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The last election was decided by just 89 votes. How will Brampton Centre vote this time?


With the election heating up, local candidates are busy trying to prove they’re the best fit to represent constituents at Queen’s Park. But the races are tight — and all kinds of factors could swing the outcomes. Today, we take a closer look at three compelling ridings, and what candidates are up against.

Brampton Centre is home to not just winding suburban streets, but also to the area’s retail and logistics industries. With calls for both increased health-care capacity and transit projects to reduce the strain on commuters, the riding could prove a microcosm of the issues facing Ontario voters this election campaign.

Candidates here face a tight race. In 2018, rookie New Democratic Party candidate Sara Singh eked out a win with just 89 votes more than her Progressive Conservative rival, Harjit Jaswal.

Singh, who is her party’s deputy leader, is now facing down a controversial issue which will have massive consequences for Brampton Centre constituents: the construction of Highway 413. While the proposed highway won’t run through the riding directly, it could affect long-standing congestion issues in the area.

While the Liberals, New Democrats and Greens have all pledged to cancel the project — which the PCs have made a central plank in their re-election platform — the proposed highway has proved popular among members of Brampton’s business community, who see the move as necessary to clear congestion and move goods faster.

With such a tight victory in 2018, can Singh squeak out another stint at Queen’s Park?

The riding is “the epitome of a competitive district,” said Chris Cochrane, an associate professor of political science at the University of Toronto.

Brampton has seen several protests against the planned highway, which is set to run through York, Peel and Halton regions. Experts say it won’t actually reduce traffic because of induced demand, which increases road use over time. Similarly, there are significant environmental concerns about the project and its potential threat to biodiversity.

The Brampton Board of Trade, which represents hundreds of businesses in the city, says it supports the highway, which it hopes would quicken the flow of goods and services in Brampton Centre. (The board also backs other planned public transit developments, such as the Hazel McCallion LRT line, which will run from Mississauga to the Brampton Gateway Terminal at Steeles Avenue and Hurontario Street in the riding’s southwest corner and is slated for completion in 2024.)

With potentially just a handful of votes needed to flip the riding, the battle could come down to the performance of the Liberals and NDP this time around, Cochrane said. The difficulty for the left-leaning parties could be their alignment on major issues, which might lead to vote-splitting and a subsequent loss for both parties to the PCs.

The PC candidate in Brampton Centre is Charmaine Williams, a first-term city councillor whose name recognition could offset Singh’s incumbent advantage.

In a statement to the Star, Williams touted her record on city council, and said she understands the needs of the community.

Liberal candidate Safdar Hussain is a 14-year resident of the riding who has volunteered extensively for various causes in the city. This is the second time he has thrown his hat into the ring — in 2018, Hussain finished a distant third with roughly 17 per cent of votes cast.

This time, he believes the policies he’s campaigning on will land him a seat at Queen’s Park. Hussain said he wants to advocate for families, students and seniors who felt left behind during the pandemic.

The region was hard-hit by COVID-19.

The riding is home to dozens of manufacturing plants and hundreds of warehouses, where the coronavirus could be easily spread.

At the same time, only one full-service hospital exists in Brampton. The Progressive Conservative government had promised to expand the Peel Memorial Urgent Care Centre site into a second full-service hospital to help alleviate pressure on the city’s strained health-care infrastructure, but construction isn’t expected to be completed until at least 2027. The PCs, NDP and Liberals have all aligned themselves with expanding health-care options in the area.

The PCs have also committed to building a dedicated cancer treatment centre at Brampton Civic Hospital.

However, the NDP says those investments aren’t enough to close Brampton’s health-care gap, and has promised to build a third hospital if elected.

Brampton has become something of a poster child for hallway medicine, with capacity and overcrowding issues at Brampton Civic persisting since the hospital opened its doors in 2007. The problem was felt acutely even before the pandemic: In January 2020, Brampton city council passed a motion declaring a health-care emergency in the city, calling for urgent action and funding from the province.

Brampton’s health-care woes were only compounded during the pandemic, with the city among the hardest-hit areas in the country. In late 2020, Brampton accounted for more than 60 per cent of Peel Region’s COVID-19 cases, despite having less than half of the region’s population.

Building another hospital would offer some relief, Singh told the Star, but paid sick day policies offer another pillar of help for hard-hit communities. Giving people the security to stay home, she said, would take pressure off of hospitals, and help businesses and the community at large.

Jenna Moon is a general assignment reporter for the Star and is based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @_jennamoon

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