Letna Allen-Rowe takes the microphone, and like she’s rallying the home side to victory, splits a standing-room-only crowd into two, organizing the first half to chant “Marco!” and the second half “Mendicino!”
For the 150 people who’d made their way into Sala Caboto banquet hall on April 28 to be part of a rally in support of local lawyer Marco Mendicino for the federal Liberal nomination for Eglinton-Lawrence, the task was wholly embraced.
The rally was as much in opposition to former Oakville Conservative MP Eve Adams as it was in support of Mendicino. Adams joined the Liberal party and announced her intention of running here against Finance Minister Joe Oliver in February. The move came days after she had been told by her own party she can no longer run as a Conservative.
Liberal party leader Justin Trudeau supported the move by Adams, but it was fiercely opposed by Eglinton-Lawrence MPP Mike Colle, himself a Liberal. Colle said at the time she would win the nomination “over my dead body” and reinforced that sentiment at Sala Caboto on April 28.
The move was “insulting” to constituents, he told the crowd at the Dufferin and Lawrence banquet hall.
“You were against a lot of the things that Harper did and all of a sudden they’re going to get this Harper person to come in here and make this conversion on the way to Damascus,” he said, making a biblical reference to Paul the Apostle’s transformation. “I said that was wrong.”
Colle and other local supporters drew attention to Adams being parachuted in from Oakville with few, if any, ties to the community, while Mendicino has lived in the riding for eight years with his wife Diana and daughters Michaela and Gemma.
The riding runs from Highway 401 south to Eglinton Avenue, and from the CN Rail tracks west of Caledonia Road eastward to Yonge Street. Mendicino acknowledged a clear economic divide in the riding, with most of the wealth concentrated east from Bathurst Street, but said he’s the candidate who can bring everyone together to back him.
“The thing that really ties all of these people together is hard work,” he said in a post-rally interview. “In order to have an event like tonight — a positive event — you have to really know the constituents that you want to represent, and that doesn’t happen overnight.”
Mendicino has been campaigning for the nomination for eight-and-a-half months.
Allen-Rowe, a store owner on Eglinton Avenue West, managed to get the crowd into a near-frenzy at the rally, enforcing the local-versus-parachute idea by adding repetition to her rhetoric.
“If there’s a fire, he’s not going to run all the way from Oakville!” she announced to growing cheers from the crowd, who were made up of a good representation of the riding’s Italian, Jewish and Filipino communities. “If there’s a shooting, he’s not going to run all the way from Oakville!”
Riding resident Evelyn Lewis told Mendicino afterward that she’s has shooed Adams’s campaign workers from her door.
“I told them, ‘We don’t need her!'” she exclaimed.
By the end of the rally, many in the crowd could be heard pledging that they’d get their family, friends and neighbours to register with the party so they could vote for Mendicino at the yet-to-be-announced nomination meeting.
“It’s a strong grassroots campaign,” said local public school trustee Jennifer Arp, who organized the rally.
The visibility of Arp, Ward 8, and MPP Colle, who told the crowd Mendicino is “what I would want if I had another son,” indicate Mendicino’s support goes well beyond the grassroots element.
Mendicino says he knows the issues that are important to the community, and took a shot at Oliver and the Conservative party for wanting to make terrorism an election issue.
“At a time when the country is trying to strike the right balance between safety, security and privacy that is a very specific skill set that I think a lot of people could be proud to have in their MP,” he said.
Mendicino was one of the crown prosecutors in the trials of the Toronto 18, a group of southern Ontario men and youth charged in 2006 with al Qaeda-inspired plot to commit terrorist attacks in Toronto and Ottawa. Most pleaded guilty, while the others were found guilty.
“I think that what matters to people … is good paying jobs, healthcare and a good pension, education for their kids without overburdening them with debt,” he continued. “Those are the issues that matter.”
One of Mendicino’s key campaign organizers Howard Brown, affectionately referred to as “Uncle Howard” by the candidate, has worked extensively with candidates and campaigns for four decades, including a run by St. Paul’s MP Carolyn Bennett for the Liberal leadership in 2006. He says Mendicino is one of the best he’s seen.
“Marco is in the top three candidates I’ve ever worked with,” Brown said. “And I struggle to name the other two.”
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