Mayors of the 905 weigh in on election, and the possible myth of ‘the big shift’

I always thought that Ibbitson and Bricker were premature in their assertion that there was a permanent ‘big shift’ to the Conservatives. The comments by Ajax mayor Steve Parish are particularly interesting, given that this is Citizenship and Immigration Minister Alexander’s riding:

The suburban area around Toronto, known as the 905 for its area code, has been one of the key battlegrounds in this federal election campaign. With 52 ridings, the electoral gold mine of double-income commuters, strip malls and hockey arenas amounts to the third-largest province after Ontario and Quebec in riding count.

While Stephen Harper’s 2011 majority was largely attributed to the Tories’ sweep of the 905, Justin Trudeau’s Liberals have narrowed the spread this time to a horserace.

As of this last week of campaigning, Jeff Smith of EKOS Research Associates says their data shows the parties in the 905 are in a two-way tie as they are both averaging about 40 points each.

Journalist John Ibbitson and political commentator and pollster Darrell Bricker published the The Big Shift: The Seismic Change in Canadian Politics, Business, and Culture and What It Means for Our Future in 2013. The authors surmised that suburban areas in Ontario, like the 905, are making the country more conservative, because the immigrants — largely from Asian countries — who are settling there are conservative. They identified the Conservative surge in 905 in the 2011 campaign represented not a fluke but a permanent, demographically-generated shift.

With the constant scrutiny and nitpicking from pollsters, politicians and strategists on what could happen, iPolitics talked to the people who know 905 communities best: their mayors.

Ajax, according to Statistics Canada in 2011, is a city of almost 110,000 people in the eastern part of the Greater Toronto Area. Since 1995, the mayor of this growing and diverse city has been Steve Parish. A self-identified fiscal conservative who is socially progressive, Parish says the narrative of the “big shift” of the suburban areas around Toronto being a permanent stronghold for the Conservative Party is a bit of a generalization.

“I think generalizations are dangerous in politics,” Parish says.

Ajax — formerly known as Ajax-Pickering — went Conservative in the last election, to now Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Chris Alexander. Prior to the 2011 election, Ajax was a Liberal stronghold stretching back to the 1980s.

Parish says that his city has seen massive growth in ethnic diversity, which wasn’t there 10 to 15 years ago. With this diversity, many of his constituents he says are small “c” conservative — due to their religious or cultural beliefs — but that there is no broad stroke to define everyone.

“My theory is that even in the recent-Canadian category, there is a broad range of philosophies as to what the proper role of government is.”

One thing Parish says he abhors is wedge politics — like the issue of whether or not women can wear the niqab during the citizenship ceremony. It unnecessarily divides people, he says, and diverts their attention from bigger problems. He says trying to deny women the right to wear the niqab “rings hollow, and very opportunistic to me.”

Despite Parish’s thoughts on the niqab, a poll conducted by Léger Marketing, in March for Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, found of those polled, 82 per cent supported the requirement that women remove their niqabs or burqas during citizenship ceremonies.

With many of his constituents being from Middle Eastern countries, like Lebanon and Iraq, Parish says issues of immigration and refugees are important to them. “It strikes a chord in this community.”

“Residents are plugged into wide range of issues. I don’t know which issues will be ballot box question. It’s a diverse population, with people from a lot of diverse backgrounds who have different priorities.”

Mayors of the 905 weigh in on election, and the possible myth of ‘the big shift’

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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