Milton byelection matters for Doug Ford and Bonnie Crombie

The provincial byelection in Milton happens Thursday.  (Clara Pasieka/CBC - image credit)
The provincial byelection in Milton happens Thursday. (Clara Pasieka/CBC - image credit)

For Premier Doug Ford, there's more at stake in Thursday's provincial byelection in Milton than just one seat at Queen's Park.

While a byelection win or loss won't change the status of any party in the majority-PC Legislature, the results in Milton will tell Ford, his opponents and all their political organizers plenty about the challenges they'll face in the run-up to the next provincial election campaign two years from now.

"Normally I would say that you can't read too much into byelections," said Andrew Perez, a Liberal strategist, in an interview. "In this case, I think this byelection in Milton is critical."

Andrew Brander, a Conservative strategist, says the vote comes at a critical time for the Ford government.

"The reason why I think [the byelection] matters is Milton is an exceptional microcosm of the GTA," said Brander, who managed three successful federal campaigns in the riding for former Conservative MP Lisa Raitt.

Here are five reasons why you should pay attention to what happens in Milton, even if you don't live there.

1. It's the 905

The path to power in Ontario leads through the 905, made up of the regions of Halton, Peel, York and Durham. For the last eight straight provincial elections, the party that won the most seats in this part of the Greater Toronto Area formed government.

The PC dominance of the 905 was one of the most notable features of the 2022 election. Ford's party captured 28 of its 29 ridings, with the NDP's win in Oshawa as the only exception.

Both politically and mathematically, it will be almost impossible for any party to defeat the PCs in the next election (scheduled for June 2026) without prying away a healthy chunk of these seats.

The results today in Milton could be seen as a sample of how 905 voters are feeling midway through Ford's second term as premier.

Polling suggests the Liberals are competitive in Milton and Perez says voter sentiment in neighbouring ridings is likely similar. "I think that's promising for our party," he said.

For the Official Opposition New Democrats, who have long struggled to win anywhere in the 905 outside of Brampton and Oshawa, the results will send a message to Marit Stiles's party about how much further it needs to go to have a realistic shot at forming government.    

Mehrdad Nazarahari/CBC
Mehrdad Nazarahari/CBC

2. It's a challenge for Doug Ford

The byelection was forced by Ford's former minister of red tape reduction, Parm Gill, jumping ship to become the candidate for Pierre Poilievre's federal Conservative Party.

Milton has clearly been on Ford's mind of late. He held a news conference in the riding in mid-April to announce expanded GO Transit service. He held a news conference on Tuesday to re-announce a 2025 start date for construction of Highway 413, which would link Milton to Vaughan.

Ford also opposed the Speaker's ban on the Palestinian keffiyeh scarf in the Legislature, which some political commentators connected to the number of Muslim voters in the riding.

"All of these things speak to the lengths that the premier is willing to go to cater to the voters of Milton," said Brander.

If Ford's party fails to hold on to the seat, Brander says that could make PC MPPs from other ridings in the region worry about their political futures, and reconsider whether they want to seek re-election in 2026.

Tara Walton/The Canadian Press
Tara Walton/The Canadian Press

3. It's a test for Bonnie Crombie

Thursday's byelection in Milton (along with the simultaneous bylection in Lambton-Kent-Middlesex, a riding that the PCs have held for four straight elections) is the first ballot box test for Bonnie Crombie since she became leader of the Ontario Liberal Party in December.

As the former mayor of Mississauga, Crombie's presence as leader should in theory boost the Liberals' fortunes elsewhere in the 905.

The Liberals came close in Milton in 2022, losing by just four percentage points, despite the party's dismal showing provincewide under leader Steven Del Duca.

So if the party can't win this byelection under Crombie, said Brander, "I think that's that's a bit of a warning sign for the Liberals."

The PCs have ramped up their attack ads targeting Crombie since the byelection campaign began, including TV spots airing during Toronto Maple Leafs playoff games.

Given the extent of the PC advertising salvo, Perez says even a closely-fought loss will indicate that Crombie has given momentum to the Liberals as their new leader.

Patrick Morrell/CBC News
Patrick Morrell/CBC News

4. Its issues resonate

Issues that matter a lot to voters in the suburban, commuter-heavy riding of Milton — such as housing, the cost of living, transportation — tend to be issues that voters care about in many ridings around the GTA.

"These are all issues that the premier and the PC caucus have been speaking to very clearly," said Brander. "If they can't hold on to a riding like Milton where those issues are supposed to resonate so well, then that has to be somewhat concerning for the premier."

The hyper-local issue that has generated the most debate during the byelection is a proposed quarry near Campbellville, in the northwest corner of Milton. There's always the possibility for such a controversy to motivate just enough voters to swing the result in a close race.

Milton has been a swing riding in the last three elections, with the PCs winning it in 2018 and 2022, while the Liberals took its predecessor riding of Halton when Kathleen Wynne led the party to victory in 2014.

Patrick Morrell/CBC News
Patrick Morrell/CBC News

5. It could reveal a trend

The PCs haven't won any of the four Ontario byelections held since the party romped to its second majority in 2022.

Admittedly, three of those seats were previously held by other parties. But last July's loss of Kanata-Carleton, a seat vacated by former cabinet minister Merrilee Fullerton — coupled that same day with the failure of former Toronto city councillor Gary Crawford to take Scarborough-Guildwood from the Liberals — stung Ford's party.

The loss of another former cabinet minister's seat in Milton could start to look like a disappointing trend for the Tories.

Both Brander and Perez predict Thursday's race will be close, and say each party's ability to get voters to the polls could make a difference, given the low turnout that byelections typically muster.

The candidates in Milton for the four parties with seats in the legislature are:

  • Zee Hamid (PC)

  • Kyle Hutton (Green)

  • Galen Naidoo Harris (Liberal)

  • Edie Strachan (NDP)

Polling stations are open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.