Veteran Ottawa candidates and (potential) disruptors prepare for 2022 provincial election campaign

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A local mayor, a scientist and a public policy researcher are among the June provincial election candidates looking to flip Ottawa ridings held by another party — and if history is any indication, they stand some chance of making that happen.

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In Ottawa West–Nepean, NDP candidate Chandra Pasma overtook Liberal incumbent Bob Chiarelli and came within 175 votes of Progressive Conservative Jeremy Roberts in the 2018 provincial election. Both Pasma and Roberts will be on the ballot again in 2022, Roberts as the incumbent this time.

Pasma, a researcher with the Canadian Union of Public Employees, believes strategic voting sealed her second-place fate four years ago.

“I spoke to a lot of people afterwards who said they voted for Bob Chiarelli just because they thought as a cabinet minister, he was the one who was going to defeat the Conservative candidate. But this time I’m finding people remember me. And because of the close result in 2018, they know that I’m the strategic choice in Ottawa West-Nepean,” said Pasma in a mid-April interview.

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“They know that I can win and they’re excited to vote NDP this time.”

Ottawa West-Nepean NDP candidate Chandra Pasma, a researcher with the Canadian Union of Public Employees, is looking to unseat PC incumbent Jeremy Roberts.  Errol McGihon/Post Media
Ottawa West-Nepean NDP candidate Chandra Pasma, a researcher with the Canadian Union of Public Employees, is looking to unseat PC incumbent Jeremy Roberts. Errol McGihon/Post Media Photo by ERROL MCGIHON /ERROL MCGIHON

Pasma made up her mind in 2018 about running again. From long-term care to investment in schools and hospitals, “I knew that Doug Ford wasn’t going to fix what was broken with Ontario.”

And the past two pandemic years have demonstrated “that it can really be a matter of life or death for some people,” said Pasma. “And we really need a government that believes in… and that is prepared to fight for these services that people depend on.”

In 2018, Glengarry–Prescott–Russell went blue for the first time in the six provincial elections since its creation. It didn’t stay that way, however, as new PC MPP Amanda Simard left the party later that year over cuts to French-language services, becoming an independent and then a Liberal in 2020.

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PC candidate Stéphane Sarrazin is looking to continue the riding’s break from its past habit of electing Liberals and he believes his experience in politics at the local level is a valuable asset working in his favour.

Currently mayor of the Township of Alfred and Plantagenet, Sarrazin was previously the warden of the United Counties of Prescott and Russell and has served on various boards and committees in the area. He envisions himself as a passionate representative of his region who can help “actually explain to the government what is the reality here in rural eastern Ontario as opposed to Toronto.”

And there are local issues on his mind as he pursues provincial office, namely the widening of Highway 174 from Rockland to Ottawa and the expansion of high-speed internet and natural gas infrastructure.

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As for voters in the riding, Sarrazin said he believes people see Doug Ford’s PC government as “financially responsible” and after two years of navigating the pandemic, focused on making Ontario “prosper again.”

Ottawa Center has long been battleground territory for Liberals and New Democrats, and while the NDP’s Joel Harden unseated former cabinet minister Yasir Naqvi last election, first-time candidate Katie Gibbs is hoping that a refreshed Ontario Liberal party, four years out of government, will help win back voters in the riding.

The executive director of Evidence for Democracy, a pro-science not-for-profit organization, Gibbs said she was motivated to get her name on the ballot after spending the pandemic on maternity leave and with two young children, “watching the Ford government make terrible decisions that were not evidence-based, again and again, and really seeing and living how families, kids, moms in particular were bearing the brunt of those policies.”

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One example? The recent removal of mask mandates in schools, said Gibbs.

While she’ll be pitching the Liberals as the only option to defeat the PCs provincially, she said she believes that Ottawa Center voters look beyond party and “also really want to know who they’re voting for.”

She and her team have been door-knocking for months, said Gibbs, and her plans included releasing a local platform with climate action as a priority area.

Ontario Liberal candidate Katie Gibbs says she believes voters in Ottawa Center are willing to give another look at her party in the wake of its 2018 defeat.  Ashley Fraser/Post Media
Ontario Liberal candidate Katie Gibbs says she believes voters in Ottawa Center are willing to give another look at her party in the wake of its 2018 defeat. Ashley Fraser/Post Media Photo by Ashley Fraser /post media

Community-focused campaigning is something of a rite of passage for victorious candidates at both the federal and provincial levels in Ottawa Center and Harden, the incumbent, was no exception.

He’s now the Ontario NDP’s political veteran in the field of Ottawa candidates as the sole New Democrat elected locally in 2018. While Harden and his team are looking at this campaign as a “job interview” for a renewed mandate in Ottawa Centre, their ambition doesn don’t end there.

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“We want to be competitive in more seats in Ottawa, and we want to form a government in the province of Ontario that will turn the page on the chaos of the last four years and actually help people’s lives be better,” said Harden.

Local issues Harden expects to focus on during the campaign were the LRT and public inquiry into it — “we want to get phase three right” — and his continued fight against the parking garage planned for the new Civic campus of The Ottawa Hospital at Dow’s Lake .

As for advice he’d give candidates newer to the campaign trail, Harden shared something Jack Layton once told him: “Don’t sell a brand, listen to people.”

“And I think we don’t give voters, we don’t give voters enough credit,” Harden added. “I think they can smell a narcissistic politician a mile away. I really do … And I think the people who keep getting sent back are people who do listen and who represent something from the communities people appreciate.”

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Both the Progressive Conservatives and the Ontario Liberals will have such veterans running locally.

Of Ottawa’s nine ridings, PC Lisa MacLeod in Nepean and Liberal John Fraser in Ottawa South are the only incumbents whose time as MPPs dates back further than 2018.

First elected in 2006, MacLeod has served in high profile critical roles as a politician on the opposition benches, and was a member of Doug Ford’s cabinet from its first formation. She began her cabinet tenure as minister of children, community and social services and the minister responsible for women’s issues, and was shuffled in 2019 to the ministerial role responsible for sport, tourism, heritage and cultural industries, a post she retains today.

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In 2018 in the the newly created Nepean riding, created in large part from the western portion of her previous riding of Nepean–Carleton, MacLeod took 45 per cent of the vote to the NDP candidate’s 28 per cent. While this newspaper could n’t secure an interview with her for this story, MacLeod’s social media account for her shows the veteran candidate is in campaign mode, canvassing in her for her riding between ministerial appearances and government funding announcements.

For Fraser, knocking on doors and meeting people are the key ingredients in a successful campaign. And while phone calls and volunteers can help get the job done, “it’s important to go out and see people where they live.”

Before his own start in politics, he’d spent his life in Ottawa South and thought he knew the place. Then he came canvassing during his first election of him, and with it, realizations such as how many families are living with adult children with a developmental disability.

“It really does teach you about the community that you want to represent.”

Fraser is now looking to return to Queen’s Park for the fourth time, and from what he’d heard at the doors so far, health care, housing and affordability are big issues for people this election. One wild card is the pandemic, and division over issues like masking or vaccination — it’s hard to know how and to what extent it will influence people’s votes, he said.

Even for political veterans, every campaign is a new one.

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