Liberal, PC, NDP candidates for Scarborough-Rouge River campaign during Joythi Festival
At the Joythi Festival, Ontario’s three biggest political parties offered passers-by free face-painting, chocolates and balloons.
But on Saturday, July 30 evening, as hundreds moved around an annual fair on Scarborough’s Middlefield Road, not many seemed interested in what the Liberals, Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats wanted to tell them.
Most people on the grounds of the Canada Sri Ayyappan Temple were too busy looking through clothes, hearing speeches from the stage about mortgage specialists, or lining up for ice cream or dosas.
It’s been nearly two months since the parties had candidates in place for Scarborough-Rouge River to replace MPP Bas Balkissoon, who suddenly quit politics in March.
Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne, who must call a byelection by Sept. 22, hasn’t done so yet, but meanwhile all three camps continue to campaign.
Before visiting the temple festival, Raymond Cho, the PC candidate and a local city councillor, canvassed a street in Morningside Heights with Tobias Enverga, a Conservative senator from Scarborough.
On Boulderbrook Drive, a winding street off Staines Road, Cho started most conversations with residents by saying, “You know, I’ve been your councillor for 25 years.”
Cho, who unsuccessfully ran for the MPP position as a PC in 2014, now has former Toronto mayoral candidate Doug Ford as a campaign manager.
Cho cancelled his annual community picnic in Malvern’s Nielson Park Saturday because, as an assistant explained, the councillor didn’t want the event seen as a misuse of city funds so close to an election.
On the canvass, however, Cho worked quickly from a list of past supporters to get locations for lawn signs, and said he’s not concerned about when the writ is dropped.
“If they call (the election) later, that’s fine. The response has been very good,” he said.
New Democratic Party candidate Neethan Shan, who’s also the area’s public school trustee, has run twice against Cho and also tried twice to unseat Balkissoon as a New Democrat.
At Joythi, he said he senses the northeastern Scarborough riding, which Balkissoon held like a fortress, has finally had enough of the Liberals.
“It’s not looking good for them,” said Shan. “There’s a sense of being taken for granted, and that’s changing, because there are strong candidates running.”
While Cho talks about the PCs extending the Scarborough subway north of Highway 401 – something Toronto Council hasn’t agreed to – Shan says as an MPP he can be “a voice of opposition” for Scarborough, someone who can hold the Liberals accountable.
From the festival stage, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath told people Shan “will keep fighting for education” and the Liberal government “doesn’t follow through” on its promises to Scarborough.
Piragal Thiru, the Liberal candidate, starts with a lower profile than either Cho or Shan, not having run for office before.
On Sunday, Thiru, active with the party since age 14, said campaigning is nothing new, but it’s different, “just thrilling,” with his name on the ballot.
Originally a refugee from Sri Lanka, Thiru said he’s stayed active in Scarborough for at least 20 years. “This is where we started our life in Canada.”
As another Liberal MPP in Scarborough – which has had nothing but Liberals since 2003 – he can, he suggested, “build on” the government’s pledges for the area in education, health and public transit.
This includes the one-stop Bloor-Danforth Subway extension, though it’s only going to Scarborough Town Centre instead of to Sheppard Avenue, as originally planned.
That won’t reach the riding, but overall, people there are pleased the subway is finally going ahead, said Thiru, a transportation planner who works for York Region.
As for the byelection announcement, he said, “I’m waiting just like everybody else.”
The riding’s Green Party candidate is Priyan Lakshantha De Silva.