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 Peggy Nash by Miles Storey/Torontoist.
Parkdale-High Park is the stuff of leftie dreams, a riding where the only real question is whether you hate Stephen Harper, or really hate Stephen Harper. Bisected by Roncesvalles Avenue, both the Parkdale and High Park sides have strong allegiances to the left wing. Economic disparities between the neighbourhoods notwithstanding, this is an electoral district that takes its social justice, urban development, and environmental issues seriously. With the exception of a one-term Conservative victory during the Mulroney tidal wave of ‘84, the riding has consistently elected left wing representatives since its inception in 1976. In 2006, the Conservative candidate received just 17% support. This is perhaps one of the few ridings in the country where worries about vote-splitting have never gotten on the radar: there’s no concern that those on the left will inadvertently bring a Tory to power by dividing their support among several candidates because, even divided, that support substantially overwhelms the small right-of-centre presence. When the Conservatives talk about breaking into urban Canada, this is not what they have in mind.
This year’s contest features two high-profile politicians in an evenly matched contest, the outcome of which even the candidates themselves are unwilling to predict. In the orange corner: Buzz Hargrove protégé, NDP Industry Critic, one-term incumbent Peggy Nash. In the red corner: one-time Daily Bread Food Bank director, former Liberal MPP and Education Minister, and failed candidate for his party’s leadership, Gerrard Kennedy. Nash won the riding in 2006, in a hard-fought battle against Sarmite Bulte, by less than 5% of the vote. This year the margin of victory is likely going to be smaller.
So far there hasn’t been a breakout moment for either candidate, and no single issue has been capturing the press. Ultimately, both Nash and Kennedy are well-liked, and many voters have been saying that they wish both could become parliamentarians. The debate here isn’t over a fundamental shift in how we ought to be governed or the questions most worthy of our attention. The Tories have been looking, this election and last, for new frontiers, aiming to make inroads in the major cities, and claiming that the majority of us agree with their proclaimed values. Parkdale-High Park, Liberal and New-Democratic alike, is the heart of the push back.
With growing chatter about the Conservatives being back in minority territory and a corresponding increase in talk of a Liberal-NDP (or NDP-Liberal) coalition government, the outcome of races like Parkdale-High Park becomes ever-more important. Most Canadians are still opposed to such a prospect, but as they get used to the idea, that may well change. If the NDP can successfully retain ridings like this in the face of Liberal challenges, Jack Layton will strengthen his position relative to Dion in any potential negotiations over a coalition. Alternately, should the Liberals manage to wrest control away from the NDP (Trinity-Spadina is another crucial one to watch), it’ll give Dion a bit of leverage in trying to maintain his position that the Liberals ought to keep going it alone. In either case, the victor here will be at the vanguard of the opposition to Conservative (and conservative) governance.
Bottom photo by Hamutal Dotan.