By Stephanie Levitz Ottawa Bureau
OTTAWA — Former Ontario Liberal finance minister Charles Sousa will make the jump to life as a Liberal MP after winning a federal byelection seen as a stress test for the two main federal party leaders.
Sousa handily defeated his main rival, Conservative contender Ron Chhinzer, for the seat in Mississauga-Lakeshore, a riding that’s been a comfortable Liberal seat since 2015.
Before a crowd of cheering supporters Monday night, Sousa declared victory, promising to be pragmatic in finding solutions and support the community.
“We are living through challenging times,” he said.
“Unfortunately, there are some who recklessly respond to those challenges by stoking fears, by feeding anger and by sowing division but we refuse to play that game.”
The election saw the Liberals fight hard to hold onto the riding in the face of tepid national support for their minority government.
It was also the first electoral contest under the Conservative party’s new leader, Pierre Poilievre, who won the job just this past September on a promise that he could woo new voters to the party’s cause.
That appeared to fall flat Monday night, with Sousa commanding a lead in the vote count early on, and hanging onto it throughout the night.
Preliminary results show Sousa captured 51.2 per cent of the vote compared to Chhinzer’s 37.3 per cent. The final tally won’t be confirmed by Elections Canada until special ballots are counted.
Voter turnout was 26.48 per cent; by contrast, in the 2021 federal election, 63 per cent of voters showed up to cast a ballot.
The byelection was called in November, after the riding’s Liberal MP, Sven Spengemann, resigned in May to take a job with the United Nations.
Progressive Conservative MP Don Blenkarn held the seat, then called Mississauga South, from 1979 to 1993.
But it’s been a relatively safe Liberal outpost since, including for the last seven years.
Before that, from 2011-2015, the riding, still called Mississauga South, was held by Conservative MP Stella Ambler. She picked up the seat from the Liberals in the same 2011 election that saw her party win its first majority government.
Ambler lost out to Spengemann in 2015 who won the seat again in 2019 and in 2021.
The NDP placed third in Monday’s contest, followed by the Greens and then the PPC.
The Rhinoceros party had also run a candidate Monday, and rounding out the ballot were 34 other people running as independents. Altogether, the 34 candidates captured fewer than 500 votes.
The independents were part of a movement organized by the Longest Ballot Committee, a grassroots group created to draw attention to the Liberals’ failed promise to enact electoral reform and do away with the current first-past-the-post system.
Mississauga-Lakeshore has been held up as one of the Greater Toronto Area seats seen as a crucial win for any party intent on forming government — especially for the federal Conservatives who’ve struggled to make major gains in the area for years.
Provincially, the riding has been held by the Progressive Conservatives since the 2018 election when they won the seat from Sousa himself, who had held it for the provincial Liberals since 2007.
Sousa went on to run for provincial Liberal leadership in 2013, but dropped out to endorse Kathleen Wynne. When she took over the party, she named him finance minister.
The federal Conservatives had sought to remind voters in the riding about Sousa’s time with the provincial Liberals during the byelection, and also had a number of high-profile MPs hit the riding to help shore up Chhinzer’s support.
Poilievre himself wasn’t among them, though sent out a tweet on social media in support of Chhinzer late Monday afternoon.
Chhinzer declined multiple requests for an interview with the Star. Late Monday night, he posted a congratulatory note to Sousa on social media.
“You ran a great campaign!,” he wrote.
Sousa had assists from several Liberal heavy-hitters, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and a number of cabinet ministers who held fundraisers and went door knocking on Sousa’s behalf.
“We ran with a spirit of optimism about our future, about caring for each other and supporting those who need it most,” Sousa said in his victory speech Monday.
Green Party candidate Mary Kidnew also welcomed her party’s leadership to the riding over the weekend, with leaders Elizabeth May and Jonathan Pedneault, as well as other leadership candidates hitting the riding in a last-minute show of support.
The Liberals were euphoric about their win.
“Since becoming leader of the Conservative Party, Pierre Poilievre has been asking Canadians to send Justin Trudeau and our Liberal team a message – and the election of Charles Sousa sent a clear one,” said Azam Ishmael, the party’s national director said in a statement.
“Voters in Mississauga–Lakeshore rejected the reckless policies of Pierre Poilievre’s Conservatives and chose to move forward with Justin Trudeau and our Liberal team’s positive plan to make life more affordable and build an economy that works for all Canadians.”