Queen's Park Watch: Street Fighting In Mid-Town
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Queen’s Park Watch: Street Fighting In Mid-Town

With a long-time Liberal incumbent and a star Conservative contender, Eglinton-Lawrence is looking like a key battlefield riding in the upcoming provincial election.

Boom! With barely a month until the provincial election on October 6, Queen’s Park Watch is ready to reach into our jumbo bag-o’-hack and drag out some military metaphors. A battlefield (or battleground) riding is an electoral district where the outcome isn’t a foregone conclusion long before polling day, a circumstance sufficiently unusual that it draws a lot of ink and pixels. This time around, Toronto’s Eglinton-Lawrence  will be in the spotlight.

Eglinton-Lawrence is bounded by Yonge in the east, Caledonia Road in the west, Eglinton in the south, and the 401 at the top. It’s the middest of midtown, with a constituency ranging from the tony mansions of Lawrence Park to less toned but more diverse communities in the west.

The idea that it might go blue seems unlikely at first, with the seat held by Liberal Mike Colle since 1999. However, the riding hasn’t been immune to the broader trend towards large and small-c conservatism, with Rob Ford making a strong showing in some local polls in the mayoral race, and Liberal incumbent Joe Volpe losing to Conservative Joe Oliver in the federal contest earlier this year. Moreover, results in the last two provincial elections show the Tories inching towards champagne and confetti, shrinking an 11,000 vote gap in 2003 to just over 2,000 votes in 2007. (The NDP have yet to be a factor here, never garnering more than 11% of the vote.)

Smelling blood and opportunity, the Ontario Progressive Conservatives have hauled out the big guns, convincing “name” candidate Rocco Rossi to drop his allegiance to the federal Liberals and appear on the ballot as a member of Team Tory. Rossi, of course, gets “name” added to his name thanks to his run for mayor of Toronto last year, when in spite of influential backers, a solid war chest, and a relatively smart and rational platform, he was unable to get his poll numbers above marginal support and dropped out of the race a couple of weeks before E-Day. But with the Tories still polling well across the province (although with apparently dwindling momentum), and the support of the popular-in-some-circles Fords, this could be his shot at the brass ring.

Celebrity opponent notwithstanding, incumbent MPP Mike Colle remains confident that he’ll still have a job on October 7. He says voters are telling him they don’t want a “triple monopoly” on government, with conservatives running the show at municipal, provincial, and federal levels. He cites memories of the years under the Mike Harris Tory government, when schools and hospitals in the riding suffered, and the Eglinton West subway line was defunded after construction had already begun. “Progressive voters are motivated; they see value in cultural infrastructure, transportation infrastructure, and community programs. That’s positive for me, because those are my values.These voters are not about ‘my little riding’; they’re people who use the whole city.”

Colle thinks that association with the Ford mayoralty will work against the Tories, even though Toronto’s Gravy Train Warrior did well in many polls in the riding. Colle says that people are tired of  “tax cut promises and bromides… I’m not promising tax cuts or free hydro. No more bullshit… It’s not just a spending problem, it’s a revenue problem.”

Unsurprisingly, Colle says that he’s the right person to work within Queen’s Park to get more dollars for Toronto transit and infrastructure.

Of Rocco Rossi, Colle notes that internal Liberal polls put the Tories well behind in the riding, and that Conservative numbers actually drop when Rossi’s name is added to the question.

Rossi’s positions are less clear. Apart from a brief bio, his website is Tory boilerplate and Tim Hudak news releases, with no locatable mention of what Rossi himself wants to bring to the riding (Rocco Rossi’s team turned down our request for an interview). His public pronouncements toe the party line, attacking the McGuinty government where they’re seen as most vulnerable: on jobs and the economy.

Rossi also wants voters to know he’s all business; the money quote from his campaign office opening press release was “We’re opening for business a little earlier. We really have only one piece of business, and that is to put Dalton McGuinty and his Ontario Liberals out of business.”  Right, business. Got it.

Rossi recently told the Toronto Star that he wasn’t worried about the Liberal polls, opining that voters are pretty much salivating at the prospect of three levels of conservative government. He also says that he has personally talked to 10,000 people in the riding.

Officially the campaign has hasn’t even begun, but both candidates are waxing predictably optimistic about their chances. Rossi looks like the underdog right now, but voters have been fickle of late. If he keeps up a strong ground game and starts speaking to the specific issues of the riding, he could be getting a fancy new taxpayer-funded business card. Colle, for his part, can’t rest on his laurels, and needs to examine and address the very real discontent that’s been driving Tory popularity over the last year.

Gentlemen, start your engines.