Kathleen Wynne is supposed to do a quick blitz for votes in this Thorncliffe Park high-rise, but instead, on the 15th floor, she stops at the door of a young construction worker.
"If your age group doesn't vote, that means someone old will vote in your place," she says as her handlers pry her away.
Wynne's daughter rolls her eyes, amused. "Oh no, Mom, were you lecturing that guy?" Mother and daughter banter humorously back and forth as they sprint down the stairs.
This breezy vibe wasn't what I expected from the campaign of a highpowered Liberal minister about to lose her seat in the upcoming provincial election for no good reason except that PC leader John Tory decided to run in the same riding.
But will she lose Don Valley West? I think so as I tag along with her a few days before Tory's campaign capsizes. I'm also thinking, "Too bad." She's a woman and left- of-centre Lib with a lot of energy. But how can Wynne's ground campaign compete with all that media attention the PC leader gets?
She as much as admits this as we cram into the back seat of a car. "This isn't about my own individual career. It's about making the province a better place for everyone to live in," she says. I take her at her word, but it does sound a bit like she's trying out lines for her concession speech.
She doesn't know yet that Tory is about to fall on his faith-based sword. She also doesn't know the results yet of an Ottawa Citizen/Compas poll taken between September 25 and 29 and made public Monday, October 1, that shows Wynne 15 points ahead of Tory.
So what happens Monday throws a very surreal light on the Don Valley West all-candidates meeting at Leaside High School the day before.
This is the only face-to-face between Wynne and Tory, and the 600-seat auditorium is standing-room-only. The Green party's Adrian Walker, the only other candidate onstage, holds his own among these heavyweights. (NDP candidate Mike Kenny is a no-show due to a family situation).
Wynne's supporters are there in red, but more numerous and vocal are Tory's squad sporting blue "John Tory is a mensch" Ts and the accompanying slogan "Support the party that supports our children." With this kind of dress code, it's no surprise who the main attraction is.
Tory defends his faith-based school funding policy, giving no signal as to what's in store for the next day. Instead, he wails on about leadership and the importance of standing up for what you believe. I've heard this a million times already this campaign, so I watch Wynne's body language instead.
Education Minister Kathleen Wynne might not need a concession speech.
She's turned to him, her face bright and animated, ready to pounce. When she launches into an impassioned defence of the public system (I've heard this one, too), I decide to watch Tory. He sits erect with his hands folded in front of him, staring into the middle distance, blank-faced. If this were a cartoon, I imagine his thought-bubble would say, "God, I wish she were talking about something else." Or maybe, "God, I can't wait until tomorrow."
But John Tory's tomorrow will not include the premier's office. It may not even include being the MPP for Don Valley West. Sunday's blustery defence of his school funding plan gives way to Monday's fey announcement of a free vote in the legislature on the matter.
The move deflates his big talk on leadership, and not because he's changed his mind. If he'd had a change of heart, that would show some courage and, if not leadership, brains. But by saying, as he has, "I still believe in the policy, but I'll subject it to a free vote," he's displayed the very cynicism he's been railing against McGuinty for.
Indeed, this may be the most colossal political blunder since the federal PCs decided to run TV ads in the 1993 election ridiculing Jean Chretien's facial palsy. And who was responsible for that decision, which decimated the federal party? One John Tory, campaign manager.
But, hey, don't cry no tears for Tory. If he loses his seat to Wynne, that may be to his liking, at least according to some in the blogosphere. As TVO Queen's Park bureau chief Susanna Kelley reveals in one post, PC insiders tell her Tory felt he could only win Don Valley West in a PC sweep. In other words, if the party lost the election, he'd likely lose his seat, thus avoiding the drudgery of the opposition benches.
So if you want to feel sorry for anyone, how about the squad at the all-candidates meeting who thought they had a leader when all they got was a lousy blue T-shirt?
My advice: use the shirts as cleaning cloths around the house, because this John Tory may be a lot of things, but he's no mensch.
Additional Interview Audio Clips
Green Adrian Walker on coal scrubbers
Faith based education
Tory on private health care
Wynne on private health care
Wynne on Tory running in riding