NDPers want to think of York South-Weston as the sweet sign of better days ahead. Certainly, the symbolism couldn't be better: the poorest riding in the province has over the years produced such NDP luminaries as David Lewis, Donald C. MacDonald and Bob Rae.
Lib candidate Laura Albanese milks her TV star power in York South-Weston.
But the Grits captured the seat soon after the Harris Tories stormed Queen's Park in the mid-90s, and the NDP became a pathetic shadow of its former self, unable even to hang on even to traditional turf like this.
Then, on a cold day last February, in a by-election, the NDP took back this piece of party history with the slimmest of wins a mere 300 votes. (Paul Ferreira won 8,188 to Laura Albanese's 7,830.) No one figures it will be as close on October 10, because some of the provincial tide will wash up here, and whoever takes it this time will do it decisively.
But the question is who. Will enough of the Italian-speaking voters in the northern half of the riding, where the Liberals are focusing their campaign, support one of their own, a TV-star-turned-politician?
Or will the NDP pull through again on the strength of its base in the poorer southern half and the power of its election-day machine?
The responsibility for proving that the NDP's winter win was no fluke rests with Paul Ferreira. At his campaign launch at the Mount Dennis Legion Hall on Weston just south of Eglinton last week, a Caribbean steel band serenades the crowd before Somali community leaders, local activists and assorted others take the stage to sing the praises of their hard-working rookie MPP. Ferreira, who came to Canada as a six-year-old with his Portuguese family in 1979 and who formerly led the party's lesbian and gay caucus, thanks his parents and male partner, and warm applause ripples through the room as if this were the most ordinary thing in the world.
In another time and place, such personal details might be debilitating in a riding such as this, but with the gay Minister of Health George Smitherman and entourage playing a large role in the Albanease campaign, the gay card will be hard to play.
Not that Ferreira stands out that way. His olive green dress pants worn slightly too tight and less than au courant dress shoes would throw off gaydar readings.
The next day, I'm with him near Jane and Weston on Mahoney Avenue, a tree-lined street of what used to be mostly bungalows but whose enterprising owners have over the years transformed them into two-storey houses occupied by families whose first language might be Vietnamese, Portuguese, Tagalog or Spanish.
Voters here don't seem angered by the Liberals. Press them and they'll mention the health tax. But even though there's no hate-on for the Libs, most on this street will vote for Ferreira. He ticks "Will vote for' for 16 of the 22 houses, and gets 11 sign locations.
"People had high expectations," Ferreira tells me at the Coffee Time around the corner. "Dalton promised the moon and didn't deliver."
Certainly, the name of Joe Cordiano, the McGuinty minister whose riding this was before the NDP took it back, will not be invoked by canvassers for Laura Albanese, who's back as the Liberal candidate with a completely new team headed by finance minister Greg Sorbara's cousin Pat Sorbara, a veteran of winning campaigns.
For 22 years, Albanese's has been one of the most famous faces in the local Italian community because of her perch as newscaster at multicultural TV station Omni. This afternoon, I'm chasing after her and a gaggle of canvassers among the sprawling brick bungalows adorned with wrought iron rails on Maple Leaf Drive, one of the riding's poshest sections.
"It's Laura Albanese!" exclaim the star-struck voters who shout to others in the house. Almost all of the conversations here are in Italian, Albanese's first language.
"I have a passion for this riding and I want to make it stronger," she tells voters. Though she can't explain how the Liberals will pay for expanded kindergarten because she hasn't had a chance to read the campaign document yet, they're planning to vote for her anyway.
This is Albanese country. "The votes are here we just have to get them out," says MP Judy Sgro, one of the high-powered Grits throwing her heft into the campaign. Italians are by far the largest ethnic group in the riding in fact, census data indicate more than 16,000 voters here self-identify as Italian, about twice as many people as Ferreira needed to win last time.
Albanese has to rack up the votes in the heavily Italian north half because her fortunes will be more modest in the riding's mixed southern half.
In an interview at her campaign office at Keele and Lawrence, Albanese says, "A lot of people think of me as the anchor at Omni, but I came to Canada as an immigrant, too. I rented on Emmett Avenue [in the Jane and Weston area]."
NDP incumbent Paul Ferreira squeaked in by just 300 votes last election.
But she lacks the poise in her second language that she has in her native Italian. When I ask her about Blue 22, the controversial high-speed train that SNC Lavalin wants to build in the GO corridor that cuts through the heart of the southern part of the riding, she blames the plan on the former federal Liberal government, a curious tack since her friend Sgro was a minister in that same regime.
Anyway, says Albanese, the alternative railway link proposed by McGuinty will be merely an expansion of the existing GO. "Blue 22 is functionally dead," she assures me.
But even some voters who are positively disposed to the Liberals wonder if she's too blasé. "The issue is not dead she has to come out swinging,' says Mary Louise Ashbourne, chair of the Weston Historical Society and a leader in the coalition fighting Blue 22.
Ashbourne is a fan of McGuinty, but in her part of the riding no issue is more important than Blue 22. "It's a tricky situation," Ashbourne muses. "As a backbencher, Laura's not going to have much clout, and that's a problem. To be a gadfly [like Ferreira] and to be on the outside could be quite a good thing."
Now it all comes down to whether star power can outshine the NDP at what it does best get its people out to vote.