Something is rotten in Davenport - and it smells like the Grits' withering chances in the riding.
After holding the area for 30 years with the retiring Tony Ruprecht, first in the old Parkdale riding and then the reconstituted Davenport, the Liberals are struggling in the west-end community as the October 6 showdown looms.
The Libs caught a whiff of the changing air during this spring's federal election, when NDPer Andrew Cash, a musician and former NOW writer, defeated three-term Grit MP Mario Silva with twice as many votes. Until then, Davenport - a multi-ethnic riding where Portuguese is the mother tongue of almost a quarter of the residents, half the people are immigrants and unemployment sits at 7 per cent - had been held by the federal Liberals since 1962.
The NDP candidate, Jonah Schein, a social worker and former community organizer with Social Planning Toronto and The Stop Community Food Centre, took a run at Cesar Palacio's municipal seat in 2010 and lost by 1,300 ballots. "This isn't a short-term project," Schein explains, sitting at a folding table in his Bloor West campaign office. "Building a movement is exciting, it feels great, all that stuff. But it takes time, total commitment and structure."
Schein, who appears to be winning the riding's sign war and who's put in a non-stop year of door-knocking, sharing resources with Cash's campaign, laments the growing gap between rich and poor, the depletion of transit services and a feeling of disenfranchisement in the riding. He says he has 40 high schoolers working for him and almost 500 volunteers, speaking Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Vietnamese, Cantonese, Mandarin and Tagalog.
A recently released Forum Research poll shows NDP support in the riding, home to iconic neighbourhoods like Bloordale, Bloorcourt, Brockton Village, the Corso Italia and part of Little Portugal, at 50.5 per cent, trailed by the Liberals (34.1), Conservatives (9.7) and Greens (4.5). To put things in perspective, though, the provincial NDP is generally skeptical about this poll's methodology.
Sitting at her headquarters at Dupont and Dufferin, Ruprecht's would-be successor, Federation of Portuguese Canadian Business and Professionals president Cristina Martins, confirms that she hasn't campaigned with her predecessor.
"[Ruprecht] was at my nomination and at the opening of my campaign office. I think that's pretty much it," she says, noting that she has her own volunteers and isn't using people from his team.
Martins, who is also a director of the Greater Toronto Business Association and the European Union Chamber of Commerce in Toronto, stays focused on the Liberals' big issues - health care and education, concerns that would normally speak to an area with significant elderly and working class populations.
She boasts of the Libs' full-day kindergarten, increased disease screening and improved school graduation rates and test scores, saying she hears most often from residents eager to stay the course of the past eight years. "I'm getting good reaction at the door,'' says Martins. "It's actually pretty inspiring."
In terms of local issues, Martins doesn't have a grassroots record, and she ruffled feathers by telling a neighbourhood publication that those opposing diesel trains on the new Union Station-to-Pearson line aren't seeing the bigger picture. She favours using diesel to meet the Pan-Am Games deadline and converting to electric later.
Schein, on the other hand, opposes diesel outright. "The environmental issues from running 450 diesel trains daily through our backyards are horrible," he says, "- so disrespectful to this community."
Also on the ballot is Kirk Russell for the Conservatives, and Frank de Jong is once again carrying the flag for the Greens.
Put it all together and this could well add up to a new NDP riding mate for Andrew Cash.
DAVENPORT BY THE NUMBERS
Registered voters 63,809
Average family income $67,596 Unemployment rate 7.3 per cent English as mother tongue 47 per cent
Minority report Portuguese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Italian
Geography Eglinton to Queen West and Winona west to the rail tracks at Keele
Vote breakdown 2007 Liberals 41.44 per cent; NDP 36.41 per cent; Greens 10.26 per cent; Conservatives 9.52 per cent