Niagara West is a large, sprawling riding with an interesting mix of rural and urban areas.
It includes Grimsby, Lincoln, West Lincoln, Pelham, Wainfleet and parts of St. Catharines, meaning it has a mixture of large towns, smaller villages and lots of farmland.
It is the largest riding in Niagara in terms of size, at 988 square km. However, it’s the least populated of the Niagara ridings, with 98,946 residents as of the 2021 census.
The low population density is evident from the geography of the riding, which is mostly agricultural. The riding has more farms than the rest of Niagara (1,155 compared to 672) and those represent a far larger area than the rest of Niagara (150,354 square km to 67,587 square km), according to a 2016 survey by Niagara Region.
Niagara West is also the most politically active riding in Niagara in terms of election turnout. For the 2018 election, the turnout in the riding was 63.28 per cent, compared to 54.56 per cent in Niagara Falls, the next highest turnout, according to data from Elections Canada.
It almost goes without saying, but the provincial government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis will be at the forefront of many voters’ minds. In Niagara West, the wineries were forced to close due to the pandemic and will be hoping to bounce back this year.
Being a largely rural riding, agriculture is one of the biggest concerns facing the area. Rising fuel costs may put financial pressure on farmers who may be looking for decisive action from the government.
As is the case with the rest of Ontario, housing is high on the agenda. The challenge will be to increase the number of houses while protecting the heritage of the area. Smithville, for instance, is predicted to double in size by 2051, and plans are being put in place to deal with this expansion.
West Niagara hasn’t dodged the cost-of-living crisis and that will be high on voters’ minds. One indication of the severity of the situation is the growing demand for food banks. West Lincoln Community Care (WLCC) said that March 2022 was the busiest month for food bank use since the start of the pandemic, a clear indicator that households are facing financial hardship. What will the various parties propose to bring down costs and help families?
In the 2018 election, Progressive Conservative candidate Sam Oosterhoff won the vote with a sizeable 52.81 per cent of the votes.
Oosterhoff has been the incumbent since the 2016 byelection for the riding, which was previously Niagara West-Glanbrook. He was 19 at the time, making him the youngest MPP ever to be elected to the Ontario legislature.
Prior to the switch to the current Niagara West riding, the electoral district was Niagara West-Glanbrook, which included West Lincoln, Lincoln, Grimsby, Pelham and a section of rural Hamilton.
That riding was formed in 2007 and always returned an MPP from the PC party.
Chris Pickles, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Grimsby Lincoln News