The recent by-election in Ottawa’s Kanata—Carleton provides an interesting case study. Pictured is Ontario Liberal MPP-elect Karen McCrimmon. Photo credit: Twitter/Karen McCrimmon
All politics is local, as the old saying goes. While the day-to-day machination of clickbait headlines tend to drive us to focus on the biggest, most salacious stories, we can often forget that local issues still drive voter turnout in our cities, regardless of size. Think construction shutdowns, residential developments, and of course, potholes.
What happens on the ground matters, and can have big implications for the outcome of elections.
One recent example is the local by-election that happened just west of Ottawa in the riding of Kanata–Carleton. Karen McCrimmon, a former Liberal MP and well-known member of the community, robbed Premier Doug Ford and the Progressive Conservatives of the opportunity to maintain their hold on a seat in the legislature last week.
This came as somewhat of a shock given the Premier made two trips to the riding in the days leading up to election day, where he splashed cash on local infrastructure projects. Despite these efforts, Premier Ford was unable to shift his star power to PC candidate Sean Webster in order to secure the win.
While the PC’s have continuously fared well in this riding, the federal Conservative Party has been attempting to flip this riding for nearly a decade and have come up short in its last two attempts.
McCrimmon’s win is unique in the sense that she was notably the underdog in the race. The Ontario Liberals hold just nine seats in the legislature and are currently in the midst of a contentious leadership race that has organizers and party volunteers tied up. Being relegated to opposition also means that there is a lack of central messaging, flashy announcements, and policy to invigorate voters to get out to the voting booth.
Whilst this would rattle a lesser candidate, McCrimmon was able to use these shortcomings to her advantage. One of the big issues to dominate the by-election was a proposal to redevelop a golf course and the surrounding greenspace in the riding into a suburban community. McCrimmon came out against the development while Webster took the status quo position of not commenting on the issue.
McCrimmon wasn’t bound by a party policy on the issue in the same way Webster was, because the Ontario Liberals are all but rudderless at the moment. Her team was clearly listening to what accessible voters in the community were telling her, and she was able to successfully align her message to the issue.
It’s worth noting that while the rest of the country has indicated they are looking for politicians to come to the table with solutions to address the housing crisis in Canada, residents of Kanata–Carleton voted in a politician who advocated against a residential development that is seeking to build 1,500 homes.
The issue of housing isn’t as cut and dry as it may seem, and as we gear up toward a federal election it will be a tough balancing act for political parties to cut through the NIMBY noise and propose tangible policies to cut red tape and get homes built.
Balancing the desires of those most motivated to vote comes with its own set of headaches, and local candidates will have to walk this line delicately while rejecting the status quo talking points.
Elections matter, and the outcome of this most recent by-election could mean more roadblocks and fewer homes in a community that desperately needs them.
Josie Sabatino is a Senior Consultant at Summa Strategies, focused on providing strategic insight and helping clients meet their objectives in an ever changing and complex political and regulatory environment. Prior to joining Summa, Josie spent nearly a decade in political communications and most recently served as the Director of Communications to the Hon. Erin O’Toole, former Leader of the Official Opposition.