Toronto Centre byelection getting full attention from party leaders
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OTTAWA—Toronto Centre was the scene of some high-profile campaign events by the two main opposition leaders over the weekends, in advance of four byelections on Monday that have become significant tests for the Liberals and NDP.
New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair was shaking hands in Toronto on Sunday to help boost the chances of candidate and former journalist Linda McQuaig, vying to be the first-ever NDP MP for Toronto Centre.
Liberal leader Justin Trudeau landed in Toronto on Saturday to stage a rally with Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne at the headquarters of Chrystia Freeland, also a journalist making a first-time plunge into politics.
The former MP for Toronto Centre, Bob Rae, also threw himself into the Liberals’ all-out efforts to hold their 20-year-old political fortress, with a letter notifying residents that the party was keeping track of who voted and who didn’t.
“When the list of Toronto Centre residents who voted is released, I hope your name is on it,” said the note, written under Rae’s personal letterhead.
Elections Canada doesn’t release lists of individual’s voting records, but Rae and Liberal officials told the Star that all parties have access to lists of which citizens have cast ballots.
“By the close of the poll everyone knows who’s voted and who hasn’t,” Rae said. “Although, of course, we don’t know who anyone voted for.”
The Liberals’ NDP opponents portrayed the Rae note as a veiled threat, with Toronto-Danforth MP Craig Scott condemning it as either “coercion” or a “clumsy error.”
The practice of publicizing individual voting records, however, is a technique used successfully by Barack Obama’s Democrats in the latest U.S. presidential campaign.
Voter-motivation tests have shown that people are more likely to go to the polls when they believe someone is keeping track.
And turnout could play an important role in these byelections, particularly in Toronto Centre. Forum Research president Lorne Bozinoff told the Star after his most recent poll that voter motivation could spell the difference between a Liberal victory and an NDP upset win.
“That’s the play for the NDP in Toronto Centre, is to get out the vote. . . . if the NDP can get their supporters out there, they have a chance at this riding,” Bozinoff said.
New Democrats have been fighting an aggressive campaign against the Liberals in Toronto Centre especially, in a bid to show that it is the real alternative to the Conservatives when Canadians go to the polls in 2015. The NDP also would like to take the Montreal riding of Bourassa away from the Liberals in Monday’s byelections. Bourassa is traditionally a Liberal riding as well, last held by Denis Coderre until he left to campaign for his new job as mayor of Montreal.
“We sense that these ‘Liberal strongholds,’ these ‘Liberal fortresses,’ are due for a change,” Mulcair said in Toronto on Sunday.
“We’d love to win it,” said McQuaig.
“But we are the underdog. In Toronto Centre, the Liberals have held it for 20 years so I think the stakes are higher for them. Obviously, if they were to lose, I think it would take a little bit of steam out of Justin Trudeau’s engine.”
Trudeau and his Liberals, meanwhile, have their eyes on making their own symbolic gain on Monday — in the Manitoba riding of Brandon, where high hopes rest with candidate Rolf Dinsdale to take this staunchly Conservative riding away from Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s ruling party.
Harper and Trudeau waged their own letter war in the waning days of the campaign in Brandon — each sending a wave of letters to residents of Brandon, to plead the case for support. Harper’s letter flew in the face of normal tradition that doesn’t usually see the prime minister getting involved in byelections. As well, one of his senior PMO advisers and a former 2011 campaign chief, Jenni Byrne, has been sighted helping out in Brandon in recent weeks.
Provencher, another Manitoba riding, is also up for grabs on Monday after the departure of former justice minister Vic Toews, but Harper made no campaign forays there.
About 12,000 people have already voted in advance polls in the four ridings, and nearly half of those early voters cast ballots in Toronto Centre, according to an Elections Canada news release earlier this month. This represents between 3 per cent and 6 per cent of the total eligible voters in each of the ridings, but party strategists are saying the numbers are quite healthy for byelections.
McQuaig was one of the people who voted in the advance polls, as a way to encourage her supporters to do the same. Freeland chose to wait until Monday to cast her ballot.
Four byelection battles
With files from The Canadian Press
Toronto Centre: Liberal candidate Chrystia Freeland leads the NDP's Linda McQuaig in this Liberal bastion, according to the latest polls.
Bourassa (Quebec): Considered another safe Liberal seat, but NDP candidate Stéphane Moraille is coming on strong against Emmanuel Dubourg.
Brandon-Souris (Manitoba): Liberal Rolf Dinsdale, the son of Brandon's former Progressive Conservative MP Walter Dinsdale, is leading in this solidly Conservative seat.
Provencher (Manitoba): The Manitoba riding of former Public Safety Minister Vic Toews is looking to be staying with the Conservatives.
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