Left hooks thrown between NDP and Liberals in Davenport riding

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Photo: Mick Sweetman

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A padded chair in the front row sits broken in a stuffy and dimly lit school auditorium at Oakwood Collegiate in Toronto. A large fan whirrs beside the stage trying to keep the room of locals and partisans ventilated on an unseasonably warm and muggy evening. The moderator from the local residents' association thanks the crowd for coming out for what might normally be a mundane all-candidates debate, if it wasn't in the battleground riding of Davenport.

Previously a Liberal riding, Jonah Schein claimed victory for the NDP in 2011. It was a tough fight with only 1,414 votes separating him from Liberal candidate Cristina Martins -- and both of them are looking for a rematch.

Progressive Conservative candidate Lan Daniel has forfeited the night and is nowhere to be seen, but the Green, Communist and Libertarian Party are there and given a spot on the card.

Early on, it's clear that Martins' strategy is to throw some jabs from the left, attacking the NDP for teaming up with Tim Hudak and voting against what they say was a progressive budget.

Schein holds off retaliating, letting a chance to go after Liberals on the gas-plant scandal slide when asked about electricity policy.

Martins openly questions Schein's integrity saying that his local campaign material advocates things that aren't in the NDP's eight-page platform. Schein swings back saying that the NDP are a "party of true progressives who stand up for the working class."

This exchange illustrates the fight for the progressive vote in the broader election between the Liberals and the NDP. It may be more pronounced in Davenport, where the conservatives are a distant third and sometimes fourth party, but there's no doubt that the Liberals are seeking to catch the NDP with a left-hook.

The debate about who the "true progressives" are isn't only happening inside the blandly beige school auditorium, it's also playing out in the media.

A recent letter signed by 34 NDP supporters critical of party leader Andrea Horwath was leaked landing on page 1 of the Toronto Star and NDP loyalists have been responding in kind with scathing op-ed's ever since.

The letter has been seized on by Liberals like Martins.

"We've had long-time NDPers write letters and protest against Andrea Horwath for not supporting this budget, which is extremely, extremely progressive," said Martins. "It's the most progressive plan that they've seen in years."

An NDP photo-op in Windsor on Saturday saw two people, who The Globe and Mail reporter Adrian Morrow confirmed as Liberal Party volunteers, hold signs reading "No right turn!" and "Where are the REAL NDP?"

"The budget was an election platform meant to try and squeeze the NDP. I'm happy to push the Liberals to the left but I'm much happier to hold them to account. We've said this time and again, the Liberals campaign from the left and govern from the right," sighs Schein.

"When their jobs are on the line they make wild commitments that they don't plan to deliver. We need a strong, progressive government that is accountable to the people of the province and those two things absolutely go hand-in-hand."

But it's not just the Liberals and internal critics the NDP has to deal with as they try and keep their guard up.

Mariam Ahmad, who works part-time as a baker, is running in her first election as the Communist Party candidate in Davenport, one of 11 across Ontario.

"I don't really consider the NDP to be very left. But at the same time, I'm not here to tell everyone to vote for us. If you're going to vote NDP because at this point and juncture you think they're going to do you better than the Tories or the Liberals you need to make that decision. However, you need to know that these are not the only options for you," said Ahmad. She adds that they want to build awareness as "communism is taboo" and people think of the Soviet Union and Stalin but says that we're no longer living in the cold war.

"We need something new, and that new is communism," says an upbeat Ahmad.

Green Party candidate Daniel Stein stressed the need for new taxes and other revenue tools to fund public transit. Stein also said he supported proportional representation and called for an end to strategic voting.

"Ontario needs a new voice at the the table," says Stein.

"The mainstream media will always say it's always either a red door or a blue door, it's not a premise I believe in. I think people have a real choice," said a confident Schein. "The people don't see the Tories as the alternative to Liberal privatization, Liberal P3s and Liberal waste. They see the NDP as the only ones who will stand up for public services and fair taxes."

Voters will have their chance to decide who wins the main event on June 12 and with a knockout unlikely we'll have to see how they score it.


Mick Sweetman is the Managing Editor of The Dialog and a former rabble news intern. You can follow him on twitter at @MickSweetman.

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