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‘I’m so blessed’: Doug Ford heads into the Milton midterm elections with confidence

Ontario’s political parties are firing on all cylinders in Milton, fighting for the soul of the GTA in Thursday’s midterm elections.

Premier Doug Ford is not one to temper expectations. Premier Doug Ford said at a news conference this week that he is confident his candidate, Zee Hamid, will win.

“I am so blessed to have a candidate like Zee in Milton,” he said, adding that he has never before knocked on doors with a candidate everyone recognizes.

“I am confident that he will be successful on Thursday and that he will take his place in Queen’s Park to represent the people.”

The PCs have been deployed a fleet of Ontario ministersMPPs and staffers to knock on the door.

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Liberal candidate Galen Naidoo Harris and Liberal Leader Bonnie Crombie campaign in the rain. X.com

But heavyweight Liberals at both the federal and provincial levels have also been pounding the pavement for their candidate, Galen Naidoo Harris. They get help from local teaching unions boasting that they have the power to take the riding out of Conservative control.

Ontario Liberal Leader Bonnie Crombie openly considered joining the riding herself before tapping Galen Naidoo Harris, a federal Liberal staffer and the son of former minister and Halton MP Indira Naidoo Harris.

The Progressive Conservatives’ Hamid, a former city councilor and mayoral candidate, used to be a liberal. He sought a federal Liberal nomination in 2015 and donated to Liberals at both the federal and provincial levels – including Indira Naidoo Harris in 2014.

While the riding appears to be a dogfight between these two parties, there is a full slate of candidates. The NDP leads Edie Strachan, a former regional vice-president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, and the Green party has tapped Kyle Hutton, a loyal party activist.

The 413

The issue that most sharply divides the parties is the Ford government’s plan to build the 413, also known as the GTA West Highway. The plan is to start at the 401 east of Milton, curve north and east around Brampton and meet the 400 north of Vaughan.

It’s a signature Progressive Conservative project in a series of measures to help motorists, and Ford announced Tuesday that construction will begin next year.

Hamid has made the highway a key feature of his campaign. He wasn’t always in favor of the project, but came to the side before switching his allegiance to the PCs.

In March 2021, Hamid voted in favor of a Halton Regional Council motion to reaffirm his opposition to the highway. Three months later, he voted against a similar motion when it was before the city council, arguing that he expected traffic congestion to increase again after the pandemic.

“The rumors about the death of motorway traffic on highways have been greatly exaggerated,” Hamid said at a council meeting that spring.

The former Liberal government canceled plans for the new highway during its time in office, and Bonnie Crombie’s Liberals still oppose it today. They warn it will cause environmental damage through some prime agricultural land and claim the highway “designed to benefit one group of people: Doug Ford’s wealthy insiders, conservative donors and wealthy land speculators.”

Naidoo Harris has picked up his party’s story. “The path they’ve laid out for this highway winds through lands owned by developers who are in Doug Ford’s pocket and whose pocket is Doug Ford,” he said during a debate in late April.

Some of those developers donated to Hamid’s failed mayoral campaign in 2022 – something opponents from the highway have noticed — but they also donated to Liberal Leader Bonnie Crombie that year, and she has said developer donations had no impact on her positions.

During the same debate, the NDP’s Strachan said she had not yet taken a position on the highway. Her party’s position is that the government should eliminate truck tolls on the 407 to divert traffic from the 401.

The Green’s Hutton opposes the project.

The quarry

In a statement to The TrilliumNaidoo Harris linked the 413 to another controversial riding project: the Campbellville Quarry, noting that the quarry owners have donated generously to the Conservatives, as have developers who stand to benefit from the 413.

“Both projects pose a threat to the environment as Highway 413 would endanger nearby provincially important wetlands and the Campbellville Quarry has the potential to poison the groundwater on which 1 in 4 Miltonians depend,” he said.

But when it comes to the quarry, all parties are on the same page.

Hamid has promised that the PC government will shut down the quarry after the environmental assessment is completed, saying the prime minister told him so personally.

Ford endorsed his candidate and said this week he will stop the quarry if Milton residents don’t want it, following up on a promise he first made in 2020. Hamid’s opponents from all three major parties argue that if Ford intended to stop the quarry, he would have done so already.

The keffiyeh

As the candidates pounded the pavement in Milton, a controversy erupted in Queen’s Park over the keffiyeh – the traditional Arab scarf associated with the Palestinian cause. The Speaker of the House of Representatives – a conservative MPP, but independent of the government – ​​banned the keffiyeh from the building, believing it had become a political symbol in light of the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

NDP Leader Marit Stiles asked him to overturn it, and then Ford and Crombie echoed her call for the ban to be lifted.

While this earned Ford praise from Hamid, it sparked an uprising among PC caucus members who voted against the NDP’s efforts to overturn the ban.

Naidoo Harris campaigned on the controversy, donning a keffiyeh and imposing the ban on the Ford government instead of the independent speaker and a PC MPP who went rogue and inspired others to join her.

Naidoo Harris pledged to be the voice of the diversity of riding and the significant Muslim population in Queen’s Park.

Commitment

A few publicly available polls give the Liberals a very slim lead over the Progressive Conservatives in Milton, but with small sample sizes and the uncertainty that comes from traditionally low turnout in midterm elections, the race is far too close.

The race has drawn widespread attention as a test case for the 2026 election. Ontario Liberals chose Crombie partly on the belief that she can win GTA ridings like Milton to put her party back in contention for government.

The Liberals won two by-election victories in Scarborough Guildwood and Kanata-Carleton last year in hard-fought battles against the PCs.

Milton is up for grabs today because former Ford minister Parm Gill resigned to run federally for Pierre Poilievre’s Conservatives.

But Milton isn’t the only one holding a provincial election on Thursday. Residents of Lambton-Kent-Middlesex are also heading to the polls, but they are far less likely to see a reversal in southwestern Ontario’s national trends.

It has been blue since former Labor Secretary Monte McNaughton won the 2011 election. He won the riding by wide margins in 2014, 2018 and 2022. In the last two contests, he received more than 55 percent of the vote. The NDP candidates came second in each of McNaughton’s general election victories. The Liberals did not receive more than 10 percent of the votes in either 2018 or 2022.

The Tories are in charge of longtime Chatham-Kent councilor Steve Pinsonneault.

The Liberal candidate is Lucan-Biddulph Mayor Cathy Burghardt-Jesson, who also served as Middlesex County executive.

The NDP candidate in contention is Kathryn Shailer, who has spent much of her career in academia.

The Green Party candidate is Andraena Tilgner, a respiratory therapist who works in London, Ontario, near the riding school.

—With files from Aidan Chamandy