R. Jeanette Martin
It's a glorious, sunny Saturday morning, the second-last day of summer, but Gerard Kennedy is standing in the middle of a shitstorm.
Mainstreeting on posh Bloor West Village, where even the No Frills seems high-end, Kennedy, shirt sleeves rolled up, suit jacket perpetually thrown over his shoulder, spends much of the morning sticking up for the guy he made Liberal boss, Stéphane Dion.
"You picked the wrong guy," says more than one passerby.
"You should have been the leader," remark others.
A number of the locals stop to give him an earful about how bad Dion's sales job of the Green Shift has been.
While it isn't all bad news, it's clear that there's more on the line for Kennedy than simply knocking off popular NDP incumbent Peggy Nash. Like maybe his political career.
"That's a no-brainer," he says of the stakes in this campaign.
He's still in debt from his failed leadership bid, his party's campaign has yet to catch a big wave, and many blame him as leadership kingmaker. The former provincial education minister needs a win.
Though he won here provincially twice with massive percentages, the contest in this lefty riding, which runs the gamut from million-dollar digs in High Park to the homeless hanging on in an increasingly yuppified area, is far from in the bag.
Gerard Kennedy waging a shadow campaign, fighting leadership demons.
One passerby sums up the mood. "He's great, but I wish he wasn't running in this riding. I'm voting for Peggy."
Indeed, many feel that if Kennedy was really serious about stopping Stephen Harper, he'd use his star power in a riding with a Tory rather than NDP incumbent.
"I did consider running in western Canada since I have roots there," he tells me, "but in the end it would have been too much on the family to pull up and move out west."
"You have to have a reason to be in a community," he says. "Look, I have a lot of regard for Peggy, but I have to run in a place where I have an affinity. It isn't that easy to just drop yourself into a riding."
Probably not, but this concentration of competing lefty cred has gotta be the kind of thing that soothes Harper to sleep at night.
If Kennedy is waging a shadow campaign, fighting the demons of leadership races past and carrying water for a weak leader, Nash seems by comparison to be travelling very light indeed. Credit the strong loyalty she inspires and the near flawless national NDP campaign.
Nash has a formidable organization. With provincial counterpart Cheri DiNovo, who first took the seat in the by-election created by Kennedy's resignation, riding shotgun, she's door-knocking on West Queen West, home to beautiful Victorian renos and a high concentration of new immigrants.
Nash, as the NDP's industry critic, took a string of initiatives that include introducing a bill for a federal $10 minimum wage, campaigning against the foreign takeover of space company MacDonald Dettwiler and pushing for a resolution making the Dalai Lama an honorary Canadian citizen.
She's worked hard with the growing Tibetan community in her riding, and many recognize her. She and DiNovo seem to be having a ball as they cruise through the 'hood. I've never seen canvassing politicians having such a good time.
But her lightheartedness shouldn't be misread. A former CAW labour negotiator before bagging the riding in the 2006 rematch with Lib Sarmite Bulte, she's tough.
"People here don't want you to just show up at election time," she says pointedly about the fact that Lib leadership contender Kennedy was a no-show pretty much everywhere for two years after the convention.
"There are ongoing community struggles, and people want to see representation," says Nash.
They also want to stop Stephen Harper. Kennedy, who uses the word "progressive" countless times today to describe his politics, says he's really concerned that, even if a majority of Canadians vote against the Harper agenda, the Tories will still form the next government.
"It's in the country's interest to have a progressive coalition. We're trying to create one within the Liberal party. Is that gonna work? We'll find out. If it doesn't work, there may be other ways to get things done."
But Nash isn't having any of it. "How is voting to stay in Afghanistan until 2012 ‘progressive'? How is supporting a budget that cut funding to women's programs, cut the court challenges program, cut literacy funding and attacked social spending a progressive alternative?" she asks.
Sure, the Tories don't have a ghost of a chance here, but it's all still music to Stephen Harper's ears.
By the numbers
Visible minorities 26,150
Registered voters 73,499
Gerard Kennedy's whereabouts