Maybe it's the funny smell that wafts up from the waterfront now and then that gives Beachers of all stripes that hint of green. Whatever it is, if there's an environmental race anywhere in this country, it's here in the riding of Beaches-East York, where even the local Tory is selling clean air and water door to door.
Whether they've picked up on the aroma of the sewage treatment plant or the scent of defeat, opposition candidates are eyeing long-time Liberal incumbent Maria Minna's seat, hoping residents are ready for a change. The Greens have paraded in their party leader, Jim Harris. The Tories are betting on a fresh-faced local, Peter Conroy. And the NDP has sent in its star enviro critic, former MPP for neighbouring Toronto Danforth Marilyn Churley, to battle Minna in the centre ring.
This is, after all, a traditional lefty riding. It bleeds a swishy brew of red and orange. Though Minna has held the federal seat for 12 years, having ridden in on the red wave of 93, municipally and provincially this is NDP turf.
Last election, former Greenpeace head and NDP candidate Peter Tabuns lost to Minna by 7,000 votes. This time around it's anybody's race, and Churley is banking on her cred as an east-end eco champ to win over this new set of constituents. Her hefty portfolio of fighting incinerators and demanding toxic cleanups in the area means she already has a profile here. Maybe, some suggest, even more than Minna.
"If you look at her literature, it's just chock full of 'Maria Minna saved the world,' but when you listen to the people, there's a real sense of disillusionment that she hasn't done that much for the community," says a spritely Churley, bundled in a light green toque and orange down coat as she goes to door to door near the old Greenwood racetrack.
Minna, she says, is an "election-time environmentalist." She voted against an NDP motion to bring in mandatory car emissions standards in early 05. She takes credit for the introduction of national child care, when Churley says the promise wasn't really kept until the NDP leveraged for it in the minority government. Plus, her website bizarrely boasts about opposing Paul Martin's neo-con budget of 95 when she ultimately voted in favour of it.
Minna, of course, flips at these accusations, saying she got the ball rolling on child care long before Jack Layton arrived in the House, and that she voted against the NDP motion to mandate car emissions because the Liberals had their own voluntary system in place. She rhymes off a lengthy list of programs she says she's fought for as the area MP and chair of the Liberal social policy committee, all the way back to when she was parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Immigration in 96. Timelines and names are sharply thrown out as proof of her cred. "Call Martha Friendly she'll tell you."
Adds Minna, "I need no lessons from anybody about fighting for social justice in our society, or the environment or health."
But she might be disappointed to hear former Liberal pollster Michael Marzolini point out that she's unlikely to benefit from Buzz Hargrove's strategic voting call in such an NDP- friendly riding. Instead, he says, her ability to stay afloat will depend on her skill at distancing herself from her party a difficult task for a pol who always speaks in "we"s.
No doubt the MP is defensive. Even riding councillor Sandra Bussin has started campaigning for Churley. She blames Minna when she says, "I'm not convinced that we're getting the level of attention we deserve from the federal government. There's been very little money actually coming into our ward."
Still, Bussin admits shifting demographics in the area are turning parts of the old lefty riding (which is bordered by the lake to the south, Coxwell to the west, Victoria Park to the east and Sunrise Avenue to the north) into potentially hostile territory. "In the south end, which has been a strong New Democrat area, things are changing. It's becoming upwardly mobile." Household incomes already averaged 75 grand in 2001, compared to 54 in the immigrant-heavy north end. And with the south's steady influx of new money building million-dollar homes, a conservative wind is starting to blow through the riding.
It's a prospect that has Tory candidate Peter Conroy grinning from ear to ear. "There are a lot of closet Conservatives down here." He says they're now out, excited and putting up signs. It helps, of course, that he's got a fistful of cash, Tory stars like Peter MacKay canvassing with him, and a heartfelt eco-friendly spiel. Conroy will also tell you he's the only born-and-bred Beacher in the race, always a plus to east-end cottagers.
Which brings us to the next point of interest. While bloggers talk of the Greens stealing much-needed votes from Churley, Conroy enthuses about snagging orphaned Conservatives back from the Greens. Chatter is also escalating about the Tories garnering just enough Grit votes to give Churley a leg up. And if any strategic voting is going on, Churley says it's from Conservatives voting NDP just to keep the Liberals from getting in in an area where they know the Tories just can't go the distance.
It's all very Jerry Springer Goes To Ottawa. But it might explain why Churley and Conroy were so darned civil when they bumped into each other while door-knocking. Maybe Conroy can help a sister out. Or in.
The Greens' Jim Harris, for his part, swears he steals from everyone and no one equally. "Thirty per cent of Green party voters say they wouldn't have voted otherwise." Think Rhino contingent re-inspired. And just like Stephen Harper, the former Progressive Conservative turned Blue Green is working hard to scrub himself clean of the scary right-wing associations that cost both parties seats last time around.
He's says he's an eco-conservationist, not an eco-conservative. He insists he now wants mandatory, not voluntary, reductions on CO2 emissions. And about all those people who've recently quit the party and called it anti-democratic, right-wing and financially mismanaged, Harris says, "If you have seven people who have quit the party, compare that to the 800,000 who've decided to vote for the party."
It's kind of hard to see that support in his home riding, however, where playing Spot The Green Party Signs can be a slow game. And the only guy not wearing a guitar or related to a guitar player at the local Green party folk fundraiser back in December got up and left when he realized he was at a Green event.
Still, no amount of sign-counting has ever predicted the ultimate mood of these east-end lefty party swingers.