The Real Swing Factor In Trinity-Spadina

April 20, 2011

[Yesterday our email inbox contained a message that so nailed how we were feeling about the federal campaign going on in our riding that, with the author’s permission, we wanted to share it with all of you. Plus, it gave us the day off to head out and enjoy our lovely spring weather.]

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I am exasperated!

Today I read yet another article about how the Liberals and the NDP both need to court the centre-right condo vote in order to win Trinity-Spadina. But the “conservative condo vote” has been mentioned for almost a decade as a swing factor, only to disappear when the votes are counted. It is a cliché and it is wrong.

The real swing voters in Trinity-Spadina are independent progressives.

The NDP does not own the progressive vote in Trinity-Spadina, and cannot take it for granted. Many progressives grimaced as the NDP dithered over the long gun registry, or adopted the Tory anti-tax talking points on the Green Shift, or called for cheaper fossil fuels, or sided with conservative unionists who fear environmentalism costs jobs. These progressives really like Olivia Chow, but they also worry that the NDP is perhaps less a party of urbanists and environmentalists, and more that of culturally-conservative rural unionists who think Toronto pinkos can go to hell.

These swing progressives are the people who voted for Adam Vaughan over the NDP-endorsed Helen Kennedy municipally in Ward 20 (Jack Layton had reportedly threatened to “bury” Vaughan if he ran against Kennedy – nice!). These are also the people who voted for Karen Sun over Jack Layton’s son in Ward 19 last year. These alone represent about 12,000 T-S votes, or one-fifth of the voting electorate. These are the people who will decide the results in Trinity-Spadina, not the “conservative condo vote.”

And yet the condo cliché remains. Here’s the Toronto Star talking to Sean McCormick, an inexperienced Fordesque fiscal conservative who had been bizarrely endorsed by the federal Liberal T-S riding association in last fall’s municipal election for Ward 19 councillor. Not only did McCormick place third, even with the supposedly-mighty conservative condo vote, he was so incompetent that he defaulted on his campaign financials, the only front-running council candidate in the City to do so. (Liberal donors to McCormick’s campaign: according to City bylaw, this default means you are no longer eligible for the City’s 75% donation rebate). Bad enough that these Liberals endorsed an incompetent candidate, but the real stupidity is that they are chasing after conservative voters in Trinity-Spadina, and not progressives.

Clearly, the T-S Liberal riding association is still gripped by the dead hand of Tony Ianno, who was the Liberal MP from 1993-2006. He is famous around here for the contrast between his ruthless hold on power locally, and his lack of presence in Parliament. In 1988, he pioneered some disgraceful practices in the nomination process, practices that William Johnston said “strike at the legitimacy of the most fundamental process of our democratic system.” In 1996, as the feds were turning over harbour commissions to municipalities elsewhere, Ianno fought to create the Toronto Port Authority and put it under federal control. One of its first acts was to sue the City of Toronto for a billion dollars, and the TPA has been a continuous “fuck you” to the city ever since. In 2003, Ianno also pioneered new ways of getting around his own party’s campaign finance law, by creating a secret trust fund that was described in the Montreal Gazette as “a recipe for corruption.” In 2006, he shut down campus polls at U of T, the same thing Iggy slammed the Tories for doing in Guelph. To top it off, Ianno now faces stock manipulation charges.

After this Liberal stronghold fell to the NDP in 2006, you might have hoped the Trinity-Spadina riding association would seek a fresh face who could win back progressive Liberal voters. Next door, in Parkdale-High Park, the Liberals replaced a similarly defeated, similarly uninspiring Liberal with progressive Gerard Kennedy, who was able to defeat the popular and hard-working NDP MP Peggy Nash and retake the riding (some people say, “what a waste,” but why shouldn’t voters get to choose between good candidates?). You might also have thought the T-S riding association would be especially sensitive to the fact that their former MP was now facing an OSC probe during a recession caused by securities shenanigans.

Instead, just weeks before the 2008 election, the Liberals replaced their irritating former MP with Christine Innes, the MP’s wife. If you’re a registered Liberal but can’t remember when you agreed to this nomination, it is because you were not exactly asked. The couple apparently decided this between themselves. “It’s my time,” said Innes. This reminds me of how Andersen Consulting changed its name to Accenture following the Enron scandal.

The role of a riding association generally does not come up in election coverage. And perhaps the distastefulness of the Ianno/Innes family compact is simply how the sausages are made. Voters are also expected to vote for the party and not the local representative. But who advocates for the community’s priorities in a party’s caucus if not the MP? Who sets the direction of a party in Parliament if not its caucus? And as the TPA issue shows, federal politics can indeed be local. MPs matter.

Christine Innes seems quite nice, and she is not her husband. But she is not a fresh start either, and her riding association’s overtures to hard-right fiscal conservatives should worry Liberal progressives. Is Ms. Innes herself centre-right politically, or does she just think the voters are? Either way, how can progressives trust her?

Why won’t the Liberals nominate a progressive in this progressive riding? Where’s our Gerard Kennedy? Where’s our Martha Hall Findlay?

It’s time to drop the conservative condo cliché, and its time for the Liberal riding association to pull its head out of Tony Ianno’s ass. Independent progressives are the real swing voters in Trinity-Spadina, and we are the ones who should be courted.

submitted by John Bowker