What are people saying at the door in one of Ontario's closest ridings?

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"Bastards!"

The anger of the middle-aged woman at her door in Toronto's Davenport riding is palpable when asked about the Ontario election.

Olga, who did not provide a last name, is speaking to Green Party candidate Daniel Stein and is furious about the Liberal's gas plant scandal saying "they did it to save their jobs." She also says that "the NDP are totally bonkers" and that "Canada is becoming the biggest hypocrite country in the world."

Stein says she's a natural fit for the Greens and asks if she'll put up a sign -- she gives him a tentative "maybe."

For all the fanfare and focus on party leaders, and money spent on advertisements, elections are won and lost on the ground in close local races like in Davenport.

With a scant 1,400 votes separating the NDP's Jonah Schein from the Liberal's Cristina Martins in the 2011 election, Davenport was identified early on as a must-win riding for both the NDP and Liberals. The Greens placed fourth in 2011 with 2.7 per cent of the vote, down from a high-water mark of 10.2 per cent in 2007.

A June 7 poll by Forum Research pegged the Liberal support in Davenport at 44 per cent to the NDP's 38 per cent, just above the five per cent margin of error.

Given all this, politicians are often eager tell you what they claim they're hearing at the doors, but what are people really saying?

One of the first doors Stein knocks on is opened by a father with young kids who tells Stein that the most important thing for him is that the candidate is involved in the local community.

Stein replies that in this election there are two candidates who fit that description, himself and Schein, a subtle dig at Martins who lives in Willowdale.

Larry Folliott, whose family has lived in the same house for four generations, has an NDP sign in his front yard and talks with Stein at length about local history and politics. Larry says the Liberals have to pay for what they've done while in government and will likely vote NDP.

Stein says even one Green MPP could hold power in a minority government that won 53 seats.

Two residents tell Stein they voted NDP in the past but are worried about Tim Hudak's Progressive Conservative party winning a majority and are considering casting their ballots for the Liberals this year.

A few days later the NDP's Schein is canvassing in Carleton Village, near where Davenport Road meets the CN rail tracks along the riding's western border. In contrast to Stein who was canvassing solo, Schein has a well-organized team of NDP volunteers with him.

The NDP team is knocking on doors of voters who are undecided, skipping houses where they have identified strong NDP supporters or people who said they would vote for the opposition.

The NDP campaign in Davenport is old-school door knocking meets big data. Street by street they methodically build profiles of individual voters. Armed with the addresses and names of people who live at each house they fill out contact cards based on the responses which will be entered into the database back at the campaign office.

Schein, who isn't having the best day having lost his wallet while canvassing earlier, is on a tight schedule squeezing in some door-knocking before an interview on City TV. He says that with voter turnout at less than 50 per cent it's crucial to get supporters to vote.

While the campaigning is fast-paced Schein makes a point of not only asking people to vote for him, but also lets them know about his nearby constituency office on St. Clair if they need help.

Hugh McCague has lived in Davenport for four years and has a Green Party sign in his yard, but is impressed with Schein's work campaigning for the electrification of the nearby rail corridor.

McCauge says Schein, "has done a very good job here" and that he worked well with Davenport NDP MP Andrew Cash on the "Clean Trains Now!" campaign. "He has a strong sense of social welfare and social justice," says McCauge.

Local issues can make the difference and NDP leader Andrea Horwath made sure she mentioned the Liberal's support of "dirty diesel" during the televised leaders debate later in the week.

One thing seems clear, if Schein is able to hang on to his seat, it will be because of the work he's done in the riding and the relentless organizing of his campaign. The question is if that's enough in a riding where people have traditionally voted Liberal in the face of a possible Hudak government will be decided on June 12.

 

Martins and PC candidate Lin Daniel did not reply to rabble.ca's requests to canvass with them.  

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

Photo: Larry and Linda Folliott talk with Green Party candidate Daniel Stein in Toronto's close Davenport riding on June 1 by Mick Sweetman.

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