With area seat in play, Justin Trudeau, Jagmeet Singh come calling

The NDP and Liberals are looking to win the Tory stronghold of Oxford as the leaders of both parties touch down this week to rally supporters for an upcoming byelection in the riding.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a stopover in Woodstock Thursday afternoon to rally support for Liberal candidate David Hilderley  in the June byelection. The event was held one day before NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is expected to make an appearance in Oxford to support candidate Cody Groat.

Addressing a packed campaign office, Trudeau sounded off on familiar issues, including the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, the war in Ukraine and the rising cost of living.

“There are lots of things to be challenged about in the world right now, and the choice that Canadians get to make is: Do we step up and meet those challenges? … Or do we hunker down, fall back, throw up our hands and say, ‘Well, it’s all broken, and we can’t do anything anyway?’” Trudeau asked the crowd.

To tackle those challenges, “we need people who are grounded in their communities,” he said. “We need leaders who understand the challenges people are facing day in and day out, and are always focused on building a better future. And that’s exactly who Dave is.”

Trudeau cited Hilderley’s experience as a Woodstock realtor, active community member and former educator, calling him the “strong voice” Oxford needs in Ottawa.

“We need to ensure that MPs are the community’s voice in Ottawa and not Ottawa’s voice in their communities,” he said, drawing cheers from the crowd.

“In this election, the choice is even clearer. You either get your voice in Ottawa, Oxford’s voice in Ottawa, or you get Pierre Poilievre’s voice in Oxford.”

Lawyer Arpan Khanna, who served as Ontario co-chair for Poilievre’s successful leadership campaign and ran unsuccessfully for the Tories in Brampton in 2019, clinched the Conservative nomination after a heated race against two others, including Deb Tait, a city councillor and the daughter of former MP Dave MacKenzie.

Two leaders of the local Conservative riding association resigned immediately after, saying the Conservatives favoured Khanna to win from the onset. In the latest twist, MacKenzie, who held the seat for the Tories from 2004 until he retired in January, announced he was supporting Hilderley.

Trudeau and Singh’s local presence early in the campaign may suggest their parties see an opening, one political watcher says.

“You go hunting where the ducks are,” Waterloo-based political analyst Peter Woolstencroft said.

“So, politicians go hunting for votes where they think there’s a possibility of winning votes.”

Elizabeth Quinto, a former Liberal federal candidate in Oxford, Woodstock Mayor Jerry Acchione and several city councillors were among the local politicians to attend the Thursday rally.

Taking the stage after Trudeau, Hilderley spent the second half of his brief address praising Tait and MacKenzie for getting behind him.

“For (MacKenzie) to say that he’s going to support a Liberal candidate, it’s a big risk. But what Mr. MacKenzie is saying (is) he believes in Oxford County. He wants the best for Oxford County.”

During his stop, Trudeau also stressed important points for the largely rural riding: agriculture, the auto sector and supporting families. He vowed his government’s commitment to the riding, regardless of who wins the byelection.

“We are not, in any way shape or form, going to be leaving Oxford behind.”

The New Democrats never have won the federal seat in Oxford, and John Finlay was the last person to hold the riding for the Liberals, from 1992 to 2004.

Voters in Oxford and three other federal ridings will head to the polls in byelections June 19.

[email protected]


The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada

Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press

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