding, where turnout was 35 per cent.

And in Brampton South, PC incumbent Prabmeet Sarkaria held on to his riding, which had a 35.6-per-cent turnout.

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