When asked if she considers herself former PC leader Patrick Brown’s main rival in the upcoming Brampton mayoral race, Nikki Kaur paused the briefest of moments before saying “I do.”
Kaur, a former municipal employee-turned-whistleblower, is trying to recast herself as the obvious alternative to the incumbent mayor — with the help of some high-profile political operators.
It’s a job that seems very much up for grabs, especially since former mayor Linda Jeffrey, a former Liberal MPP and cabinet minister who Brown defeated by four points in 2018, is not running again.
“Bramptonians want to see accountability and transparency, and also integrity from the mayor’s office,” said Kaur during a one-on-one interview with Queen’s Park Today. “In 2021, I stood up for every taxpayer [by going public with accusations of corruption at city hall]. I fight for people’s rights … That’s all I’ve ever done.”
Like Brown, Kaur considers herself politically conservative. She and her advisors have been hard at work building an electoral coalition that they say spans traditional ideological divisions, much like the big tent Brown flaunted during his unsuccessful bid to become federal Conservative leader.
But unlike Brown, Kaur notes, she is not saddled with years of alleged misconduct, and her campaign is betting that the diverse set of supporters who backed Brown are tired of the controversy that continues to cloud his political career.
“Brown was kicked out provincially, as everyone is aware, and now he has been disqualified federally,” noted Kaur. “But as far as my brand is concerned, this city is for everyone. Every single person is welcome here. We want to hear from and work for everyone; regardless of party colours, choices and personal decisions.”
“Everyone [on my campaign] is from a different background, but then the beauty is that they’re working in a really united manner because they see the need for change.”
Critically, she has attracted the support of some well-connected advisors, including Doug Ford-ally and pollster Nick Kouvalis, who is serving as a senior advisor for her campaign.
Kaur said it was her team that initially reached out to Kouvalis to bring him on board. A meeting was held shortly after and “all the right elements aligned.” Kouvalis has since been singing her praises online and regularly hurling invectives at Brown.
“It won’t be easy but together we can beat this scourge … Nikki Kaur is going to be a good mayor for Brampton,” tweeted Kouvalis last month, before writing earlier this week that “Patrick Brown is an unethical, immoral, shameless, lying self-centred boy. After 18 years in this business, I have never met a more dishonest, deceitful, narcissistic boy. Time for change in Brampton.”
Campaign team represents unity, says Kaur
Pressed about Kouvalis’ involvement in her campaign, Kaur seemed hesitant to discuss his influence in detail. She said it was “an honour and a privilege” to have him onboard, and praised his work helping the PCs win their second majority government in June. She also noted his work on Toronto mayor John Tory’s three municipal election campaigns.
“Nick is one of the best campaign persons in Canada,” said Kaur. “And he’s our strategist. That speaks volumes for us. The team that we’re attracting, a lot of it is due to Nick.”
Kouvalis was seemingly instrumental in recruiting another political heavyweight, Aurora Strategy Group president Marcel Wieder, to the campaign. Wieder has been involved in politics for decades, and spent time working for the anti-PC group, the Working Family Coalition.
Kaur said the campaign is also “blessed” to have Wieder on board.
“He’s bringing in so much experience and wealth of knowledge and all kinds of different opportunities,” she said. “We’re attracting all the right people to the campaign to show that we’re united. That’s the image we are putting out there, and that’s what Nick and Marcel do for us.”
Rounding out the senior campaign team are local business owners Suma George and Ronald George who have been tapped as Kaur’s campaign managers due to their experience in running unspecified federal and provincial campaigns. Wieder also brought in Noah Zatzman, a principal at Aurora Strategy — and former senior advisor to ex-premier Kathleen Wynne and ex-federal Green Party leader Annamie Paul — to be another senior advisor for the campaign.
Last week, Brown told the Star that “Kouvalis is just taking a grudge out on me by using a former defeated Hamilton Conservative candidate to run against me.” (Kaur ran as the Tory candidate in Hamilton East—Stoney Creek in the 2019 federal election.)
Kaur scoffed at the accusation.
“Nick is doing what he does best — helping a candidate, while also helping Brampton get back on track, so we can actually deliver accountability, transparency, and results. Something we haven’t seen in the past four years,” she said.
Kaur wants to talk crime, strong mayor powers with province
Kaur also noted that the PC government “wants to see a cleaner Brampton.”
“I think the province wants to see Brampton function like any other city, and that speaks volumes for me; it means we have a chance. All of this stuff that we’ve been experiencing, it can get better,” said Kaur.
One of the priorities Kaur wants to address is the gridlock on Brampton’s city council, which has been paralyzed by the even split between Brown’s critics and the faction loyal to him. The situation has led to months of cancelled council meetings.
Kaur said she would be in favour of the PCs extending the strong mayor powers recently granted to Toronto and Ottawa to Brampton as well — something the province has already mused about.
“I would take them and work for the people,” she said, while noting that she would avoid abuses of power and make sure authority was delegated to “the right people.”
Kaur said her team has not reached out to Ford’s office directly, as it’s currently focused on the ground game and getting the campaign officially launched on September 24. That could change “as the campaign unfolds,” however.
(One source has told Queen’s Park Today that an event involving Ford may be in the works.)
If elected, the top issue that Kaur would want to address with the premier is finding a way for the province and city to work together to reduce crime and violence on Brampton streets.
“Every single day, crime is going up. There’s gun crime, people are getting shot at in the daytime. Our office had a car drive through our wall,” she said. “It’s not the Brampton I grew up in. I used to play soccer outside until 10 p.m. … It did not use to be like this, and [crime] has increased in the past four years.”