Navdeep Bains' name may not be on the ballot when voters in Mississauga-Malton head to the polls this month, but the former innovation minister likely still exerts significant influence on the race in the riding west of Toronto.
The longtime Liberal MP held the riding for six years — and previously represented one of its predecessors, Mississauga-Brampton South, between 2004 and 2011 — giving him strong ties to the community, and is also co-chair of the party’s re-election campaign.
His decision not to seek re-election has opened the door for a new slate of candidates, but one political expert argued Bains' legacy means it's unlikely the riding will go blue or orange on Sept. 20.
"In this riding, it's inaccurate to say it will be an open race among candidates because the decision, in a sense, has already been made by the outgoing MP — 'this is my anointed successor,'" said Ajay Sharma, a political-science professor at the University of Guelph.
Because of that history, and the political infrastructure the Liberals have cultivated locally over the years, "the other three parties don't have a shot," Sharma contended.
Securing seats in the vote-rich Greater Toronto Area is broadly considered crucial to forming a majority government.
"Due to their demographics and the kind of industries that are there, they tend to swing between the Liberals and the Conservatives, and mathematically, they can't form a majority government without them," said Randy Besco, a political-science professor at the University of Toronto.
"If the Liberals lose those ridings, they're not going to form government."
Mississauga-Malton was created for the 2015 federal election, formed from parts of three ridings that had all elected Conservative MPs during the party's sweep under Stephen Harper. In its current form, however, the riding has always been Liberal.
In the 2019 federal election, Bains won with 57 per cent of the vote — more than double his Conservative runner-up. The NDP candidate came in a distant third.
Iqwinder Gaheer, a graduate of Harvard Law School, was acclaimed as the Liberal candidate earlier this year. Clyde Roach, a financial services professional, is running for the Conservatives, while Waseem Ahmed is running for the NDP. Mark Davidson is running for the Greens and Gordon Kallio for the People’s party.
Aside from Bains' legacy, the riding's location, its diverse population and its status as one of Ontario's COVID-19 hot spots are all likely to influence the vote this fall, said Sharma, the political expert.
With Pearson International Airport separating it from the rest of Mississauga, the community is functionally more like nearby Brampton, and harbours resentment toward politicians who "look to Mississauga first," rather than the area's unique needs, he said.
Many residents also work at the airport, and have relied on federal wage subsidies as health measures dramatically curtailed travel, he said.
The riding also has a large South Asian population, many of whom arrived in Canada under Pierre Elliott Trudeau's regime and feel loyal to the Liberal party for that reason, Sharma said.
"Even if they're socially conservative, which much of the Punjabi community is in that riding — they're socially conservative Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims — they will still vote Liberal," he said.
According to the 2016 census, the most recent data available, the riding has a population of roughly 118,200, more than half of whom — about 72,000 — are immigrants.
The Ontario government's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic is also likely to undermine a federal Conservative candidate, Sharma said. Provincially, the area is represented by the Tories, and some residents feel the province has failed to support businesses during the pandemic, he said.
Natalie Hart, general manager of the Malton Business Improvement Area, said the area is the "economic driver" of Mississauga, with a high proportion of small businesses located in the riding.
As such, voters will be looking for sustained pandemic support from Ottawa, rather than change, particularly with a fourth wave now underway, she said.
"They just need (the existing programs) to keep going — the wage subsidies, etc. — so that they can continue to get back on their feet," she said.
Continued access to COVID-19 vaccines will also be a "critical" factor in the election, after seeing infections soar in the area earlier this year, Hart said. The pocket near the airport was a hot spot in Mississauga during the third wave.
"There are none of them that do not have that one degree of separation, from knowing your family, or knowing friends or knowing people who have been impacted by the pandemic, whether it's that they've been hospitalized or, in many cases, died," she said of the area's residents.
"But also lost time from work and all of the rest of those kinds of things. So this is a personal experience, not just an academic one."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 3, 2021.
Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press