Torontoist is officially in election mode. In the run-up to the big day, we’ll be profiling some of the most closely-contested ridings in the GTA, looking for the bellwethers and offering snapshots of electoral districts in transition.
Mississauga South, along with most of its neighbouring ridings, is firmly in the centre of Conservative cross-hairs. This is one of the seats the Tories would dearly love to win over, and should they succeed, they will no doubt cite it as evidence that they can make headway in metropolitan areas. The riding is usually described as small-c conservative: it was held by Tories from 1979–1993, and the Liberal victory in 1993 was attributed to vote splitting on the right between the Conservative and Reform candidates. The Liberal who won that election was Paul Szabo; he has represented the riding ever since, and is on the ballot again this year. Szabo is among the most socially conservative of the Liberal cohort, and only he and his Conservative rival, Hugh Arrison, are serious contenders for the seat—this is not NDP country.
Despite Szabo’s fifteen-year tenure, his reelection is far from certain: in 2006 he won by just over 2,000 votes, or about 5%. Arrison is getting a great deal of support from his party: Harper has paid several visits to Mississauga recently and Jim Flaherty has hosted at least one fundraiser on Arrison’s behalf. These efforts may end up backfiring, however: Flaherty has been involved in a rather public sparring match with the incredibly popular Hazel McCallion (Mayor of Mississauga) over infrastructure funding, which risks damaging the credibility of all Tory candidates in the area.
Both candidates have a background in finance, and both say that “family values” are at the core of their campaigns. The Liberal Szabo has held various sub-cabinet and committee positions, mostly in budgetary and finance departments. More recently, he served as chair of the Ethics Committee in 2007–08, during the Mulroney-Schreiber inquiry, and drew much criticism from the Tories for partisan conduct during those hearings. (Depending on your party affiliations, of course, this may either indicate prejudice unbecoming a parliamentarian or be a sign of good judgment.) Szabo’s social conservatism is quite far-reaching: he opposes stem-cell research, same-sex marriage, and is anti-choice. Szabo is well-regarded for his strong advocacy of family issues, including attempts to increase funding for parental leave and stiffen penalties for child abuse. Named hardest working MP by his colleagues in 2006 and 2007, Szabo is the known quantity in this particular electoral equation. Arrison, by contrast, is something of a political neophyte; other than endorsing his party’s platform, his positions haven’t been articulated in detail, and it is so far unclear just where within the spectrum of Conservative politics he would locate himself. On his campaign website Arrison emphasizes his successful 30-year stint at Canada Life as his primary achievement, and reiterates Harper’s claim that the majority of Canadians identify with Conservative values.
Economic issues are, by all accounts, at the top of residents’ minds. Mississauga South is a district where gas prices have a significant impact on household budgets and financial concerns are likely to trump environmental ones. No matter the outcome, it is one of the ridings that will be described by the victor as a barometer of the country’s mood and a referendum on Harper’s agenda.
Photos by Tim Kiladze/Torontoist.