Campaign signs for Joe Oliver and Joe Volpe on Bedford Park Avenue, in Eglinton–Lawrence’s east end. Photo by Carly Conway.
Along Bedford Park Avenue, just west of Yonge Street, campaign signs lining the residential street don’t help much in predicting which Joe it’s going to be.
What the almost even mix of Liberal and Conservative lawn décor does hint at, however, is that residents of Eglinton–Lawrence are likely to see a rematch between Joe Volpe and Joe Oliver that’s even closer than what they saw in 2008. In that last federal election, Liberal incumbent Volpe edged out Oliver by just over 2,000 votes, to narrowly keep the seat he’s held since 1988. It was the closest the Conservatives came to capturing a Toronto riding.
“I’m afraid that [Volpe] might not win this time around,” admits Liberal supporter Jan Schlee, a retired teacher who has lived in the riding for 20 years.
Schlee is unsure exactly why Volpe’s seen a decline in support in recent years—before 2008, Volpe hadn’t seen an election where he received less than 50 per cent of the vote. A former minister of immigration under Paul Martin and an Italian immigrant himself, he’s been the popular choice in a riding where almost 40 per cent of the constituents were born outside of Canada, and 11 per cent claim Italian ethnicity.
However, in the last federal election, the Conservatives pegged Eglinton–Lawrence as one of the ridings in Toronto vulnerable to turning blue. This time, the Tories listed it as one of 10 “very ethnic ridings” they are targeting in the quest for a majority government.
The North Toronto riding is is ethnically and economically diverse, ranging from priority neighbourhood Lawrence Heights in the west end, to the predominantly Jewish Bathurst corridor, to the affluent east end, which includes upscale neighbourhoods like Lytton Park and the western edge of Lawrence Park.
Should Oliver succeed in taking the seat away from Volpe, it will be the first time Eglinton–Lawrence will see a non-Liberal MP since its creation in 1976, when it was formed from bits of nearby and now-defunct ridings. (Its borders have been redistributed twice since then, once in 1987 and again in 1996 when part of St. Paul’s moved into the riding.)
So, while Volpe deals with the loss of his once-strong Liberal base, driving Oliver’s support seems to be the riding’s Jewish community, where the Conservative’s pro-Israel stance has played a role in converting longtime Liberal voters.
“I definitely see more signs for Joe Oliver this time,” says Andrew Max, a University of Toronto student. Max, who’s Jewish, grew up in the Elm Ridge area and says he knows a lot of people in the Jewish community who have switched from Liberal to Conservative supporters—including his parents.
“I think that’s really driving it,” Max says of the Conservative’s stance on Israel, pointing out the switch to Conservative support doesn’t necessarily reflect which Joe residents think is the best local candidate. “What impact is [the Conservative’s support of Israel] going to have on the region? Pretty much nothing,” Max says.
Despite the push by Conservatives to win in Eglinton–Lawrence, Volpe remains confident in his chances of being re-elected. “Volpe is the choice,” he says. “I’ve been in Ottawa, communicating with my constituents…I want everybody to see that they’ve had excellent representation.”
Unfortunately, despite several attempts to connect with Oliver to get his take on the race, he did not respond to our interview requests prior to publication. However, he has told other media outlets that he’s been trying to capitalize on the momentum he got started in 2008, and, lucky for him, he’s found constituents are worried about a centre-left coalition government.
View Eglinton-Lawrence (federal riding) in a larger map
For Schlee (who lives in the riding’s east end and teaches English to Bangladeshi women in Regent Park), the issues pertinent to residents transcend socio-economic and cultural boundaries; key among them are the economy, job creation, public transit, and funding for urban centres. Poverty reduction is also a major concern, even in the wealthy eastern part of the riding. Schlee is part of the Social Justice Team at Fairlawn Avenue United Church that’s hosting the all-candidates meeting on April 27, and in the past few years, her team has donated about $2.5 million dollars to poverty reduction in the city, much of that money coming from the sale of St. James-Bond Church when its congregation merged with Fairlawn in 2005. Of that money, $1.4 million has been donated to the Christian Resource Centre to go towards the building of 40 Oaks, a project that will include 87 units of affordable housing and a community hub in Regent Park. “We want to let the candidates know residents in this riding really care about poverty reduction,” Schlee says.
While all eyes will be on Eglinton–Lawrence to see which Joe comes out on top, the race for the top spot isn’t the riding’s only close contest. In 2008, a measly 34 votes separated the Greens and the NDP, with the NDP barely holding onto its familiar third place finish.
“I would love to be a solid third place,” Green candidate Paul Baker says, while adding, “but I don’t see us as racing with the NDP, as the Greens are as fiscally conservative as the Conservatives.” In fact, before getting involved with the Greens, Baker worked on Stephen Harper’s first election campaign. Baker is running on a platform focused on municipal infrastructure, sustainable industry, and smart growth.
Second-time NDP candidate for the riding Justin Chatwin agrees. Whereas he sees much of his support concentrated in the riding’s west end, he thinks Baker is more likely to garner votes in the east. “There’s such a conservative base in Eglinton–Lawrence…[constituents] really sway to the economics,” Chatwin says. “It’s a very, very difficult riding to nurture support [for the NDP].” However, he’s encouraged by an increased engagement from the riding’s youth since 2008. “I do find a different tone among kids. The whole word ‘apathetic’ to describe youth isn’t in effect anymore,” Chatwin says. “Angry is a better word.”
With so much riding on the results in Eglinton–Lawrence, strategic voting has come into play among constituents, largely in the form of choices not to vote NDP or Green in an effort to keep the riding Liberal and avoid a Conservative majority. “It is something I’m hearing at the doors,” Baker says—though he doesn’t think it’s the right approach.
“People are voting out of fear,” adds Chatwin, noting that in his view everybody loses when people are forced to vote against something rather than for the candidate they most believe in.
As for Volpe: “I can’t tell people how to think…but I accept support in any way it comes.”
The all-candidates meeting for Eglinton–Lawrence takes place on Wednesday April 27 at Fairlawn Avenue United Church.
For more on the federal election, check out our politics hub, with a complete guide to every riding in Toronto, including Eglinton–Lawrence.