Toronto's Changing Colours
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Toronto’s Changing Colours


Top: the results of the 2008 federal election; bottom: last night’s results. Colour gradations represent the share of the popular vote: the greater percentage of popular vote the party got, the darker the colour.

Last night Toronto went from Liberal red to a multi-party patchwork, breaking a long history of serving as the Grits’ intellectual and cultural heart. The question on everyone’s minds today: What does this mean for Toronto?

“We were virtually an extinct species,” Stephen Harper said this morning of his party’s recent history in Toronto. Extinct no longer, many Conservatives have explained their long-awaited breakthrough by saying, “Toronto has decided it wants a seat at the table.”
It’s not at all clear, however, that even with a new slate of Conservative MPs Toronto will be getting much further ahead with our federal government than it has in recent years. Despite Mayor Ford’s optimism, Stephen Harper hardly has a track record of caring.
Increasingly, Toronto’s fate is tied up not just with that of Ontario, but with major urban centres across the country. Cities have their own unique set of needs, and the policy and funding questions that Toronto faces are closer to Montreal’s or Vancouver’s than those found in agriculture-based rural Ontario ridings. And though the Conservatives have certainly broken their long dry spell and picked up some key urban seats, by and large Canada’s large cities are still NDP/Liberal territory. The Tories are a minority voice in Toronto and Vancouver and were shut out of Montreal completely. Perhaps even more significantly: the Conservatives would retain their majority even without those newly minted Toronto MPs.
Simply put, the Conservatives do not, for all their gains in Toronto, need to pay much more attention to the city than they did before the election, nor do they find themselves in a position where they need to create a real national strategy for supporting Canada’s large cities. Politically, the motivation simply isn’t there. And though we’d like to think that the Tories will acknowledge these cities’ needs based on the merits of the policy issues involved, their election platform did little in this regard. While they are expected to include one or more Toronto-area MPs in cabinet, there aren’t, as of yet, any indications that this increased representation will lead to an increase in city-friendly programs.
The Conservatives have been trying to break into Toronto for years, and they finally found some support in the city. That Toronto will in turn find support from the Tories is not in any way clear.

Some of Toronto’s new class of MPs…
Parkdale-High Park: Peggy Nash (NDP)
Nash isn’t so much new as returning, having served as the riding’s MP from 2006–2008; she was the NDP’s Industry critic during that session of parliament. Since then Nash has served as the NDP’s president. She is widely respected within the party and is likely to play a major role in the NDP’s caucus once again. Nash defeated prominent Liberal Gerard Kennedy by a wide margin, in a race that was expected to be competitive but not to reverse as starkly as it did.
Eglinton-Lawrence: Joe Oliver (Conservative)
Another riding where a Liberal stalwart went down—this time seven-term Liberal Joe Volpe. This was Oliver’s second run at the seat; some are attributing his increased popularity to the high number of Jewish voters in the riding who prefer the Tories’ staunchly pro-Israel stance. This riding was a high-priority target for the Conservatives—both Jim Flaherty and Rob Ford campaigned for Oliver—and it represents the party’s biggest breakthrough in urban Toronto. An investment banker and financial executive, Oliver could be a valuable Tory ambassador in the city.
Davenport: Andrew Cash (NDP)
Though Cash has been knocking on doors in the riding for at least a year, observers didn’t think he stood a particularly strong chance of unseating the Grits, who held the seat for nearly five decades. The rising tide of national NDP support gave his slow-and-steady campaign a boost, however, making this riding emblematic of the national shift in support away from the Liberals. The musician and writer campaigned in large part on basic constituency issues, promising to be more responsive and available than Liberal Mario Silva.
York Centre: Mark Adler (Conservative)
Like fellow Tory rookie Joe Oliver, Mark Adler has a background in finance and business. The founder of the Economic Club of Canada, Adler’s many connections and his defeat of former cabinet minister Ken Dryden make him a rising Conservative star. Already floated by some observers as a potential cabinet minister himself, Adler handily won a race that many predicted would be especially close.
Don Valley West: John Carmichael (Conservative)
A much tighter race than any of the above, Carmichael defeated Liberal incumbent Rob Oliphant by just 639 votes. It was his third shot at the seat and the first time Don Valley West has elected a Tory since 1993. (Prior to Oliphant, the riding was for many years held by John Godfrey.) The businessman has also already been mentioned as another potential cabinet member.