When the loss of just four ridings province-wide would see the Conservatives lose their majority in the 103-seat legislative assembly, it quickly becomes clear that Torontonians could determine which party forms the next government. To get some idea of the electoral problems Ernie Eves and his Progressive Conservatives are up against in the city, one need look no further than Etobicoke Centre. Many political observers considered the west-end riding to be among the safest of Tory seats in the provincial legislature when former environment minister Chris Stockwell was keeping it warm. But when Stockwell decided to make his exit from Queen's Park after Ontario's integrity commissioner called him on the carpet for having a crown corporation and his constituency association pick up expenses for a family vacation in Europe, the Tories had a hell of a time finding someone to represent the party in the election Eves has called for October 2.
Toronto councillor and former Etobicoke mayor Doug Holyday turned them down flat. And, after giving considerable thought to becoming a PeeCee candidate, Councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby also decided against taking a shot at the big time. Why? Because polling done even before Stockwell announced his retirement showed that Liberal hopeful Donna Cansfield, the veteran public school board trustee, holds a seemingly insurmountable lead among voters in the riding. And that isn't likely to change now that little-known lawyer Rose Andrachuk has agreed to be a sacrificial lamb for the Conservatives four weeks from now.
Things aren't a whole lot different in the other seven Toronto ridings the government possessed (out of a total of 22) when the premier dropped the writ Tuesday. Virtually all of them are in danger of falling to the front-running opposition Grits. Here's a look at those other key local battles.
Don Valley West: David Turnbull, the associate minister of enterprise, opportunity and innovation, is the incumbent Tory MPP here. Considered a good constituency rep, his demotion from solicitor general hurt his reputation in the riding. He's getting a formidable challenge from the Liberal standard bearer, Kathleen Wynne, an outspoken public school board trustee and founding member of the anti-amalgamation Citizens for Local Democracy. Ali Naqvi, an immigration consultant and tenants' rights adviser, is the NDP candidate.
Etobicoke Lakeshore: Conservative Morley Kells is personally popular here, but if voters decide change is what they want, the veteran politician could be history. Liberal Laurel Broten, a lawyer and victims' rights adviser, has been campaigning hard in the riding for some time and is considered a strong contender. But Toronto Councillor Irene Jones is the NDP candidate and could conceivably cause enough of an opposition vote split to secure the incumbent another term.
Etobicoke North: A dependable Tory riding in the past, but John Hastings has called it quits as MPP and Baljit Gosal, a Brampton life insurance salesman, was recently selected as the party's champion this time out. Human rights activist Kuldip Singh Sodhi is the NDP candidate. The Liberals have yet to name their flag-carrier.
Scarborough Centre: City Councillor Brad Duguid is the Great Grit Hope to unseat Tory incumbent Marilyn Mushinski in this suburban riding. But the Liberal cause could be hurt by former party candidate Costas Manios running independently to protest Duguid's appointment to the role. Small-business owner Michael Laxer is representing the New Democrats.
Scarborough East: Tory Steve Gilchrist remains strangely popular in the riding in spite of being removed from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing after just five months at the cabinet table in 1999. However, he'll get a strong challenge from Jamaica-born Liberal Mary Anne Chambers, a former banking executive, and if the dominoes start to fall, Gilchrist could be toppled, too. Gary Dale, a systems consultant and former OPSEU executive, is running for the NDP.
Scarborough Southwest: Liberal Lorenzo Berardinetti, another Toronto councillor, has been knocking on doors in the riding for more than a year, and Conservative incumbent Dan Newman, the associate minister of health and long-term care, is understandably worried. Legal aid lawyer Barbara Warner is the NDP hopeful
Etobicoke North: With Tory MPP John Hastings calling it quits, this race is wide open. Dr. Shafiq Qaadri, a family physician and medical writer, is back for the Liberals and will benefit from his 1999 campaign experience. Baljit Gosal, a Brampton insurance salesman, was recently selected as the Conservative contestant. Human rights activist Kuldip Singh Sodhi is the NDP candidate.
Willowdale: David Young, the minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, is seen as a future leader of the Ontario Tory Party, if he can survive a confrontation with Liberal lawyer David Zimmer, chair of the Toronto Community Housing Corp. Young has been taking much heat of late for a Tory plan that would force municipal councils to hold referendums on all future property tax increases. That may explain why Yvonne Bobb, a program assistant in Young's department, is running for the New Democrats.
Dust-ups in several other Toronto ridings are also creating some interest. Conservative Paul Sutherland has given up his spot on Toronto council to go after Liberal MPP David Caplan in Don Valley East. And former city councillor John Adams accepted a Tory invitation to get in the face of George Smitherman, the reigning Grit in Toronto Centre-Rosedale.
Now sit back and enjoy the action. The city's future could depend on it.