It was standing room only for the Trinity-Spadina NDP nomination meeting last Friday night. A 300-plus turnout isn't bad for a party that can barely break the double digits in the polls.
But this is the composting, trendy-lefty Annex and there is a star candidate, Globe and Mail religion writer Michael Valpy, who's making a leap of faith by jumping into electoral politics.
Thirty-something Jordan Berger gamely tries to turn the crowd on to the idea of going after the riding's young vote (40 per cent of the riding's voters are between 18 and 24) by nominating someone young. But Valpy has the support of the party establishment -- city councillor Olivia Chow is one of his nominators -- and of party conscience Don Heap, who also takes the stage to speak on Valpy's behalf.
The rookie pol turns in a feisty speech. "We're going to set the riding on fire," he promises.
But one can almost hear the hearts skipping beats during the Q&A, when a party member asks en français about Valpy's position on self-determination for Quebec. Agin it, Valpy says, and if the party is for it, then it's wrong. He agrees with dear departed Pierre Trudeau -- it's a province like all the others.
He's asked about how we can support our artists. Don't know (but it's a good idea). No one asks about the monarchy, a sign that these NDPers are prepared to be forgiving to a guy who might save their bacon.
Now the question will be whether the Valpy name has as much cachet in Little Italy as it does on Brunswick Avenue, and whether the platoons of parachuted workers can take the riding away from Liberal incumbent Tony Ianno, who squeezed out a 1,000-vote win over Chow last time.
The party has picked seven "tier one" ridings in Ontario, ones where they think they have a chance. Besides Trinity, they're Toronto-Danforth, Windsor-St. Clair and four Northern Ontario ridings. The party has adopted a by-election strategy for this campaign, targeting resources on the few ridings they have some hope of winning.
The provincial party is going all-out to help its federal cousins, virtually taking over the seven targeted ridings. NDPers know they can only win by strong on-the-ground campaigns, not from any bounce they'll get from Alexa McDonough and the national campaign.