NDP’s Sarah Jama Elected as Hamilton Center’s Next MPP
New Democrat Sarah Jama has been elected as the next member of the provincial legislature for the Hamilton Centre.
After counting all 53 polls, Jama, a 28-year-old disability and housing activist, won 54 percent of the vote — or 9,560 votes — in Thursday’s by-election. Deirdre Pike of the Liberals came in second with 20 percent or 3,535 votes.
“We didn’t just show [that] People who don’t normally fit into processes could be political, could be seated in Queen’s Park, we’ve also shown we can do it with resounding force,” Jama told a crowd gathered at the Westinghouse building in London on Thursday night had gathered downtown.
“It was a crucial victory.”
Jama thanked her team and supporters and said they knocked on over 10,000 doors across the city.
The by-election was held to replace former Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath, who resigned as MPP over the summer to run for mayor.
Horwath congratulated Jama on Thursday evening.
“I know you will be very proud of this new role as you represent and represent the people of the Hamilton Centre. It has been my honor to serve this riding for 15 years and I look forward to seeing your dedication and passion. “I’ll be bringing it to the post,” Horwath wrote on Twitter.
Ontario NDP leader Marit Stiles told CBC Hamilton Jama will play “a powerful and important role” in the caucus.
Asked if Jama symbolizes the NDP moving in a different direction, Stiles said Jama brings “new energy” and “new representation.”
“Our party was founded by a group of farmers who joined forces with trade unions and social activists. It’s in our blood,” she said.
Across town, Pike thanked her supporters. “What an incredible campaign. It was such an honor to meet and hear from so many of you,” she said on Twitter.
She told CBC Hamilton she was “really proud” of “everything we’ve accomplished.” In the June 2022 provincial elections, the Liberal candidate finished third behind the PC Party candidate.
Ten candidates competed to become the first new national equestrian representative in 16 years. Also running was Progressive Conservative candidate Pete Wiesner, who received 15.2 percent of the vote, and Green Party candidate Lucia Iannantuono, who received 6.9 percent.
Voter turnout was 21.97 percent, according to Elections Ontario. There were 80,172 registered voters.
“A Moment of Pride”
More than 100 people gathered in the Westinghouse building to celebrate the Jama campaign and watched the results come in.
Michael Abraham, 29, said the room was “electric”.
He said he was disillusioned with politics, but Jama and her activism gave him hope.
Madina Wasuga was another voter who shared similar sentiments.
“She stands up for everyone who is vulnerable, who is excluded,” said Wasuga. “She will bring a lot of change.”
Wasuga, who came to Canada with her family as refugees from Somalia, said Jama is becoming an MPP and feels “really part of the civic system”.
“This is a moment of pride,” she said.
An outspoken activist
Jama is a caregiver and renter who grew up as a recipient of the Ontario Disability Support Program.
Her style differs widely from Horwath’s. Her activism has been both welcomed by her supporters and at times a source of controversy.
Previous actions have included staying for weeks at a camp in front of City Hall in support of housing funding, setting up a coffin in front of former Mayor Fred Eisenberger’s home and spray-painting “Defund The Police” on Main Street — all throughout the year 2020 Charges against her and five other activists in connection with camp protests in 2021 were dropped in 2022.
She has also widely spoken out against the expansion of Canada’s Medical Assisted Dying Act (MAiD) and the resulting impact on disabled and racialized people.
dispute over the campaign
Jama came under scrutiny during the campaign for previous comments criticizing Israel and defending the Palestinians.
A 2021 tweet from Jama said she canceled a contract to speak with disability rights organization ReachAbility after reportedly learning the chief executive officer was “defending the Israeli occupation.”
In a video posted online, she also said that local police are “protecting Nazism” by “targeting” black Muslims and Palestinians.
Noah Shack, vice president of the Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs, which advocates for groups including the Hamilton Jewish Federation, told CBC Hamilton the comments were “of serious concern” and had “significant adverse effects.”
Jama apologized Thursday for “harmful” comments and said she would be an MPP for everyone.
“I promise to speak out against antisemitism and stand up for the community when I’m needed,” she wrote.
Shack said it was an “important first step,” but said her “actions will speak louder than words.”
Jama represents a “new potential direction” for NDP
Wayne Petrozzi, professor emeritus in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at Toronto Metropolitan University, said the controversy could be a lesson for Jama to be “more self-disciplined”.
“To run for provincial parliament … means they should focus on provincial affairs,” he told CBC Hamilton on Thursday night.
Petrozzi said Jama will be “easy prey” for NDP opponents in Queen’s Park for some time due to her past activism and criticism during the campaign.
Clifton van der Linden, assistant professor of political science at McMaster University in Hamilton, also said Ontario’s progressive Conservatives would “deal a punch” to Ontario NDP leader Stiles as a result of Jama’s election.
He said the party is likely to help Jama make the “significant transition” from Advocate to MPP.
“It’s possible we’re seeing a change in Jama’s tone and tenor…but I think so too [activism] is a big part of their brand,” said van der Linden.
“What Sarah potentially represents is not just a new face, but a new potential direction for this party, and that’s something that Marit Stiles has to curate very carefully.”
Jama said her priorities for her first 100 days are to advocate for improved public health care, tenant rights and opposition to green belt development.
Locally, she said she will set up councils for residents, young people and the elderly at the Hamilton Centre. She also said she will discuss shared priorities with elected officials at Hamilton Center and rebuild the downtown community refrigerator at her constituency office.
Petrozzi and van der Linden said people should lower their expectations as Jama is not part of the ruling party and is likely to be a backbencher or shadow cabinet minister.
In an interview with reporters Thursday night, Jama said it won’t be difficult to reconcile activism with her role as MPP.
“Hamilton Center wants someone who’s vocal,” she said.