In reporting the looming Toronto Centre by-election (Bill Graham’s resignation became effective one week ago today), there appears to be a temptation to portray this as a two-way race between the Liberal and the Conservative. (For example, this story published yesterday by the Ottawa Citizen makes no mention of either myself or the NDP candidate.)
That analysis is understandable, since those are the two largest parties at the national level. However, in the context of Toronto Centre, it’s faulty. Recent election results, as well as the current political climate, tell a different story.
The first-time Conservative candidate, Mark Warner, is trying to convince people that he has a shot at beating Liberal Bob Rae because, “if you go on the Elections Canada website and go back to the 1880s, you will see that this riding historically goes with the federal government.” It’s hard to know if he meant to say ‘1980s’ or was misquoted. Either way, things have changed since then. Actually, two very specific things: the demographic/psychographic make-up of Toronto Centre, and the Conservative Party of Canada.
While Mark’s right that our riding used to support Red-Tories, voters in Toronto Centre have shown little appetite for the Alliance-Conservative party of Stephen Harper. Mark’s assured me that he’s a progressive, and I have no reason to disbelieve him, but he unfortunately belongs to a party that has gutted women’s programs, removed “women’s equality” from the federal government’s mandate, eliminated successful environmental programs, refused to declare that water is a human right, blocked the international UN declaration of the rights of Indigenous peoples, more closely aligned our foreign policy with the United States (including, when in opposition, pressuring the government to join the war in Iraq and criticizing them for trying secure justice for Maher Arar), dismissed the Geneva conventions, attempted to eliminate equal marriage, turned its back on Kyoto, turned its back on Kelowna, turned its back on Atlantic Canada…
Sorry, got off on a bit of a rant there. Point is, if Mark wants to make this Alliance-Conservative party progressive, he’s got his work cut-out for him. Especially considering that not even cabinet ministers in Harper’s government are allowed to speak their minds, let-alone back-bench MPs.
In reality, the Conservative candidate in the last election came a distant third, earning only 18% of the vote. In the vote before that, they got only 14%. The NDP, while still a distant second, were comfortably ahead of the Conservatives with 24% in each of the last two federal elections. So if you’re only going to talk about two parties in Toronto Centre, the NDP should be one of them.
And yet, it would be just as unlikely for the NDP to win this riding. For one, they’ve never done itâ€”not once. Secondly, videos posted to the candidate’s website show his supporters (including one previous NDP candidate and two current elected NDP MPPs) mocking “Rosedale Bobby.” They therefore seem to have no interest in reaching out to the people of Rosedale, to put it mildly. That’s a big chunk of the riding to just cast off, and probably means that the best they can hope for is to remain maxed-out at 24% just as they have in the last two elections, despite having a very good candidate this time around.
The Green Party, on the other hand, is the only party up in the polls since the last federal election. (One poll even had us tied with the NDP nationally.) In Toronto Centre, our result in the last election (when I was also the candidate) was an increase of 48%, far more than that of any other party. Being a fiscally responsible and socially progressive party, we also appeal to a very diverse range of people. We appeal to Bill-Graham-Liberals who aren’t comfortable with Bob Rae, Progressive Conservatives who have lost their party entirely, and NDPers who feel, like so many I’ve talked to, that their party has lost its way, at least for the time being.
Am I predicting a Green win in Toronto Centre? Probably not this time, no. But it’s worth noting that the political landscape in Canada is shifting very quickly. The “Conservative vs. Liberal” dichotomy isn’t what it once was, and the formerly-dismissible Greens are now a serious factor. If there’s one thing we learned in the London North Centre by-election, it’s that Greens should not be underestimated.