Less than two weeks into a 36-day federal election campaign, some veteran Liberal organizers hereabouts are privately conceding defeat to Jack Layton and the New Democrats in four key Toronto waterfront ridings. Toronto-Danforth, where the socialist leader is looking for Dennis Mills to return to setting up lawn chairs for a living? Gone.
Trinity-Spadina, where Layton's wife, Councillor Olivia Chow, is working to finish the fight she started with Tony Ianno seven years ago? Toast.
Beaches-East York, where former councillor turned Greenpeace exec Peter Tabuns is out to retire the lacklustre Maria Minna? Job done.
Parkdale-High Park, where union negotiator Peggy Nash has her sights set on the undistinguished Sarmite Bulte? Bull's eye.
"I don't think there's any question we're going to lose those seats," says one well-known Grit strategist long involved in election battles coast to coast. "What we've got to focus on now is stopping the Conservatives from taking Liberal ridings in the city of Toronto. The party is in serious trouble if it loses seats to the right as well as the left."
There's growing concern in local Grit ranks that this could very well happen. In recent days, seasoned campaign workers have flooded into the Etobicoke-Lakeshore and Etobicoke Centre ridings in hopes of shoring up support for the candidates carrying the red flag against the Tory blue.
Of particular concern to the Libs is Etobicoke-Lakeshore, where consultant/strategist John Capobianco has emerged as a serious threat to MIA MP Jean Augustine. It was no coincidence that the constituency bounded by Lake Ontario and Etobicoke Creek was the first visited by Conservative leader Stephen Harper when he arrived in T.O. on Tuesday.
And then it was just a short jaunt up the road to Etobicoke Centre turf, where local Tories have finally rallied behind Lida Preyma, a Magna International executive in the Belinda Stronach mould who has the backing of former federal Tory finance minister Michael Wilson.
The Liberal candidate here is Future Baker Borys Wrzesnewkyj. He's one of two Grit hopefuls endorsed by Mayor David Miller. The other is John Godfrey in Don Valley West, where deposed provincial Tory cabinet minister David Turnbull is looking for a return to politics with the Conservative Party of Canada.
Some Grits are grumbling that the chief magistrate's nod toward the bread man and Paul Martin's parliamentary adviser on Toronto's supposed new deal with Ottawa is little more than an attempt to neutralize his endorsement of New Democrats Chow and Nash.
The Liberals are likewise miffed that Miller was insufficiently effusive in praising Martin's speech to delegates at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities convention in Edmonton last week.
They'd hoped the mayor would give them a bit of a bump locally. But Miller says he wasn't prepared to go gaga over a speech that, although filled with some "groundbreaking" language about a municipal-federal partnership, didn't go nearly far enough in committing the feds to sharing the gas tax with cities.
And then there's the matter of that bridge to the Island Airport. In a letter this week Martin finally put in it writing that the feds intend to kill the bridge, but he offered no solution to the funding imbroglio that continues to plague negotiations between the city and the Toronto Port Authority. This reluctance makes his letter look like an election ploy.
"Torontonians aren't going to give a rubber stamp to the incumbents," the mayor predicts. "My sense is that they feel people have to demonstrate why they should be re-elected, and I think that will mean some New Democrats get elected in Toronto."
That's "a positive thing" as far as Miller is concerned. "Sometimes an opposition member is much more important and can be more effective in making things happen than a government backbencher."
Most Torontonians are sure Chow will be moving to Ottawa to help her partner prop up a Liberal minority government in the House of Commons. Now the speculation is about who will win the by-election to fill the Ward 20 seat Chow will leave vacant on council.
Most of the scuttlebutt so far is about a race between the incumbent's constituency assistant, Helen Kennedy, and former councillor John Adams. But there's growing talk that a prominent member of the downtown Asian community could decide to join the contest and force Chow to make a critical endorsement decision. Urban activist Tam Goossen and community worker Kevin Lee have both been mentioned as possibilities.
But back to the federal election. Kyle Rae, the councillor for Ward 27 (Toronto Centre-Rosedale), has been keeping watch along the waterfront, and he, too, is convinced Layton, Chow, Tabuns and Nash will be heading to the nation's capital. But he's giving his personal endorsement to Liberal incumbent Bill Graham - the "exemplary" minister of Foreign Affairs who helped keep Canadian soldiers out of the war in Iraq.
Rae is hoping for a minority Liberal government "with the NDP at its heels," because the thought of a Conservative administration propped up by the Bloc Quebecois is unthinkable.
"It's disturbing to see the potential of Canada slipping radically backwards," he says.