How safe are Bennett and Volpe?

Conservatives are out to unseat star Liberal incumbents in St. Paul's and Eglinton-Lawrence

Less than a week after the federal election writ dropped, Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett[/url] was a long way from her home riding of St. Paul’s.

On March 31, the 14 year Member of Parliament could be found in Halifax, campaigning in support of local Grit candidate, Stan Kutcher.

“We will work very hard to win back St. Paul’s, but we also know we can’t form the government unless we win a few more ridings,” she said over the phone from the east coast.

It’s not unusual for a veteran politician to be deployed outside his or her own battleground in support of fellow candidates, so it should come as no surprise that Bennett, in her seventh campaign, may not be present in her own riding for the entire month-long election period.

Bennett is among an elite group of Liberals in Toronto, who despite power shifts, party leadership changes and high profile opponents, are repeatedly elected with overwhelming support. Bennett herself has garnered over 50 percent of the vote in each of the past five elections.

There’s no indication that is about to change for the Liberal caucus member, or any midtown Liberal incumbent, says Joe Martin, a politics professor at the University of Toronto.

“I think a breakthrough for the federal Conservatives is one seat in Toronto,” he said. “A huge victory, major breakthrough, will be three.”

The Conservatives have a good candidate in lawyer Maureen Harquail[/url], Martin said, but St. Paul’s may be the safest Liberal riding in Canada.

Also in the running is William Molls[/url] for the NDP. The 23 year old novice candidate ran unsuccessfully for a council seat in last fall’s municipal election. Jim McGarva[/url] is the Green Party’s candidate and John Kittredge is running for the Libertarian Party.

Despite favourable political tidings, Bennett, currently Liberal critic for democratic renewal, says re-election is still not a guarantee.

“It’s a riding that is about 70 percent tenants … so it’s got very big turnover,” she says of St. Paul’s, which has constituents in Forest Hill, Deer Park and parts of Davisville. “It’s not a riding (where) you can ever rest on your laurels.

“There’s still lots of people who have never heard of me.”

But there’s lots who have.

St. Paul’s has traditionally been a bastion for Liberal voters at every level of government. It’s also been a bellwether riding, but even with the Conservatives forming governments for the past five years, St. Paul’s has remained true Grit.

Political pundits, including Martin, say Conservatives may have a chance in the neighbouring riding of Eglinton-Lawrence, where Liberal incumbent Joe Volpe[/url] has an old nemesis nipping at his heels.

In 2008, Conservative candidate Joe Oliver[/url] reduced the voter gap considerably in the North Toronto riding, losing by just over 2,000 votes. Oliver had the best result of any Conservative hopeful in Toronto.

Volpe, who has weathered a few scandal storms during his 23 year political career, said he is not worried about losing his seat, but doesn’t take anything for granted.

“I always run as a concerned candidate who respects adversaries, but I don’t run paranoid,” he said during a break from canvassing on March 31.

Volpe, who like Bennett has vied unsuccessfully for the Liberal leadership, said he’s aware the Conservative vote has a continued presence in Eglinton-Lawrence, but a campaign is about getting voters out.

“They’ve always been there, and last time they got their vote out, and we didn’t get all of our vote out,” he said.

Oliver said he is trying to capitalize on the momentum he gained in the 2008 election by promoting the message of his party and its leader, Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

“Quite frankly, individual candidates like to feel that they’re important because they’re doing the work on the ground, but the bigger issues have bigger impact,” said Oliver, who previously worked in investment banking.

This could ring true with regard to the Conservative party’s stance on Israel, Martin said.

Traditionally, Toronto’s Jewish community, which figures prominently in Eglinton-Lawrence, tends to vote Liberal, but Martin said many voters are expected to shift support to Canada’s governing party due to Harper’s strong support for Israel.

Also running for the Eglinton-Lawrence federal seat is the Green Party’s Paul Baker, and New Democrats’ Justin Chatwin[/url].

[align=right]— With files from Kris Scheuer

About this article:

By: Karolyn Coorsh
Posted: Apr 4 2011 4:01 pm
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto