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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.
2008_10_10chowlayton.jpg
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.

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