The race to win Kitchener Centre: Why this riding might just be the most interesting in Canada

·5 min read
People ride bikes near Victoria Park in downtown Kitchener, the heart of the Kitchener Centre riding. Polls indicate the federal election race in the riding is a close one between the Conservative, Green Party and NDP candidates. (Kate Bueckert/CBC - image credit)
People ride bikes near Victoria Park in downtown Kitchener, the heart of the Kitchener Centre riding. Polls indicate the federal election race in the riding is a close one between the Conservative, Green Party and NDP candidates. (Kate Bueckert/CBC - image credit)

With the Liberal incumbent out of the race, Kitchener Centre is a hotly contested Ontario riding that could be a toss-up between the Conservatives, Green Party and NDP.

That may be why two federal leaders visited Kitchener this week to campaign for local candidates leading up to Monday's election.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was in the city on Tuesday and Green Leader Annamie Paul visited on Wednesday.

The whistle stop by Singh was short but boisterous. A large crowd gathered outside for a rally beside his campaign bus.

"When we stepped off the bus and we were driving up, we saw this incredible crowd of people. We were blown away," Singh told the crowd. "Some of our team was moved to tears seeing all this energy, all this love. We're feeling something building."

After a stump speech on the issues and where he urged people to vote for change, he name dropped Kitchener Centre candidate Beisan Zubi specifically.

"Where we elect Beisan Zubi here in this riding. Where we elect New Democrats across the Kitchener and Waterloo region, across the country and we form a government that's for the people," he said. "Let's get it done, my friends. Let's get it done."

Kitchener Centre Green candidate Mike Morrice saw support from Paul on Wednesday, as well as from Green Party of Ontario Leader Mike Schreiner. Paul and Schreiner took part in sign waving before chatting with people in a downtown Kitchener park, then taking a walk to Morrice's office.

Paul said she understands the party's inner turmoil may have voters questioning a Green vote, but she's encouraging people to look at their local candidates.

"We're seeing here in Kitchener Centre that people are still willing to vote Green, they recognize the difference that a Green [MP] could make in their community and we're really asking people to focus on that, focus on their local candidate and what they can offer."

 Josette Lafleur/CBC
Josette Lafleur/CBC

Morrice, she said, "has tremendous momentum, he has a real shot of winning [Kitchener Centre]. You can see that he has the community excited and supporting him."

If Morrice is elected, it would be "really transformational for the party," with the first Green seat in Ontario, which could make a difference in future elections, she said.

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole has not been to the riding since the start of the campaign. CBC Kitchener-Waterloo reached out to the Conservative media relations team for comment on local candidate Mary Henein Thorn and the race in Kitchener Centre, but has not yet received a response.

Leader visits significant, expert says

The incumbent in the Kitchener Centre race was Raj Saini, a Liberal who has held the seat since 2015. But Saini ended his campaign for re-election earlier this month after allegations of sexual harassment were made against him. Saini has denied all the allegations as "unequivocally false."

Also running in the riding is People's Party of Canada candidate Diane Boskovic and Animal Protection Party candidate Ellen Papenburg.

The website 338 Canada, which reports on various polls done during the election and offers seat projections, says the riding may be leaning toward the Green Party of Canada, but it's really a "toss up" between the Greens, Conservatives and NDP.

The leaders arriving in the riding is "clearly a sign" they know the riding could go their way, said Simon Kiss, an associate professor of digital media and journalism at Wilfrid Laurier University and director of the Laurier Institute for the Study of Public Opinion and Policy (LISPOP).

"Party leaders either play offence or defence in the final days of the campaign," Kiss said in an interview.

"They target ridings that they think they can win and need to win. And so if they're going to ridings that they already hold, then it's a sign that they're playing a bit of defence, they're concerned about holding those. If they're going into ridings that they do not hold, it's a sign that they think that they can win those."

Kiss said that because leader stops are newsmaking events, it's a signal to voters there is party support for particular candidates.

"It sends a signal to voters, a reminder that they're a viable option in a district, in a region."

Photos supplied by candidates/photo of Mike Morrice by Dave Klassen/election websites/Twitter
Photos supplied by candidates/photo of Mike Morrice by Dave Klassen/election websites/Twitter

'Turnout is going to be a big, big deal'

Andrea Perrella, an associate professor of political science at Laurier and a LISPOP researcher, said the race in Kitchener Centre isn't just interesting: "I think it's the most interesting seat in all of Canada.

"The Greens have a very good chance there," he said. "Don't forget they voted NDP in the provincial election. So it's not as if that's a seat that is averse to the NDP, and the Conservatives have a fair shot there as well."

Perrella noted Saini's name remains on the ballot — which means it's possible he could win the election — in which case, Saini would need to determine whether to step down and force a byelection or sit as an Independent.

CBC K-W reached out to Saini's campaign to ask whether he has made a decision on what he would do should he win. The campaign's co-chair said they "have no comments at this time."

Perrella said the final outcome will depend on which candidates can motivate people to get out to the polls.

"Turnout is going to be a big, big deal here."

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