The old liberal “Fortress Toronto” fell on election day, battered by big losses of seats they considered safe and the election of many strong new Conservative candidates. The city, long ignored by the Conservatives and its billions of dollars of infrastructure needs, now has robust representation in a majority government, and we must push hard for these new MPs to “stand and deliver”.
The highest profile defeat was handed to 23-year veteran MP Joe Volpe, in Eglinton-Lawrence, by high profile lawyer Joe Oliver. Given the attention paid to his race by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Toronto mayor Rob Ford, by the time this is published Oliver could very well be in cabinet, and replacing Flaherty as political Minister for the GTA. Even if he isn’t, he will have a high profile and will be judged by residents on the basis of how strongly he advocates for Toronto.
Mayor Ford himself has raised the bar for a new era of federal support for Toronto needs by having his brother state ebulliently, “We are one big happy family now,” and hinting that subway help will soon be on the way.
But the Conservative strategy and messages that swung so many votes in so many Toronto ridings had little to do with an “urban agenda” or the specific problems of our debt-ridden city.
In Oliver’s case, the win came from very specific and effective voter targeting, particularly to the Jewish and multicultural communities. Oliver, himself a leader in the Jewish community, benefitted from Harper’s strong support for Israel, and by the well-communicated fear of higher taxes and a potential NDP “surge”.
In fact, in CPAC coverage of his campaign Oliver emphasized how important the core messages of stability and values from Harper were in his campaign. Indeed, the Conservative mantra of “vote values” proved very effective in wooing votes from an immigrant community identified as generally more “conservative” than liberal. It has also become a truism that, however attentive Liberal MPs like Volpe were with the “ethnic” communities, the tireless work of minister Jason Kenney with them has paid off.
Liberals who were elected, like Bob Rae in Toronto Centre and Carolyn Bennett in St. Paul’s, followed their leader in not advocating the importance of an urban agenda, and Jack Layton (who put the term on the map) and other NDP victors in Toronto did not make our problems a prominent part of their campaigns. Time they stepped up to the plate too.
But neither was the Conservative impact on Toronto a victory of Toronto messaging. So, what can we expect now that many MPs will have a voice — for the first time since the Martin government — in the national government (and a majority one at that)?
A Toronto Sun editorial after the election challenged the Harper government directly: “The bottom line is now that Toronto has rewarded the Tories with seats after years of sending mostly Liberals to Ottawa, it’s time for the Conservatives to return the favour.”
Mayor Ford was elected many months ago flaunting his friendship with Jim Flaherty, who had political responsibility for our city. Between then and now not much help has flowed Toronto’s way from Ottawa. Now the small “c” conservative Toronto family counts many other Ford-friendly faces.
If Prime Minister Stephen Harper wants to maintain his strong Toronto base four years from now, when we go to the polls again, Oliver and others will have to show they have actually delivered to our cash- and facility-strapped city.
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