Thursday, June 20, 2013

A Look at Toronto Centre

Yesterday, as every Liberal should know, Bob Rae resigned from his seat in Parliament as representative for Toronto Centre in order to pursue is current job as negotiator for a First Nations group in Northern Ontario, a group which are in discussions with the various levels of government to develop the so-called "Ring of Fire." I personally could not imagine anyone better for the job than Rae, and I personally wished him good luck on Twitter ('cause I'm connected like that, you know). Hopefully he'll stick around as an adviser or Liberal wise man for some time.

What this means for us however is that we have a second vacancy in the House of Commons, alongside Bourassa. Toronto Centre is a riding which covers part of the downtown core of Canada's largest (and arguably most important) city, split between high-rise and low-rise condos in the south, mid-level apartment blocks in the middle, and expensive homes in the north, plus a smattering of businesses throughout and the provincial parliament buildings. Suffice to say, its an extremely diverse district with issues pulling any representative in every which way. Lets jump in and see how this all works out, starting with...

Riding History

The riding of Toronto Centre in the past has mostly centered around the communities of Rosedale in the north, and a few of the downtown districts, with the riding being officially named after the wealthy community in 1933 and continuing on until 1996, when it was renamed Toronto Centre-Rosedale to take into account the growing population in the southern half of the riding.

Riding History since 1968 - Click to Enlarge
The riding has been a battleground between the Liberals and Conservatives since its first inception all the way back in 1872, with no third party representative ever managing to eek out a win, or even consistently score impressive results (+20%) until 1993, with the exceptions being for the CCF/NDP in 1949 and 1966. In the time when the riding was known as Rosedale, several big names from both parties had represented the constituents there, including Diefenbaker cabinet member David Walker (1957-1962); former Liberal Finance Minister under Trudeau Donald Macdonald (he's the one that introduced wage and price controls Trudeau lambasted Stanfield about) (1962-1978); and former Mulroney cabinet member and 56th Mayor of Toronto David Crombie  (1978-1988).

In 1993, with the rest of the country turning topsy-turvy, Rosedale voters elected Bill Graham as their representative. Graham, who would be re-elected in the successor ridings of Toronto Centre-Rosedale and Toronto Centre, was a popular cabinet member in the Chr├ętien government, including a stint as Minister of National Defence, and later on as interim leader of the Liberals following Paul Martin's 2006 defeat.

In 1996, the federal redistribution changed the politics of the riding drastically, cutting out portions of the more business-friendly and high-income communities in the north that remained friendly to the Conservatives and Liberals (quite a few of these voters ended up in St. Paul's), and supplementing them with dowtown urbanites and social housing residents in the south that were previously apart of Broadview-Greenwood, the predecessor to the late Jack Layton's riding of Toronto-Danforth. This shifted the riding's opposition from the Conservatives to the NDP, which was emphasized by former PC MP David MacDonald's party switch in 1997, when he ran as a New Democrat against Bill Graham (and lost horribly).  The Conservative's vote never rebounded to its former glory, though the NDP's numbers were never necessarily strong either, only coming above 20% with MacDonald in '97 and star candidate Michael Shapcott in '04 and '06. Graham had overwhelming support from every part of the community at this time.

In 2008 following Graham's resignation, Bob Rae ran for the federal Liberals in Toronto Centre and swept away all the other party's candidates, with none of them ending up with more than 14% support. The by-election was also the first time the Green Party showed its residual strength in the riding, coming in third behind the NDP with 13.4%. Rae was re-elected in 2008.

2011 Election

The 2011 election was quite different from other previous elections in Toronto Centre, where it was either a two-party affair or an overwhelming one-party win (exceptions again being in 1949 and 1965). While Bob Rae won with a large margin, he only managed to do so with 41% of the vote to the NDP's 30% and the Conservative's 22.6%. Thus we can see what happens when both opposition parties in Toronto Centre reach their modern highs, which paints an interesting picture of a very divided constituency.

2011 Map of Toronto Centre, Poll-by-Poll
Starting in the north, the communities surrounding Rosedale and Yorkville were a straight battle between Bob Rae and his Conservative opponent, Kevin Moore. Moore took several polls in this higher income communities, which are dominated by older detached homes in Rosedale and condos in Yorkville, though overall Rae won here. Rae's support also ballooned in Cabbagetown, where middle-to-high income Victorian townhomes with Liberal-friendly demographics dominate the landscape.

However, once we move more south, the NDP's Susan Wallace racked up wins. First in Church and Wellesley, Toronto's LGBT community central, where Wallace won nearly every poll; then to Upper Jarvis, more contested but still dominated by the NDP. Wallace also managed to wipe any competition off the map in Regent Park, a community which almost solely contains social housing, as well as the Garden District, a newer community with a mix of historical homes and new condos, as well as a substantial Francophone population (or so I'm told).

In the extreme south, the Rae won the historical community of St. Lawrence's Market, while the NDP won many of the apartment and condo polls, as well as the Distillery District.

Provincially, Liberal cabinet member Glen Murray dominates the riding, showing the potential for the Liberals to win big in the riding. The PCs won a few polls in Rosedale, while the NDP won a few in the Garden District; Murray dominated all the communities that Rae did federally, as well as Church & Wellesley and Upper Jarvis, where his LGBT appeal probably didn't hurt.

By-Election Outlook

Much like Bourassa, Toronto Centre is definitely the Liberal's to lose. The party has the broadest appeal to the disparate parts of the riding, being acceptable to the high-income voters in Rosedale and the left-leaning urbanites in the core communities. In a way, Toronto Centre is a riding built for the Liberals to win.

That does not mean it will stay red, however. Much would depend on the turnout in various communities for each party, as well as the candidates chosen by each party. The big name bandied about for the Liberals so far is George Smitherman, an interesting choice given that his appeal to the riding's significant LGBT communities could possibly outweigh his links to McGuinty's administration and his failed run for Toronto's mayoralty. For some reason, I also have it in my head that former Liberal leadership contender George "I Like Trees" Takach was thinking about running here if Rae stepped down, though I don't know why - it may just be my imagination. If he did, however, he'd be a great fit for the riding- not too many trees around there.

Xtra News also bandied about some other names for the Liberals, including Pascal Dessureault, a former LPC(Q) board member who runs a local community centre; and Zach Paikin, a well-known Young Liberal activist and son of TVO's Steve Paikin, but whose somewhat centre-right politics may put him at odds with parts of the riding.

Whoever runs, I expect a hotly contested nomination ahead for the Liberals - we just need to keep it from becoming divisive.

Names for the NDP so far are former MuchMusic VJ Jennifer Hollett, trans activist Susan Gapka (also according to Xtra), and former provincial candidate and poverty activist Cathy Crowe. All seem to be well known names, though is their presence enough to win against someone like Smitherman, or even your generic Liberal candidate? I'm not so sure, especially given that the NDP's appeal in Rosedale and surrounding areas is next to none.

I have no clue as to who may be thinking about running for the Conservatives, but I'm not necessarily sure anyone cares. Though they have a strong base in the north, the Conservatives would struggle to win in most of the riding. They would need to hope for a three-way split between the Liberals, NDP, and Greens in the core areas and dominate Rosedale, Yorkville, and Cabbagetown for a chance at a win.

However, as with Bourassa, don't expect this to be called for quite awhile. I'll keep an eye on the candidates that come forward in the future and update accordingly.


  1. The NDP tends to do better in by-elections because they can flood the riding with volunteers.

    There's probably no better riding in the country to flood with volunteers then this one, surrounded by six NDP held seats and with transit and highway links for the entire GTA bringing them in.

    1. Hm, I dunno 'bout that. That rule hasn't held up since 2011. The NDP numbers have dropped or been steady in almost every single by-election they've run in since the last election, the lone exception being Durham for which they jumped up very miniscule amount. I don't see how their luck changes from here just because they flood the area with volunteers.

      Plus this riding is Liberal-volunteer-central. York University and UoT have HUGE Young Liberal groups that were majorly active for Rae's, Bennett's, and Innes' campaigns in 2011. Hell, many of them devote almost all of their time trying to win in Trinity-Spadina, a riding they can't win! I don't think they'll let Toronto Centre slip by without a big fight.

    2. That's an interesting point, but it is worth noting that TC has more Liberal volunteer strength than any other riding in Canada I suspect. It sure helps to have a strong ground game, especially in a by-election where the turnouts are miniscule. Most people know next to nothing about the Greens, but the loss of Chris Tindall, and his quite competent campaign manager Jamie O'Grady will be borne out by a lame Green campaign. There is no way that TC Greens will have the kind of campaign that hit double digits in the last by-election. That will probably help the Dippers and Liberals pretty evenly.

  2. Back when the last Toronto election was getting up some steam, Glen Murray was exploring a run for Toronto Mayor. Murray was persuaded to leave a clear field by Smithermans sho-horning him into the nomination for the Provincial seat in TC. I am thinking that if Smitherman wants the seat, he will likely win the nomination hands down. I am pretty sure Takach will be looking elswhere. Who knows though, there may indeed be a humdinger of a nomination contest. Whoever wins that nomination is going to Ottawa in 2013 AND 2015

  3. I don't think anybody could beat Smitherman, but he may not run. If not, it's really anybody's guess who will win.