Ten ridings to watch: Trinity-Spadina -- solid NDP with changing demographics

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Election 2011: rabble.ca has chosen 10 key ridings across Canada for progressives to watch in the run-up to the May 2 vote, and asked local writers to assess them. The profiles highlight why the riding profiled is important and issues local campaigns are focused upon.

Slashed car tires, hateful graffiti, ripped campaign signs . . . the race for Trinity-Spadina, in the heart of Toronto, is getting really dirty. At least two dozen cases of vandalism have been reported from the riding in the past couple of weeks, and police from 53 Division are investigating. Passions have long run high among candidates and the fight for the country's second smallest riding has always been bitter, but loyalty amongst constituents seems to cross party lines. It's not unusual to see NDP, Liberal and Tory signs on the same lawn.

Liberal Tony Ianno captured the riding from the New Democrats in 1993 and held on until the NDP's Olivia Chow beat him -- on her third try -- by 3,681 votes in 2006. That is an extremely small margin in a riding with a population listed at 115,000 by Statistics Canada in 2006. In 2004 she had lost by only 805 votes.

Created in 1987, the riding merged the multi-ethnic Spadina, which New Democrat Dan Heap had held since 1981, and the more traditionally Liberal Trinity. In the 2008 election, Chow, wife of NDP leader Jack Layton, held on to her seat, winning by just over 3,400 votes.

It had the fourth highest turnout in 2006 thanks to Chow and Ianno, and the Tories have always come a distant third in Trinity-Spadina. Christine Innes has taken over the seat for the Liberal candidate where her husband Ianno left off. Conservative Gin Siow, Green Rachel Barney, Libertarian Chester Brown, and Marxist-Lennist Nick Lin round out the remaining candidates in the riding.

Demographically, Trinity-Spadina is made of 35 per cent visible minorities, is by and large middle class (average household income is $53,605), and has a significant unemployment rate (6.4 per cent), according to Statistics Canada. Therefore gentrification and intense development in the riding are likely to be on the minds of many voters. Long described as the city's most ethnically diverse (according to a 1986 census, immigrants make up 51 per cent), the riding is comprised of Kensington Market, Chinatown, the Annex, the waterfront condos and the islands.

But each year, more glass and steel creations appear at the south end of Trinity-Spadina, changing the composition of the riding. More than 8,000 condo units have been built, meaning thousands of new voters, with the potential to reconstruct the political landscape. A mix of renters and first-time buyers, the new developments are comprised largely of mature students and young professionals whose concerns centre on education, opportunities for small businesses and health care. Many of them also come from outside Toronto.

Although the Tories have traditionally had no presence in Trinity-Spadina, the riding has a recent history of close battles between Liberals and the NDP, a battle which echoes across the riding for this election.

Being Jack Layton's wife could be seen as a boon to Chow's campaign with polls putting the NDP leader in shocking leads in many parts of the country, conversely being Tony Ianno's wife could be seen as a hindrance for Innes, as he is facing allegations of illegal trading from the Ontario Securities Commission, according to an article published in the Toronto Star last year. However, Innes seems to be banking that the "condo factor" can help tip the balance in her favour, and recently campaigned outside Union Station, the commuter hub of Toronto, and by extension Canada, to introduce herself and pass out pamphlets to the "condo people." Innes says the economy and health care are the two top-of-mind issues for Trinity-Spadina voters, specifically for seniors whose pensions remain fixed while the cost of living increases. Innes has proven to be a worthy candidate to Chow, who perhaps has the upper hand based on name-recognition alone.

Chow says her work on issues such as transit will help win voters in those areas. She has a history of incorporating national public transit strategies into her platform, as she tabled the issue in the House of Commons. The rising cost of living is also on her radar. Since elected, the Hong Kong-born former Toronto city councillor has pursued Conservative Treasury Board president John Baird until funds were provided for the waterfront revitalization project. She helped secure permanent federal funding for the Harbourfront Centre, fought for more funding for summer jobs for youth and was instrumental in getting all-party support for what's become known as the "Lucky Moose" bill.

The bill, which allows for flexibility in cases involving a citizen's arrest, was named after a store that belonged to a shopkeeper in her riding who had been charged after nabbing a thief who tried to rob him for the second time. Chow's private member's bill was eventually incorporated into government Bill C-60.


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