Richmond Hill is a huge heat island. Its endless parking lots, near the intersection of highways 407 and 404, are not conducive to human encounters. Especially not in this scorching, pandemic and electoral season.
I park my car there. On the passenger seat, The duty of the day before, which revealed that conservative candidates did not have to be vaccinated to campaign. I had attended, in Ottawa, the call of these early elections by Justin Trudeau in the midst of a pandemic.
It’s the humidity that strikes first when you arrive. Hot, stagnant, uncomfortable air. On the one hand, heavy traffic on the wide endless driveway crowded with impatient motorists and truckers, albeit constantly at a standstill. On the other, a small shopping center, as there are perhaps a million other identical ones. A few signs of fast food chains and empty terraces leading to the almost deserted parking lot add to the sadness.
The wait is long and fruitless. A man striding across the tarmac plain has no intention of making conversation. Disturbed in his tracks, he says he never talks about politics. Later, another maintains that he did not know that the country was plunged into an election campaign the day before, cutting the discussion short. Where are the voters in this heat?
This suburban slice is not another realm of the ordinary automobile. This is the front line of the electoral battle, which sits on the border between more rural ridings, where the Liberals have no hope, and downtown ridings, where the Conservatives never win. On this thin border, however, the wind can change.
The sweltering heat was not taken into account when deciding on my almost immediate departure for the GTA. As soon as the election was called, all the federal party leaders, with the exception of the Bloc Québécois, rushed to this multi-ethnic outskirts of Canada’s largest city. We had to go there.
The same morning, Justin Trudeau went there for a campaign stop organized in the courtyard of a private residence, renouncing large gatherings, pandemic obliges. Subject to the humid heat, we, the journalists of the tour, tasted our sweat while waiting for the late politician, installed here and there on the lawn, next to the squash and other vegetables from the garden.
After a brief press briefing that never fades into history, media representatives quickly boarded the air-conditioned tour bus, which quickly hit the road. Having my own car, I stay to see the rest.
Word of mouth did its work during the morning, and the whole quiet neighborhood is now out, alerted by the presence of Justin Trudeau. Phone in hand, a couple of neighbors who wonder if they will see the Prime Minister are ready to take part in the scene at any time. The suspense is short lived.
With a few minutes behind the journalists who have already left, Justin Trudeau leaves, surrounded by his bodyguards. He is in no hurry to escape the crowd. The small crowd gives him back, and doesn’t welcome him any differently than if he had been Justin Bieber or Drake: it’s the selfie rush. Visibly happy with this little walkabout officially discouraged by the sanitary measures, the politician finally enters his bus, greeting his improvised audience.
The Liberal bus was just ahead of the Conservative bus. Erin O’Toole stepped out of her Ottawa campaign studio for the first time to head straight here to Richmond Hill, one of the area’s tightest races in the previous election.
The conservative leader opted for a more classic gathering, in a conference room with kitsch decor probably inspired by Versailles, accompanied by his local candidates. In his speech, he insists on his origins as the son of a worker in this region of Toronto. Its more centrist turn is taking place.
Then head west, towards Brampton, where the streets are still just as wide and the parking lots just as hot. A few employees and patrons of nearly empty businesses agree to tell me about NDP leader Jagmeet Singh’s attempt to woo his old stronghold. Even if opinions differ, all say that in their eyes, Justin Trudeau’s Liberals best embody the idea of better welcoming immigrants and refugees.
Could we foresee it? In the end, the Liberals won virtually every riding they coveted in the GTA for the third time in a row. Toronto commuters were not won over by the Conservatives’ offer, which collected nothing but crumbs. Looking back, I like to think that the passers-by in the banal overheated parking lots were simply not ready to admit it to me, as decisive as their choice was for the whole country.