Illustration by Matthew Daley/Torontoist.
One fun thing about living up here in Canada is that during elections our TV maps aren’t just Yankee red, white, and blue but burst off the screen in a multi-variegated orgy of red, blue, orange, and occasionally green. And if there’s a riding that has a good shot at turning pumpkin-coloured in the October provincial election, it’s Davenport.
Last week Jonah Schein, the NDP candidate for provincial parliament in the riding of Davenport, opened his campaign office at Bloor and Dovercourt.
In conversation, Schein is a modern New Democrat—a new New Democrat, if you will: cheerful and media savvy, and earnest without the strident sanctimony of some of his fellow travelers in past years. His CV is NDP gold; he spent several years running the civic engagement program at the Stop Community Food Centre, training people “to advocate for improved social services, and fight the McGuinty government’s cuts to social services,” and has experience organizing other suitably socialist endeavours.
So why do Schein’s chances look good this year? While Davenport has been represented by Liberal Tony Ruprecht since it was cobbled together from the odds and ends of other ridings back in 1999, Ruprecht has already announced that he won’t be running again. And with two months til E-Day, the Liberals have yet to nominate a candidate. As Schein notes, “Incumbents always have an advantage, so having no incumbent can’t hurt for us. But we’ll have to wait and see what (the Liberals) do.”
Jonah Schein, on the other hand, ran a city council campaign in Ward 17 last year which, while ultimately unsuccessful, raised his profile locally and allowed him to start building an on-the-ground team early. In the May federal election, Schein’s NDP colleague, sometime Skydigger Andrew Cash, won a convincing victory over Liberal incumbent Mario Silva in the riding, giving the New Democrats enhanced poli-cred on the hard-scrabble streets of Davenport.
Schein says he has seen growing interest in the NDP over a long year of campaigning, first for city council, then for Cash, and now in his bid for provincial parliament. “This is the third election in a year and people are more critically engaged than before. We’ve got a different message from the other parties, and people want to be a part of it.”
If Davenport could be hosting a non-denominational Orange Parade come fall, what about the rest of Toronto, or Ontario for that matter? The Liberals remain shaky in the polls, and more than a dozen Grit MPPs in addition to Ruprecht have already announced they won’t be standing for reelection, including former health minister David Kaplan in Don Valley East, Gerry Phillips in Scarborough-Agincourt and Wayne Arthurs in Pickering-Scarborough East. It’s unclear whether the trend signals the lure of the private sector or collapsing confidence in the good ship Grit, but it does mean Premier McGuinty and crew will have to work harder to hold ridings with new candidates.
Polls presently favour the Progressive Conservatives, giving them a 10 to 15 point lead over the Liberals, with the New Democrats still hovering just shy of official opposition territory. However, the difference between Grits and NDP is only a couple of points by most accounts, and we’ve seen enough fluidity in the last year of our endless election cycle to expect surprises.
A wild card in Davenport will be the Ford effect. Mayor Rob Ford is a polarizing figure, loved or loathed but rarely viewed with indifference by Torontonians. Less popular with downtown taxpayers than with his base in the suburbs, Ford’s general irascibility and obsession with cost-cutting have aligned him with Conservatives both federal and provincial, including BBQ guest and fishing buddy Stephen Harper.
In the highly urban riding of Davenport, Ford’s commitment to cuts over programs could, by association, hurt PC candidate Antonio Garcia. And while Tories have historically done poorly here at the federal and provincial level (and may have surrendered already; Garcia’s website appears to have been built in 1996, and includes a bullet point on his bio reminding the writer to “add recent accomplishments”), it bears noting that last October Rob Ford received more mayoral votes in Schein’s Ward 17 than either centrist George Smitherman or David Miller protege Joe Pantalone.
Schein acknowledges that there are certainly some “small-c conservatives” in Davenport, which could translate into large-C Conservative votes, so there’s no guarantee that the NDP will be the only winners if the Liberals can’t make the electorate fall in love all over again before October.
Another tangential influence will be Jack Layton, whose personal popularity (along with Quebec voters loathing of the ruling Bloc Québécois) led to a record number of NDP seats in the May federal election. Even a sidelined Layton may add heft to some Ontario NDP campaigns.
And if provincial New Democrat leader Andrea Horwath has yet to manifest the vote-winning charisma of her federal counterpart, Schein says that the NDP “are (now) being taken more seriously by mainstream media,” which would add to the momentum of party campaigns across the province..
October is still two months away, and the outcome of the election will hinge largely on whether the Liberals can embarrass the pollsters and turn their fortunes around between now and then. But in Davenport, the Orange Brigades are knocking on doors and liking their chances.
David Caplan was originally referred to as David Kaplan in the article. This has been corrected.