Status quo is maintained in a Liberal sweep of North York, but the issues may have changed – Toronto Star

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By David NickleReporter

Tue., Sept. 21, 20213 min. read

Michael Coteau (Don Valley East) was one of seven Liberals elected in North York Monday night.

North York voters largely supported the status quo in Monday night’s federal election, sending seven Liberal MPs to Ottawa to participate in Justin Trudeau’s second minority government.

Indeed, the only change to North York’s roster of MPs in the Sept. 20 vote came in Don Valley East, which was left vacant after former Liberal MP Yasmin Ratansi left the party in 2020. There, local Liberal MPP Michael Coteau was elected as the new Liberal standard-bearer.

In York Centre, voters sent relative newcomer Ya’ara Saks back to Ottawa. The Liberal had narrowly won a by-election in 2020, when MP Michael Levitt exited politics. Observers thought the challenge by Conservative Joel Yakov Etienne might make her career short, though that did not happen. 

But while the electoral map remains the same, the issues have changed.

In an election-night interview from Don Valley East, newly elected MP Coteau said voters expressed to him a list of issues: COVID-19 pandemic recovery, food security and affordability and climate change. The one that struck home for him was borne of the mass graves discovered at residential school sites and the imperative for reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous peoples.

“They’ve given me marching orders to go to Ottawa and advocate for better ways to do things, when it comes to accepting and promoting reconciliation recommendations,” he said.

The races in North York also felt the impact of divisive politics. In ridings where the more-established Green party fielded candidates, Maxime Bernier’s far-fight People’s Party came in fourth place. While that support wasn’t strong enough anywhere to have prevented a Conservative candidate from prevailing, the emergence of support for a party critical of immigration policy and supportive of the anti-masking movement during the pandemic was notable.

In York Centre, People’s Party candidate Nixon Nguyen took more than 1,700 votes — just shy of five per cent of the votes tallied. A year earlier in the byelection, Bernier himself ran in the riding and garnered just 642 votes — 3.56 per cent of the votes cast.

Nevertheless, York Centre Toronto Coun. James Pasternak said in an election-day interview that the far-right was nothing more than a fringe element in what he described as a resolutely centrist riding.

“(York Centre) doesn’t swing dramatically to the left or to the right — it’s a very centrist neighbourhood,” he said. “Even when we’ve elected Liberals, they were Liberals to the right, and when they elected Conservatives, they were more Red Tories …. People like civility, they like continuity and they will support incremental shifts.”

In Don Valley East, Toronto’s deputy mayor and local councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong said he wasn’t prepared to conclude that the divisive election showed a rise in the far right. The long-time Conservative party member said that most of what he saw knocking on doors this election was apathy.

“I didn’t find a huge amount of enthusiasm for the election — they didn’t have a lot to say,” said Minnan-Wong. “There was a lot of unhappiness with the government.”

Butterfly GoPaul, a community member of Jane-Finch Action Against Poverty, said that unhappiness is something shared by her community in the riding of Humber River-Black Creek, where incumbent Liberal Judy Sgro was re-elected with one of the biggest margins in Toronto.

“The Liberal Party — Judy Sgro — has been around for many decades,” she said. “This is a working-class neighbourhood. There are high pushout rates, high levels of poverty, and this has all been under the Liberal watch…. Through any of these parties, they’ve never represented the interests of working and racialized communities…. Status quo, I think, is a reality for our neighbourhood.”

STORY BEHIND THE STORY: Reporter David Nickle spoke with an elected MP, local councillors and community members to find out what impact a status-quo election result would have on the North York community.