As the 2021 federal election comes into the home stretch, all eyes are on the volatile 905 region. Unlike so many of Ontario’s ridings, which tend to vote the same way, the 905 is almost always in play — and often decides which party will form government.
In the 31 ridings in Halton, Peel, York, Durham, and Niagara regions that wrap around the western end of Lake Ontario, constituents have many similar concerns related to suburban life. But I’m not sure there’s a more dramatic contest than the grudge match happening in Aurora–Oak Ridges–Richmond Hill. It’s got everything.
Since the 2015 election, Leona Alleslev has represented the York Region riding, which she won by fewer than 1,100 votes. Alleslev was elected that year as a Liberal, but three years later, she crossed the floor to join then-leader Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives. Scheer was so pleased at the turn of events, he made Alleslev his deputy leader. Some Conservatives were pleased to have poached a Liberal. Others have told me that the rush to make Alleslev deputy leader ruffled a lot of feathers and that some wondered why a new Conservative was getting such a plum assignment over other loyal caucus members.
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Be that as it may, despite changing parties, Alleslev in 2019 became one of the few MPs to win re-election, defeating first-time Liberal candidate Leah Taylor Roy by an even smaller margin than in the 2015 contest: just 1,060 votes, or two percentage points. (The other parties were non-factors in this riding, taking about 10 per cent of the votes among them.)
Alleslev made a bit of a name for herself for her particularly biting speeches in the House criticizing Justin Trudeau, under whose banner she’d initially been elected. When Scheer was dumped as Conservative leader, Alleslev relinquished her deputy leader’s title.
Alleslev is being challenged again in this campaign by Taylor Roy, who comes from a very political York Region family. John Taylor, her brother, has been the mayor of Newmarket since 2018. Her 86-year-old father, Tom Taylor, who’s been out every day hammering in lawn signs, was mayor of Newmarket from 1997 to 2006, and a provincial Liberal candidate back in 1967. Taylor Roy’s mother, Kate, also 86, staffs the phones at her daughter’s campaign headquarters.
Taylor Roy co-founded Gems of Hope, an international non-profit that helps women in poverty start their own businesses through microcredits. She was a consultant at the World Bank in Washington and with McKinsey & Co. She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Toronto and a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
Last week, I kept a discreet distance as I tagged along watching Taylor Roy go door-to-door in the Oak Ridges part of Richmond Hill. I wanted to see what issues came up at the door and what kind of reception she was getting, given the criticism that Trudeau had called an early and unnecessary election.
This is a riding where the environment is a big issue, given that this part of York Region encompasses both the Oak Ridges Moraine and the Greenbelt. But it also reflects the urban sprawl so many environmentalists are concerned about. The homes here are relatively new and big, with two-car garages, and cost $1.5 million on average.
As a four-person Liberal team (including the candidate) knocks on doors in the late afternoon sun, two things become immediately apparent: first, almost no one is home; second, those that are home seem quite disengaged from the campaign. After the candidate enthusiastically makes her pitch, a handful of homeowners agrees to take Taylor Roy signs for their lawns. But, frankly, the level of disinterest in this campaign is what sticks out.
Door-knocking during the era of COVID-19 is a tricky business. Taylor Roy finds herself having to stay somewhat distant from her would-be constituents, which doesn’t necessarily allow for the connection she’s hoping to make with the voters.
“It’s hard because I’m the one extravert in the family,” says Taylor Roy, the youngest of the four Taylor kids.
Taylor Roy approaches a man getting out of his car in his driveway. As they converse, she wraps up her pitch.
“Might you vote Liberal?” she asks.
The man points to a leaflet he happens to be holding, featuring the Conservative candidate.
“Well,” Taylor Roy tells him, “I guess we need a few of them, too.” The two share a smile, she thanks him for his time, and she’s off to the next home.
Both Taylor Roy and Alleslev have their signs dotted all over the riding, but the third-most-visible presence here is People’s Party of Canada candidate Anthony Siskos. That party took only 1 per cent of the vote here in 2019. But current polls show its support as high as 11 per cent across Ontario, suggesting it will fare much better this time out. What’s still unclear is whether the PPC will take votes away from the Conservative candidate — votes Alleslev can hardly afford to lose — or whether it’s attracting new voters whose antipathy toward the other mainline parties is so strong that perhaps they’ve not voted before.
Regardless, Taylor Roy has had her share of run-ins with the People’s party.
“Their supporters love to yell at me,” she says. “They’ve screamed ‘Nazi,’ ‘Fascist,’ and other nice things at me.”
In watching 90 minutes of canvassing, I don’t hear Taylor Roy bad-mouth her opponent once. Her message at the door is resolutely positive, her energy upbeat, and while the reception she’s getting is nice enough, the lack of enthusiasm for this election is also apparent.
Taylor Roy acknowledges that, in the first week of the campaign, she encountered a lot of push-back at the door about why the election was necessary in the first place. She says that’s dissipated since.
The NDP, which took 7 per cent of the vote in 2019, is running Janice Hagan as their candidate. The Libertarian candidate is Serge Korovitsyn.
I contacted the Alleslev campaign repeatedly, in hopes of going on a canvass with the Conservative candidate, but did not get any response.
Regardless, Aurora–Oak Ridges–Richmond Hill is shaping up to be one of the great grudge rematches in Ontario. On election night, September 20, it’ll be worth watching.