As we head into the final week of the election campaign the ground is shifting in a number of close Toronto races. Here’s the latest.
Toronto Centre rematch
This rematch between Liberal incumbent -Marci Ien and Green Party leader Annamie Paul is the race to watch in #elxn44.
Paul’s impressive showing in last year’s by-election, which was necessitated by the departure of former Liberal finance minister Bill Morneau, had seemingly been washed away by party infighting over her leadership and a very highly publicized and nasty set-to with the party’s federal council after Paul failed to condemn charges of anti-Semitism made by her senior advisor against Green MPs Jenica Atwin and Paul Manly. The controversy led to Atwin crossing the floor to join the Liberals and the party’s federal council pulling financial support from Paul’s campaign.
It looked like the Greens were giving up the ghost on this one when Paul said during a press conference last week that it’s the Liberals who have the best platform on climate. But Paul’s strong showing in the English-language leaders debate has provided a crucial boost.
Ien, who beat Paul by some 2,300 votes in their by-election battle, has more recently been featured in Liberal campaign emailers to supporters. She has some star power of her own, having fashioned a successful career in broadcast journalism before entering politics.
The NDP, meanwhile, which finished third last time with 17 per cent of the vote to the Greens’ 33 per cent and Liberals’ 42 per cent, is hoping Brian Chang can capitalize on the party’s rising fortunes nationally in his second bid for the seat.
The bigger question is what becomes of Paul should she fail to win?
If the NDP is going to flip any ridings in Toronto, this is where most political observers think it will happen. Liberal leader Justin Trudeau paid a visit here as part of a whirlwind tour of the GTA last week for Liberal incumbent Julie Dzerowicz.
Dzerowicz’s margin of victory the last time out was 1,472 votes. It was some 1,441 votes the time before that, on both occasions against popular NDPer Andrew Cash.
This time out the Dippers are fielding longtime community activist Alejandra Bravo, a director of the Broadbent Institute and founding member of Progress Toronto.
Bravo has run unsuccessfully at the municipal level before. Will 2021 be the charm? Polling analysis and election projection website 338Canada.com had her slightly ahead early in the race.
Adam Vaughan poses with supporters at the Steam Whistle brewery after 2014 by-election win.
Spadina-Fort York set-to
Liberal incumbent Adam Vaughan caught most people by surprise when he announced he wouldn’t be running for re-election. The government’s affordable housing point person cited personal reasons for his decision. But there’s also little doubt that the stifling partisanship and political polarization in Ottawa was also getting to him. It’s been seven years after all.
The Libs are fielding Kevin Vuong in Vaughan’s place. The 32-year-old Western grad ran unsuccessfully municipally in the riding in 2018.
The NDP, which holds the riding provincially, is running Toronto Catholic District School Board trustee Norm Di Pasquale, an able standard-bearer who has been involved in debates over Island Airport expansion.
Vaughan won by large margins the last two times out. The problem for the Libs is that Vuong is not exactly a known quantity, despite his connections to the area’s sizable Asian community.
Parkdale-High Park pivot
NDP leader Jagmeet Singh was in the riding on the first day of the election. The party is putting a lot of faith in winning this one with FoodShare executive director Paul Taylor.
Part of the new crop of young and up-and-coming NDP political talent out of Parkdale, it’s the second time out for Taylor, who lost by more than 9,000 votes against Liberal incumbent Arif Virani in 2019. Arguably, Taylor was weighed down somewhat among some NDPers by the controversy surrounding his win for the nomination over challenger Saron Gebresellassi.
Taylor is an enthusiastic campaigner, displaying his chops on social media. The NDP’s performance nationally will affect the outcome here where housing and cost of living issues are big.
Etobicoke Centre Ford factor
Outside the downtown core in the burbs, Doug Ford’s backyard would seem like easy pickings for the Conservatives. It was held by the Conservatives before the Libs won it back in 2019.
But unlike past elections, where the premier could be counted on to be right in there like a dirty shirt, Ford is sitting this election out – at least publicly.
It’ll be a tough one for the Cons to turn. Liberal incumbent Yvan Baker won by more than 10,000 votes last time. The Conservatives are running Geoffrey Turner, a tax lawyer. The NDP only recently nominated Ashley Da Silva.
Eglinton-Lawrence on Afghanistan watch
The crisis in Afghanistan has put Marco Mendicino, Trudeau’s Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, in the hot seat – and national spotlight. It’s an issue that will have some resonance in this midtown Toronto bellwether, which he has held since 2015 after taking it from Harper crony Joe Oliver.
The riding is an important hold for Trudeau, since as this riding goes so goes the election. Mendicino increased his margin of victory over his nearest Conservative rival in 2019.
The Conservatives are fielding a relative unknown in Geoff Pollock, a lawyer and former army reservist who last ran for the Harper Conservatives in 2013 in Toronto Centre. The NDP, meanwhile, have never been serious contenders here. Former Saskatchewan finance minister Andrew Thomson ran for the party in 2015, but finished a distant third. This time out they have Caleb Senneker running on Indigenous issues.
Toronto-St. Paul’s in the mix
St. Paul’s has historically been known for serving up interesting three-way races with its mix of apartment dwellers and upper-middle-class voters. The NDP holds the riding provincially.
But Sidney Coles, the candidate carrying the NDP banner this time, has dropped out this week after finding herself in hot water over recent tweets linking Israel to missing COVID vaccines. The Conservatives are running Stephanie Osadchuk.
The riding has been held federally since 1997 by Carolyn Bennett.
Bennett has served in various health-related portfolios. For the last two parliaments, she has been the government’s point person on the Indigenous file as Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations. It was looking like Bennett had worn out her welcome in that role when she was forced to issue an apology to Indigenous former Liberal MP Jody Wilson-Raybould in June over a text Bennett sent to her that Wilson-Raybould described as “racist.” That was in the middle of the discovery of the bodies of hundreds of Indigenous children at unmarked graves at various former residential schools.
It’s been a tumultuous year for Bennett, who has nevertheless won handily the last two times out against all political competitors.
Don Valley East twist
For Michael Coteau, it was always going to be a question of when not if.
After losing the provincial Liberal leadership race to Steven Del Duca, there was nothing more left to do for the former Wynne cabinet star and MPP. He’s made the jump to the federal level in familiar stomping grounds in Don Valley East, a riding he’s held provincially since 2011.
That would seem to stand him in good stead – along with his local roots in Flemingdon Park. The wild card here is Yasmin Ratansi, the former Liberal who has held the riding off and on since 2004 and is now sitting as an Independent after it was discovered that she broke parliamentary spending rules by employing her sister at her constituency office.
Ratansi won handily with 60 per cent of the vote in 2019, more than doubling the vote of the Conservative second-place finisher.
York Centre saw-off
Conservative candidate Julius Tiangson almost stole this one from the Libs in 2020, losing in a by-election to Liberal Ya’ara Saks by a mere 70 votes. Historically the riding switched between Conservatives and Liberals. But Tiangson, whose Filipino roots helped the Conservatives last time, has been supplanted as the party’s candidate by Joel Etienne after a nomination battle.
Etienne, a lawyer, ran unsuccessfully for the Canadian Alliance in nearby Eglinton-Lawrence in 2000. Of note: Duterte’s politics back home loom large here for the Filipino community. The NDP, meanwhile, are running Kemal Ahmed, a software engineer whose issues include protecting Downsview Park lands from large-scale development.
NDP leader Jagmeet Singh kicked off his campaign in the riding held by the late NDP leader Jack Layton before it was lost to the Liberals’ Julie Dabrusin in 2015. Dabrusin followed that win up in 2019 with 47.7 per cent of the vote to 32 per cent for the NDP’s Min Sook-Lee. Dabrusin has proven popular, including among NDP supporters. The NDP has another capable candidate in youth and healthcare advocate Clare Hacksel this time around. Climate change is emerging as an issue at the doors, but on that front the NDP has recently been given a failing grade in one assessment completed of the main party platforms by Simon Fraser university prof Marc Jaccard. That appraisal was based on economic costs and effectiveness.
Scarborough Southwest challenge
As the government’s public safety point person, Liberal incumbent Bill Blair has sometimes been conspicuous by his absence, despite occupying one of the more high-profile jobs on Team Trudeau. But that’s changed recently. The Conservative Party’s promise to reverse the Liberals’ ban on assault-style rifles – not to mention Doug Ford’s recent (false) claim that he asked the feds to institute a vaccine passport system months ago – has put Blair back in the spotlight. 338Canada.com has this one filed under a “safe” Liberal riding. But it’s noteworthy here for the NDP candidate, local boy Guled Arale, who’s making affordable housing and post-pandemic recovery his main issues. Arale served as a vice president of the University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus students union.
Beaches-East York footnote
The NDP thinks they have a shot here with affordable housing advocate Alejandra Ruiz Vargas against Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, mostly owing to national trends and the riding’s historically lefty sensibilities. But Erskine-Smith, who has gained a reputation as a maverick for not always agreeing with his party, increased his margin of victory winning with 57 per cent of the vote in 2019. His profile has been raised by his participation in international committee hearings into the role of social media companies in elections. The Conservatives recently dropped candidate Lisa Robinson over tweets she posted while she was running for a council seat in Ajax in 2017 saying Muslim people should “go home.”
This story was updated on Wednesday, September, 15 at 10:42 am. An earlier version of this article included incorrect numbers for the margin of victory in Davenport in the 2015 and 2019 federal elections. They’ve been updated.
Enzo was born in Belgium and emigrated with his family to Canada in the heat of Trudeaumania. He is a winner of numerous writing awards and the only (alleged) Commie banned from entering Cuba. It’s complicated. Claims to fame: champion wood-chopper.