In Toronto, Trudeau’s Rivals See a Chance to Breach His Fortress
(Bloomberg) -- Toronto has been Justin Trudeau’s unassailable political fortress ever since he swept to power almost six years ago. In two elections, he’s never lost a seat in Canada’s largest city, and his Liberal Party holds most of the suburbs, too.
It won’t be easy to repeat that, as Trudeau faces attacks on both sides ahead of the Sept. 20 vote. Conservatives think they can snatch seats in outlying areas, but in the urban core, the left-wing New Democratic Party is the biggest threat. Both parties are trying to capitalize on voters’ concerns about an overheated housing market.
In Davenport, an electoral district just a few miles northwest of the city’s financial hub, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is aiming his message at voters frustrated with inequality and the rising cost of living. “People can’t even imagine buying a home. People can’t even find a place they can rent,” Singh said during a campaign visit this week. “That’s what we’re up against and it’s only gotten worse since Mr. Trudeau has taken office.”
In a city where the average home sells for more than C$1 million (around $783,000), Davenport’s median household income is about $65,000 a year, and it doesn’t go far.
“I have not seen a house sold, or even listed, under C$1.3 million for a very long time,” Davenport’s NDP candidate, Alejandra Bravo, said during an interview at a park near her campaign headquarters.
Close to one-third of residents in the district are under the age of 35, and many are immigrants. Both groups are more likely to rent property than own. “Renovictions” -- in which landlords evict tenants to fix up properties for higher rents -- are common in the area, Bravo said, as are blind bidding wars for rental properties.
Even those in high-potential jobs are struggling. Recently, Bravo canvassed a young lawyer, working for a big firm and living with two roommates, whose dream is to afford her own apartment. “That’s a lawyer. So if you’re working in a supermarket, or one of those essential workers that we praised, at best you’re being able to rent a room.”
The NDP has never won a national election and, with about 20% support, has no chance of winning this one. Its goal is to improve on its showing from the 2019 election, when it finished fourth in seats, and push the government to implement some of its policy ideas.
Its platform, which includes a national dental plan, more affordable housing and and higher taxes for high-earners and investors, plays well in places like Davenport. On 338Canada.com, a widely-followed polling site, the district is listed as a tossup -- one of nine Liberal-held seats in the province of Ontario that the NDP has a chance to win. (The Liberals have also had to drop a candidate in one downtown Toronto district because of a past sexual assault allegation.)
The election is so close that “I would not bet on any result right now,” said Philippe Fournier, the data-loving astrophysics teacher who created the site.
The NDP is banking on young voters to boost their numbers. At 42, Singh is the youngest party leader in the 2021 race. Known for his stylish dress sense and signature bright-colored turbans, the Sikh lawyer has 815,000 followers on TikTok, has played video games with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and practices mixed martial arts.
Even so, he failed to gain much traction out of televised leaders’ debates and one of his party’s signature issues -- climate change -- has taken a back seat to other issues in the campaign, including the pandemic.
“The challenge with climate change is that it’s a slow-moving cumulative problem,” said David Keith, a Harvard University professor who teaches applied physics, with a focus on climate engineering, and public policy. “In any given year it’s hard to argue that it’s more important than all the other yearly things.” While all federal parties have vowed to take steps to combat climate change, the hardest work “hasn’t really started,” and will likely be pushed back to the next election cycle, Keith said.
Bravo says climate is near the top of the agenda for the voters she speaks to in Davenport, along with inequality and living costs. She also believes younger voters are deeply engaged, with many -- including some who are too young to vote -- coming out to volunteer. “There’s a sense of a motivation that they’re fighting for their lives.”
Getting younger voters to turn out on Monday will be key if she’s to win the race against Liberal incumbent Julie Dzerowicz -- and if the New Democrats are to boost their representation from 24 seats in the 338-seat House. Some pollsters predict the Liberals will score a narrow victory over the Conservatives and need support of smaller parties to govern and pass laws, perhaps putting the NDP in position to tip the scales on some key issues.
“We’re going to have influence in the minority government. It’s almost a certainty,” said Bravo. Winning Davenport “would mean creating a little bit of a stronghold where we can build out an NDP base in this city.”
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.