Ridings on the Brink: Halton
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Ridings on the Brink: Halton

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 Garth Turner by ADMS.ca.
Garth Turner, the Liberal candidate in the riding of Halton, is something of a lightning rod. He was elected in 2006 as a Tory, but ejected from the caucus one year later under accusations of breaching party confidentiality on his much-read blog. The tension over Turner’s possible infractions was greatly exacerbated by disagreements over just how much the outspoken MP ought to criticize his own party in public, which he had done on several occasions. After sitting as an independent for a few months Turner, courted by the Green Party, decided instead to join the Liberals. Turner has been pitching himself as speaking truth to power and describing his bluntness as a virtue rather than a political liability. The autobiographies of party-switchers tend to be met with a great deal of skepticism, however, and it’s unclear how convincing the electorate is finding this self-portrait.

Turner’s life as a politician goes back to 1988, when he was elected the Conservative MP for Halton-Peel (much of which is now included in the riding of Halton, created in a 1997 redistribution). He served until the 1993 decimation of the Conservative party, at which point he resumed his career as a business journalist. Until Turner’s 2006 return the region (first Halton-Peel, then Halton) was held by Liberals; his margin of victory as a Conservative was a relatively small 2,000 votes. In short, the riding has been on the Tory-Grit fence for quite some time.
2008_10_10raitt.jpgThe Conservatives (by some accounts this means the party and not the local riding association) have nominated Lisa Raitt as their counter to Turner. Raitt is CEO of the Toronto Port Authority (she has taken an unpaid leave in order to campaign). She is emphasizing financial independence for individuals in her campaign, strongly endorsing lowered taxes and such measures as allowing the self-employed to pay into EI and take parental leave. Turner, by contrast, has been championing a more cautious approach, arguing that the Conservatives have in fact undermined individual financial independence through irresponsible lending practices that may put us at risk for a mortgage crisis similar to the one now seen in the U.S..
The riding of Halton is growing rapidly: the 2006 census showed a remarkable 52% population increase since 2001 and the city is expected to double in the next 25 years. Manufacturing is the major local employer; many residents also commute to jobs in Toronto. Economic issues have the greatest traction here: layoffs at nearby factories and the woeful inadequacy of local infrastructure in the face of the area’s population boom are the biggest sources of concern. In the battle for voters’ hearts and minds, these issues are doing battle with anger at Turner: according to the latest polls [PDF], Ontario voters worried about the economy are trending Liberal, which would give Turner a real advantage were it not for his controversial history. That the race is so close is a sign of the hackles he has raised—Turner’s reelection may depend on whether that frustration trumps economic fears on election day.
Bottom photo of Lisa Raitt with Stephen Harper from her website.