The suburbs, again

I have been banging on for months years about the path to a Conservative victory being urbantoronto-9052-31088through the suburbs around e.g. Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Hamilton, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. Now, John Ibbitson, writing in the Globe and Mail, says that “People who live in suburban homes and go everywhere by car have been responsible for almost all the growth in Canada’s cities over the past decade, and that has momentous implications for both Liberals and Conservatives.

Mr Ibbitson cites a recent study “released by a team of researchers led by David Gordon, an urban planner at Queen’s University … [which says that] … More than 80 per cent of the population in large cities, including Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal, live in suburbs. “Their downtowns may be full of new condo towers, but there is five times as much development on the suburban edges of the region” … [and] … The study shows that the number of people living in metropolitan areas in Canada grew by 15 per cent, or 3.2 million people, between 2006 and 2016. That’s more than the entire population of Toronto, Canada’s largest city.

The study also shows that “The population in the “active core” of Canadian cities – where a higher percentage of people walk or cycle to work – grew by 9 per cent, well below the 15-per-cent average for the metro areas. The population of “transit suburbs,” whose residents live outside the core and are more likely to use public transit for work, grew even less, by 8 per cent … [but, and it’s a big BUT] … “auto suburbs,” where people mostly commute by car, grew by 17 per cent. These suburbs accounted for 75 per cent of all urban growth during the decade. The population of exurbs – typically commuter subdivisions in otherwise rural areas – increased by 20 per cent. The data is based on a comparison of the 2006 and 2016 census. The Globe and Mail was given a copy of the report in advance. You can read the report here.

And yet,” John Ibbitson says, and I agree “politicians, planners, academics and journalists focus much of their attention on inner-city issues, while ignoring suburban expansion. Partly, that’s because “it’s too easy to see the growth in the inner-city,” Prof. Gordon said in an interview. “There are all those tower cranes in Toronto and Vancouver, and every single building is a political controversy, an article in the newspaper.” Meanwhile, as city council argues furiously over whether to permit a new tower with a few hundred residents in the downtown, thousands of new homes replace farmland on the urban edge, “and nobody ever sees it.”” Those suburbs are where the people, people who vote, are; it’s where they want to be (larger homes with nice backyards) or need (affordable homes) to be. It’s where the votes will be and it’s where Conservatives, especially, need to get their votes.

Mr Ibbitson explains that suburban voters “are more powerful today than ever. Between 2006 and 2016, according to the study, people living in suburbs increased 1297760617033_ORIGINALfrom 66 per cent of Canada’s population to 67.5 per cent. Suburban voters are overwhelmingly more important than rural or downtown voters in determining the outcome of elections … [and, he adds] … Because immigrants now account for almost all of Canada’s population growth, auto suburbs often also contain large numbers of immigrants from developing countries, along with their descendants. Visible minorities, to use the StatsCan term, account for about three quarters of the population of Brampton, Ont. They make up almost 60 per cent of the population of Surrey, B.C.” Stephen Harper and e.g. Jason Kenney understood this fact back circa 2005 when they began to move, aggressively, to convince “new Canadians” that they ~ new Canadians and the new Conservative Party of Canada ~ shared many (not all, just many) social and, especially, economic values. It worked.

John Ibbitson opines that “The hegemony of suburban voters can make it politically profitable to drive a values wedge between them and downtown voters. Doug Ford became premier of Ontario by promising to govern “for the little guy” against the downtown elites “drinking champagne with their pinkies in the air” … [and] … the Conservatives also have voters who are uncomfortable with high levels of immigration from countries outside Europe … [but, he adds] … When Quebec MP Maxime Bernier tweeted his criticism of the Liberal government’s “extreme multiculturalism and cult of diversity,” his message may have resonated with nativist voters. Such words are toxic for a party whose electoral success or failure will be determined by immigrant voters and their descendants.” I think that both Premier Ford and M. Bernier have observed that “populism works,” and both are dealing from a very populist deck, but, Mr Ibbitson suggests, “sometimes, efforts to cleave the suburbs from the downtowns fail. While the 905 – the band of ridings outside Toronto named after its area code – supported Stephen Harper’s Conservative message of low taxes and sound fiscal management in 2011, many of those same voters opted in 2015 for Justin Trudeau’s socially progressive Liberal priorities … [and, he asks himself] … In 2019, will these voters be attracted to Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s vow to eliminate carbon taxes, or will they prefer Mr. Trudeau’s emphasis on combating climate change? … [he says that] … The answer to that question could determine the election.

The populist anti-asylum seeker trend …


… is, I suspect, weak, but 2018 appears to be the fist time in decades when support for the “same” or more immigration has fallen below 50%. It is likely that many suburban voters who are worried about the ‘irregular migrants‘ are, themselves, ‘new Canadians’ who waited in the queue for their chance to come to Canada, properly, and who don’t like the idea that less desirable queue jumpers appear to be being molly-coddled by the Trudeau Liberals.

I think that the Conservatives, to win in the suburbs, must present a sound fiscal agenda ~ more of your own money stays in your own pocket; coupled with a moderate social policy agenda ~ tolerance is our strength, it’s how we make diversity work, proper immigrants are welcome and the popular social safety net will not be gutted by American style libertarians; and spiced with just a tiny soupçon of social conservatism ~ but with a very New Canadian/ethnic Canadian flavour.

The Conservatives also need Jagmeet Singh’s New Democrats to step up their political game, especially in the urban cores and also in the suburbs to create real three way races that CPC candidates can win. Juston Trudeau has done a first rate job of uniting the left; now Andrew Scheer needs Jagmeet Singh to split the left and allow so Conservatives to win by coming up through the middle in a few tight three races.

John Ibbitson concludes, and I agree, fully that, “Both the Conservatives and the Liberals face major challenges in wooing the auto-suburban voter. The Tories are plagued by nativist, anti-immigrant attitudes among some supporters. The Liberals often treat auto suburbs, and the people who live in them, as a problem to be solved rather than as a community to be respected … [and he says, correctly that] … Disrespecting voters for whatever reason is perverse. Suburban voters, in particular, choose governments. And there are more of them now than ever.” Like it or not, this …

… is the new face of suburban Canada. Will it, can it be a Conservative face, too?

Does winning in the suburbs mean that Andrew Scheer has to march in gay pride Troyparades or that Maxime Bernier must curb his tongue? No, but it does mean that Andrew Scheer must make room for e.g. Bernier and perhaps Michelle Rempel to march in the gay pride parades and reach out to a younger, more hip, urban electorate with which he, Scheer, appears a bit uncomfortable and it means that M. Bernier must find a better medium ~ say an op-ed piece in e.g. the Globe and Mail, or a lengthy TV interview with, say, David Akin of Global News, not  with the CBC‘s Rosemary Barton, to explain that he supports lawful, properly managed immigration but opposes the current government’s inaction on irregular asylum seekers.

DWK7ERfWkAAvyWoAnd it means that Andrew Scheer and others, like Erin O’Toole, must reach out, more and more often, to Canada’s diverse ethnic communities to make sure that they understand that their values and Conservative values, while not always totally in synch, do overlap in many, many ways.


The entire Conservative Party, including those with post-Scheer leadership ambitions, must get behind a programme to unseat Justin Trudeau’s Liberals … for Canada’s sake.

Published by Ted Campbell

Old, retired Canadian soldier, Conservative ~ socially moderate, but a fiscal hawk. A husband, father and grandfather. Published material is posted under the "Fair Dealing" provisions (§29) of the Copyright Act for the purposes of research, private study and education.

11 thoughts on “The suburbs, again

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