Highways, hospitals and a dismal voter turnout: How Doug Ford conquered Brampton

·5 min read
Ontario Premier Doug Ford spoke to the media on a construction site in Brampton, Ont., as he started his re-election campaign, on Wednesday, May 4, 2022. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Ontario Premier Doug Ford spoke to the media on a construction site in Brampton, Ont., as he started his re-election campaign, on Wednesday, May 4, 2022. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press - image credit)

A vision of highways, hospitals, and other infrastructure investments resonated with Brampton voters, leading the Ontario Progressive Conservatives to a blue sweep of the city, helped in part by a low voter turnout, analysts say.

For a community that's home to a robust transportation industry, where nearly 70 per cent of residents get around by car, and where healthcare needs are well known in the wake of a devastating pandemic, it was a winning vision. That's despite Brampton being one of the areas hardest hit by COVID-19.

The Progressive Conservative party's five candidates in Brampton — Amarjot Sandhu, Prabmeet Sarkaria, Graham McGregor, Charmaine Williams, and Hardeep Grewal — won their all five ridings on June 2 when the party swept Brampton, taking three much-needed seats away from the Ontario NDP.

"The Doug Ford government put forward policy positions that resonated well with the community," said Jaskaran Sandhu, a Brampton-based political strategist.

Yet despite the blue wave, voter turnout in the city was around 35 per cent, lower than the province's already record-low number of 43 per cent. And that too may have plated a role in Ford's sweep of the city.

"If you were happy with Ford, you came out and you voted. If you weren't happy with Ford, you likely weren't persuaded to come out for the other side," Sandhu said.

Of the promises that did resonate, Highway 413, a proposed 400-series highway that would curve around the west and north of the city, was an proposition for voters who live in a city marred by gridlock and endless traffic, said Sandhu.

"It has a functional, practical purpose as well from an industrial, commercial and job perspective," Sandhu added. "So the PC Party's position on the 413 helped separate them from the others."

The others — the NDP and Liberals — struggled to gain a footing in the city, and the Green Party has never had significant penetration in any of its ridings. After the 2018 election, Brampton's five ridings were split between the PCs and NDP, with three held by the latter and just two were held by the former.

According to Sandhu, while the party leaders would voice their opposition to Highway 413, some local candidates contradicted those comments in Punjabi-language interviews.

Ford's 'folksy, chummy' attitude worked

As a result, neither NDP leader Andrea Horwath or Liberal leader Steven Del Duca managed to gain significant exposure in the city.

"The NDP and the Liberals simply had nothing to offer the people of Brampton," said Ajay Sharma, a political scientist at the University of Guelph. "Mr. Del Duca came across as very institutionalized, very stodgy, and very unrelatable."

Eduardo Lima/The Canadian Press
Eduardo Lima/The Canadian Press

Those leaders' inability to connect with Brampton voters, combined with Doug Ford's "folksy and chummy" attitude and the PC party's policy visions, is why voters saw a blue wave in Brampton, Sharma explains.

"When you're in a community built on societal bonds, commonalities, and being friendly, like the South Asian Punjabi community, that personality fits right," he said.

"It's more of a personality contest when you go into a place like Brampton."

But even some well-known personalities failed to get re-elected. Gurratan Singh, the brother of federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, held Brampton East for four years until last week when voters chose his PC rival Hardeep Grewal. Sara Singh, who was named deputy leader of the Ontario NDP, also lost to former city councillor Charmaine Williams who was elected under the PC banner.

"I think a lot of folks were surprised that Gurratan Singh lost in Brampton East," Sandhu said.

Despite campaigning by Jagmeet Singh and Andrea Horwath, the NDP gained nothing, and lost everything.

NDP lost Brampton

"Sara Singh and Gurratan Singh still did very well, probably punched higher than the local party was doing here, but it just wasn't enough," Sandhu said.

Grewal, who defeated Gurratan Singh to win Brampton East for the PCs, said he knocked on "thousands and thousands" of doors to meet with constituents.

"We had 28 days and in 28 days we wanted to meet the most amount of people possible," Grewal said. "We ended up doing over 70 local events, in people's homes, connecting with them."

Grewal says the effort paid off. In addition to promoting Highway 413 and a second hospital for the city, the PC pledge to pause the gas tax also resonated with voters in the face of unprecedentedly high gas prices.

Sandhu says the Ford government was also successful in communicating its plans to expand the Peel Memorial Centre into a hospital and its plans to bring a medical school to the city.

"You had a lot of big ticket, heavy investment infrastructure dollars being poured into the city which people saw, recognized, and appreciated," Sandhu said.

Voter turnout lower than province's record low

Sharma, who believes Brampton is a politically vibrant community, says that vibrancy doesn't necessarily correlate with high voter turnout. Instead he believes families will send out "proxies" to vote on behalf of the household.

"There could be a household of ten people who are ten eligible voters, but only two may go out and vote on behalf of the family," he said.

Sandhu believes the onus on increasing voter turnout is on the parties and the candidates.

"It's a sin of parties, campaigns, and candidates not doing enough to encourage folks to come out and vote for something," he said.

"That's not the fault of the voter, that's the fault of the campaigns trying to persuade them to lend their support," Sandhu added.

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