Surrounding the City of Toronto is a mantle of ridings that almost always ends up draped over the winning party on federal election day.
“The 905 remains the gateway to government,” DART Insight and 30-year polling veteran John Wright said. “To think that a single area code has such a role to play is remarkable. The polling infers a lead for the Conservatives at the moment — but it is a hard-fought battleground.”
Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown, who understands the region as well as any politician, listed the issues most important to his constituents: “Jobs, gridlock and public safety.”
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer travelled to Thorold last week to announce tax breaks for small businesses.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau announced a tax cut from a Brampton backyard, promising to increase the basic personal exemption, which he said would help lower income Canadians and give the middle class “some breathing room.”
In Oshawa, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh rolled out his commitment to a National Automotive Strategy, including a $300 million Auto Innovation Fund to retain jobs in an area struggling with GM’s ever shrinking footprint.
The federal leaders are also trying to use whatever political leverage they can get out of the struggles of current and former premiers of Ontario, Doug Ford and Kathleen Wynne.
With such close polling numbers, many of the 905 races are considered competitive but a number stand out as especially exciting.
In Markham-Stouffville, Dr. Jane Philpott is attempting to hold onto the riding as an independent.
The former Treasury Board president famously resigned from Trudeau’s cabinet over the SNC-Lavalin affair, and was subsequently booted along with Jody Wilson-Raybould from the Liberal caucus by Trudeau.
“The beauty of running as an independent is that the only people that can tell me what to do or how to vote or what to say are the people of Markham-Stouffville,” Philpott said. “Unfortunately partisan politics have become such that many members of parliament are beholden to the parties or their leaders to say what the parties tell them to, to not speak on certain issues and to vote the way they’re instructed. This is something I am now free from — I can speak up on behalf of the people of Markham-Stouffville and represent them to the best of my abilities.”
When governments allocate money to ridings, it should be motivated by need and not political affiliation, she said.
Markham-Stouffville’s needs are varied but housing affordability and transit and transportation are top issues, she said.
“Young people in particular are realizing that it’s almost impossible for them to be able to dream of buying a house some day in the community in which they grew up,” Philpott said. “And then we have a few very particular local issues, including the matter of the Pickering lands — there is strong opposition to the Pickering Airport amongst the people of Markham-Stouffville and so that’s something that they’ve asked me to stand up on.”
Carrying the banner for the federal Liberal Party in Markham-Stouffville is Dr. Helena Jaczek, a former high-profile cabinet minister in Wynne’s provincial government who previously represented the riding of Oak Ridges-Markham.
Jaczek said she was urged to run by people who wanted an option to vote Liberal and who were unhappy with Ford government cuts.
She and Philpott share some similarities — both physicians and, at some point at least, both Liberals.
“It’s clearly a core group that wants to support Jane no matter what, so to speak,” Jaczek said. “But there’s a far larger group that I’ve met … who really put party first.”
“We have a party system and I think that the vast majority of people look at the general philosophy of the party and see if that accords with their personal views and that’s how they tend to vote,” she said.
For Markham-Stouffville residents, the promise of pharmacare by the Liberals is resonating, Jaczek said.
Transit is always an issue in the suburbs and housing affordability is a significant issue, she said.
“Another issue that really is sort of new in Markham-Stouffville is the issue of safety,” Jaczek said. “We always thought there was sort of a magic barrier at Steeles, that gun violence was south of Steeles, but now people are beginning to see instances in Markham and Richmond Hill and Vaughan and people are concerned.”
Local businessman Theodore Antony is running for the federal Conservative Party, promising to “deliver a new Conservative government on October 21st and end the waste and mismanagement in Ottawa,” according to his social media post.
NDP candidate Gregory Hines, owner of a family-run dance school in Markham, has said that as a business owner and a person who works supporting others he believes strongly in protecting the rights of workers and protecting Canadians from cellphone bill gouging by telecommunications companies.
There are other 905 ridings where the Liberal incumbent has retired and opened up opportunities for a challenger, or in the case of Leona Alleslev in Aurora-Oak Ridges-Richmond Hill switched to the Conservative Party and now faces Liberal candidate Leah Taylor Roy.
Many Conservatives are quietly voicing concerns that one of their most high-profile MPs is in the tightest of races.
Milton MP Lisa Raitt, the deputy leader of the federal Conservative Party, is facing first-time star Liberal candidate and Olympic gold medalist kayaker Adam van Koeverden.
The changing demographics in Milton and many 905 ridings, as new people move in and some move on, make incumbency less of a sure thing than it used to be.
The 905 has not always been kind to the NDP with many ridings a back and forth between the Conservatives and Liberals, but there have been some notable exceptions.
NDP candidate Saranjit Singh is vying to take Brampton East from the Liberals, a riding held provincially by NDP MPP Gurratan Singh, who won it after his brother Jagmeet Singh left to lead the federal NDP.
He’s up against Ramona Singh for the Conservative Party and Maninder Sidhu for the Liberal Party.
In Hamilton Centre, longtime popular NDP MP David Christopherson is retiring, and local NDP city councillor Matthew Green is hoping to keep the riding in the political family.
Green is facing candidates Jasper Kujavsky of the Liberal Party and Monica Ciriello of the Conservative Party.
The Green Party and the People’s Party of Canada are also fielding candidates in these races.
Early polling does not suggest that they’re competitive at this point in the campaign but they have until election day on Oct. 21 to make their mark.