Mississauga mashup turned out to be a one-sided affair

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In reality, the Tories did not lose vote share during the byelection. Their candidate, police officer Ron Chhinzer, matched his predecessor by garnering more than 37 per cent of the vote. The real surprise was the drop in the NDP vote. 

By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on December 19, 2022.

OTTAWA—The Mississauga mashup turned out to be a one-sided affair. Liberal candidate Charles Sousa rolled over his opponents with support from the majority of voters. 

Much attention has been paid to the Liberal-Conservative fight, but with less than five per cent of the vote, the New Democrats also received a sobering pre-Christmas message.

In the heart of suburban Toronto, the New Democrats are bleeding support.

That certainly damages their leader’s strategy of joining with the Liberals for a progressive agenda in the hopes that voters might reward NDP co-operation. 

It also changes the vote-splitting dynamic that has delivered two successive minority governments to the Liberals.

The results certainly gave the prime minister a spring in his step in the final sitting days of the 2022 Parliament. 

His speech to the 3,000 Liberals gathered at their annual Christmas Party was a lively prelude of what we can expect on the campaign trail.

There was no reference to the third party, but much attention paid to the main opponent, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre. 

Trudeau brought the audience to its feet when he challenged the Conservative leader’s recent statement that “Canada is broken.” Trudeau also made specific reference to how much money Canadians would have lost had they followed Poilievre’s advice to bypass the Canadian currency system in favour of bitcoin. 

Trudeau’s most compelling message was focused on poverty reduction and Indigenous reconciliation. 

He underscored the benefits of the new Liberal national daycare agreement that renders childcare more accessible and permits more women to work outside the home during their children’s early years. 

Trudeau’s positive message on the importance of equality and social responsibility electrified the audience. Liberals responded with a chant “Four more years.”

And the crowd applauded most warmly when the prime minister introduced his newest Member of Parliament from Mississauga-Lakeshore. 

If that riding is a portent of things to come, Liberals have every reason to be beaming. 

In reality, the Tories did not lose vote share during the Dec. 12 byelection. 

Their candidate, police officer Ron Chhinzer, matched his predecessor by garnering more than 37 per cent of the vote. 

The real surprise was the drop in the NDP vote. Back in 2021, their candidate received almost 10 per cent of the vote, finishing with 9.8 per cent support. This time, they appealed to less than five per cent, cutting their vote in half. 

The NDP is not in contention in that riding, but that party’s strength or weakness can either spell victory or defeat for the Tories or Liberals.  

If the NDP numbers were to hold in a general election, they would deliver a majority government to the Liberals. 

In the case of the Tories, Poilievre did not visit the riding, while the prime minister and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh campaigned for their respective candidates. 

The Conservatives also chose a rather bizarre campaign tactic. Instead of focusing in on building name recognition for their candidate, most of their messaging was focused on the Liberal candidate.

They erected posters attacking Sousa and linking him to former Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne.

Sousa benefited from Conservative messaging. His name was plastered all over the riding, courtesy of the Conservatives.  

Poilievre needs to go back to the drawing board. Maybe he has gotten the message because he has finally decided to be more available to the mainstream press.

His decision to open up his final pre-Christmas caucus was so unusual that it actually made news itself. 

By staying away from the byelection, Poilievre was hoping to avoid criticism if Conservatives lost the race.

But as Trudeau told the Liberal Christmas gathering, the leader is always accountable, whether the news is good or bad, most especially when the news is bad.

Sousa was a much stronger candidate than his Conservative opponent. As a former Ontario finance minister, he is certainly cabinet material whereas Chhinzer’s background as a police gang expert does necessarily lend itself to political leadership.

However, the recruitment of candidates is also a harbinger of how well a party is doing.  When star candidates like Sousa are jumping on board, it usually means their party is in the ascendancy.

If the Conservatives were moving toward government, they should be expected to attract the stars, especially those who have had some previous political experience. 

The Mississauga-Lakeshore message was clear. Conservative attack-dog politics did not secure the desired result. The new year may bring new Tory opportunities.

The passing of the beloved Liberal MP Jim Carr means another byelection in Manitoba. 

For his own survival, Poilievre must pivot. 

Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.