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Ridings on the Brink: Trinity-Spadina

Torontoist is officially in election mode. In the run-up to the big day, we’ll be profiling some of the most closely contested ridings in the GTA, looking for the bellwethers and offering snapshots of electoral districts in transition.
Photo of Olivia Chow and Jack Layton by Medmoiselle T from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.
Races don’t get more high-profile than this. The riding of Trinity-Spadina includes what many of us think of as the core of the city: the Annex, Little Italy, Nathan Phillips Square, the downtown Chinatown, Kensington, the University of Toronto main campus, and the financial district. A paradigm of the urban multicultural experience, more than 41% of Trinity-Spadina residents speak a first language that is neither English nor French. 53% of the adult population has a university degree (compared to 34% for the city as a whole), and 54% are tenants rather than home-owners. The issues that get the most play here follow suit: immigration policy, transit, urban infrastructure, arts funding, social justice, and environmental sustainability are some of the biggest hot-buttons. The riding has long been closely contested, wavering between NDP and Liberal candidates in the last few elections. Liberal Tony Ianno won in 2004 by the slimmest of margins: 805 votes in a riding of more than 100,000. In 2006, on her third attempt, Olivia Chow finally bested him, winning by fewer than 4,000. Chow is running again, this time against Ianno’s wife, Christine Innes.

2008_10_07Innes.jpgBefore her foray into federal politics, Chow was a popular school trustee and city councillor. Chosen best city councillor by NOW and Eye multiple times, Chow served on the budget committee for many years and was a prominent advocate for youth issues. She also lectured at George Brown, in the Counselling and Advocacy for Assaulted Women and Children program. Chow was one of David Miller’s most prominent supporters in his 2003 bid to become mayor and correspondingly one of the most vocal opponents of increasing traffic to the Toronto Island Airport. As an MP, Chow introduced the (non-binding) motion—passed by all three opposition parties—that called for allowing U.S. military war resisters and their families to stay in Canada.
Chow’s Liberal challenger, Christine Innes, has been something of a surprise. Ianno was expected to run again, and many were startled when Innes announced that the family had decided that she would be the party’s candidate instead. A lawyer by trade, Innes is an active member of the Annex Residents’ Association and has been a Liberal party volunteer for many years. She has also served as an aide to both Greg Sorbara and Jim Peterson. The party has been campaigning in part on the claim—made by Bob Rae when he introduced Innes to the public—that vote-splitting on the left is what brought the Conservatives to power, and constituents need to unify behind a Liberal opposition. Chow’s election has been painted as a collective protest vote and a luxury the left can no longer afford. The degree to which this argument has gotten traction is not yet clear, but given the strength of opposition in the riding to Harper-style conservatism, it may well prove decisive in the end. This will be one of the most-discussed showdowns in the GTA, and, like the election in Parkdale-High Park, an interesting indicator of the strength mustered by the NDP relative to the Liberals on a national level. If Jack Layton is to make good on his intention to substantially increase the prominence of the NDP, retaining ridings such as this one is essential.
Bottom photo of Christine Innes by photopia/HiMY SYeD from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.


  • robducey

    This argument is very disingenuous from Bob Rae. It’s really not cool for respected leaders of major political parties to be abusing the population’s understanding of the first past the post system. As architect of the most successful power sharing agreement ever with David Peterson’s provincial liberals in 1985, he must know that vote splitting will not be a factor in Trinity/Spadina.
    If the liberals and the NDP receive more seats combined than harper, they have the potential to form a government in the exact same fashion. Jack Layton has already said he will work in a coalition government. So maybe it is certain anti-working-with-anyone-other-than-liberals- elements in the liberal party that would rather see the conservatives in power than tarnish their precious if not somewhat damaged brand. This would be awfully selfish to the rest of Canadians and I hope it turns out not to be true.
    If you want to know how to defeat harper in your riding, just use one of the online tools like: or
    In Trinity Spadina they will tell you to vote for whoever you believe in. The conservative candidate is not a factor there.

  • Driusan

    “[..] the family had decided that she would be the party’s candidate instead.”
    I think, if I had to use one sentence fragment to describe why I won’t be voting Liberal in this riding despite preferring their policies to the other national parties, this would pretty much nail it.

  • Lands Down

    Jack Layton might want a coalition, but does he really seem like one to compromise and moderate his views to work with others? He’s played a pretty stubborn role in parliament thus far, and doesn’t seem opposed to forcing elections regardless of the cost or dissatisfaction of the electorate. Even if they do join in a coalition, odds are it will be short-lived as long as Jack Layton is head of the NDP.
    That said, if you’re voting for the NDP, try to at least make sure you know what they’re advocating versus what the Green’s/Liberals are advocating. A lot of the NDP support in this riding is as uninformed as most of Alberta’s religious support of the Conservatives. The NDP is sort of the de facto progressive/enviro vote, when in fact both the Liberals and the Green’s are better on the latter and the Liberal’s have the most chance of affecting change in either regard.

  • robducey

    wait a sec, lands down. Let’s just be clear on the facts here and not spin or opinion:
    Jack Layton has said he will work in a coalition, the liberals are still coy about the issue.
    My don’t-work-for-any-party analysis of this leads me to believe that the liberals are hoping that people won’t understand our legislative system and assume that you can only stop harper by voting for their candidate.
    This is actually true in many ridings in the GTA area including: Oakville, Halton, Mississauga, Etobicoke, Whitby/Oshawa.
    It is not true in Trinity/Spadina, Davenport, Parkdale/High Park, Toronto Danforth or Beaches/East York.
    As for the potential of any of these parties to advocate or effect change, this has to do with whether enough Canadians Vote Smart on Election Day:

  • Lands Down

    I didn’t comment on whether the parties want a coalition. Obviously Jack Layton wants one, it’s the only way the NDP will have any relevance in parliament. I question whether Layton will work effectively or cooperatively within a coalition – I don’t think he will, he’s too stubborn, his views are too regressive and he’s all too ready to play brinksmanship and threaten to force an election regardless of whether or not Canadians want one (e.g. all last spring).
    The Liberals obviously won’t entertain the thought of a coalition for political reasons – it marginalizes them as an also-ran by insinuating they don’t have the ability to form the government on their own. I’m sure they’ll be more receptive to the idea when Harper wins again and starts making everything a confidence vote (again, like last spring).
    I also didn’t say that the only way to stop Harper is to vote Liberal in ridings like trinity-spadina, that’s obviously not the case. My point was that even if you do vote NDP here, the hope for a coalition might be a baseless one, mostly because Jack Layton is Jack Layton and the NDP’s stubbornly quasi-socialist views won’t mesh well with the centre-left stance of the Liberals and the Bloc. By all means, vote NDP, but refer to my last paragraph – make sure you compare their stances and ideas to the Green’s and the Liberal’s so that you’re making an informed choice. Don’t trust what your NDP friends say, go and look it up yourself and gauge the practicality of their ideas.
    Also, I don’t work for the Liberals, nor am I a party member. I’m probably voting Liberal but the Green’s are a close second choice. I hope the Green’s supplant the NDP as the part of the left eventually, their views are far more realistic and they’re less prone to dumbed-down catchphrases (‘KITCHEN TABLE’, ‘NO BIG OIL’, ‘CORPORATE FAT CATS’ etc)

  • rek

    Lands Down – Layton made a big deal about being willing to work with the Cons if it meant giving Canadians a parliament that would get things done, I don’t see why that would change if you switch the Cons for Liberals and put the NDP in a position of power above Opposition.

  • McKingford

    The NDP is sort of the de facto progressive/enviro vote, when in fact both the Liberals and the Green’s are better on the latter
    The NDP supports a cap and trade, which is more – wait for it – progressive than a carbon tax. It is also more effective, which is why it is the tool of choice by European nations looking to reduce CO2 emissions.

  • Svend

    We’d all lose if we went to a two party system like in the US, yet that’s the direction we’re being urged to follow by the media.
    Let’s keep the various choices and then encourage them to find common ground amongst themselves instead of simplistically just labeling them “left” or “right”.

  • Green Sulfur

    Lands Down: Your spin is hardly convincing. Layton was one of the most effective city councillors in Toronto for many years because he was able to play well with others from all parts of the political spectrum.

  • Lands Down

    Effective? It seems like ideology played a significant role in his tenure, but I wasn’t old enough to care back then so I can’t be sure. My comments in this thread are based on his behaviour in parliament. Either way, it’s looking like we may have a coalition within the next year, so we’ll see.
    Also, don’t dismiss what I say as ‘spin’ because you disagree with me. I’m not advocating a two party system, I just think the NDP feeds off of discontent and vague populist notions more than anything substantive. The Green party is a superior choice and, really, so are the Liberals.
    McKingford – vague and entirely unsubstantiated, well done.

  • robducey

    lands down, it’s a good thing you don’t work for one of those parties.
    you’re coming off as arrogant and negative without providing any evidence. if you did work for those guys, and i was your boss, i would be seriously pissed at you.

  • Lands Down

    Apologies if I hurt your feelings Rob, but I think you’re being sensitive.
    Anyway, here’s an example of what I mean when I say the NDP relies on empty rhetoric compared to the other parties on the left:
    Here is the NDP’s environmental policy:
    Here is the same for the Green’s:
    And the Liberal’s:
    The NDP approach is brief and relies on arbitrary targets, platitudes and significant spending promises. The Green and Liberal approaches (both advocate a carbon tax, as do many EU countries, contrary to what McKingford says) provide costing and specific detail.
    This same theme runs through more than just their environmental platform, the NDP relies on a lot of loud, populist rhetoric and little else – that is why I don’t support them (despite agreeing with many of their ends). I hope everyone reads the policy documents so their decision tomorrow (today) is an informed one. Perhaps i’m phrasing this in a negative or arrogant manner, oh well, good thing I don’t have a boss to get ‘seriously pissed’ at me :-)

  • Robin Rix (Guest Contributor)

    We’re veering off-thread, but I’ll chime in to say that — on one point — both McKingford and Lands Down are partially right.
    Cap-and-trade is the EU’s tool of choice for tackling emissions by its ~11,500 largest industrial emitters (e.g. power plants, manufacturing facilities, etc.) which collectively account for about half of its emissions.
    Taxes and tighter regulations are the EU’s tools of choice for other types of emissions (automotive, light industry, etc.), where a cap-and-trade system may be prohibitively difficult to administer efficiently.
    Hard to say which system is more “progressive” than the other. On the one hand, cap-and-trade sets a limit on the number of emissions (the import of UN credits notwithstanding; you can quibble about the numbers) whereas taxes are essentially pay-for-play and turn pollution into just another cost of doing business. On the other hand, taxes are transparent and predictable from a consumer perspective, whereas cap-and-trade is inherently volatile and may produce perverse results if not implemented correctly (e.g. windfall profits in case of the over-allocation of credits).

  • StayMaitland

    I would say the best choices right now are jack layton or elizibeth may

  • StayMaitland

    PLUS, this just around the corner from where i live, go maitland!

  • PickleToes

    I was trying to think about how somebody could vote NDP, and after 20min I still have no answer. It’s a wonder to me how anybody could support that party. If it weren’t the personalities I encounter on Torontoist I’d have a hard time believing they have any fans at all.

  • friend68

    If, “vote-splitting on the left is what brought the Conservatives to power,” does it also follow that vote-splitting on the right was what brought the Liberals to power?
    Whenwever a party starts talking about how they are getting screwed by vote-splitting, all I hear is someone whining after they couldn’t convince the voters that they were the right choice, and they lost.

  • rek

    In 2006 Trinity-Spadina was very gung-ho about the election. Chow and Ianno signs everywhere, even a few silver-and-white signs for an independent (or some minor party, I forget). I took Grace street from Bloor to College as an indicator of how the whole riding would go, and the sign count (I know, very scientific) was tight.
    Last week I went down Grace again; less than a quarter of the signs seen in 2006, and the Liberals outnumbered the NDP almost 2 to 1. No sign of any independents or the Green party. You’d think voter fatigue would dissipate over 2 years but I guess people just aren’t as passionate — either the NDP or Liberals are fine, there’s no push to oust either of them as there was with Martin and the sponsorship issue.
    I vote NDP because I refuse to engage in strategic voting. I don’t expect the NDP to form a government, but every vote that isn’t for the Cons or the Liberals pushes parliament toward a minority government and the possibility of a coalition increases. With our FPTP system I think minority/coalition is the best outcome available.

  • x_the_x

    hate to tell you, rek, but that sounds an awful lot like strategic voting.

  • rek

    “In voting systems, tactical voting (or strategic voting or sophisticated voting) occurs when a voter supports a candidate other than his or her sincere preference in order to prevent an undesirable outcome.”
    The NDP is my sincere preference (of available options), and I aim to cause a minority government, not prevent a Conservative (or Liberal) majority, as minority is my sincere preference.