In a shuttered hobby store along bustling Sheppard Avenue, Elizabeth Long’s campaign is taking shape. A map on the wall marks the locations of signs and supporters, leaflets sit piled on a table and a pair of posters track fundraising – $25,000, halfway to the goal – and volunteers.
“I’m ready for a fight. I’m ready for a challenge,” Ms. Long said.
She has one. Ms. Long is the NDP candidate in Scarborough-Agincourt, a long-time fortress riding for the Liberals. But the departure of Jim Karygiannis, the Liberal MP since 1988, has opened up the riding without an incumbent for the first time in a generation.
It’s one of four by-elections set for June 30, two of them in Toronto. Scarborough-Agincourt offers a glimpse of the broader race to come in 2015: considered a three-way race in the type of ethnically diverse, quasi-suburban Southern Ontario ridings that will be major factors in determining which party forms government after next year’s election.
On the ground, a race is emerging. NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair visited the riding Friday. Ms. Long is an immigration lawyer whose campaign is being led by many of those who helped the NDP break through in Toronto in 2011. It was Scarborough NDP MP Rathika Sitsabaiesan who encouraged Ms. Long to run.
While Liberals lead the NDP in national polls, NDP fundraising messages have focused on the by-elections and cited breakthroughs in other one-time Liberal strongholds. Ms. Long is optimistic.
“I understand that it’s hard, but there is no incumbent. Jim Karygiannis is gone. All of us are new. And, you know, Liberals, they may take votes for granted,” Ms. Long said during an interview last week, as supporters worked the phones and carried out signs.
Down Sheppard Avenue East, the Liberal office was bustling, too. A poster of Leader Justin Trudeau hangs next to the door of an old real estate office – “Hope and Hard Work,” it says. Liberal candidate Arnold Chan – a lawyer, long-time party figure and one-time staffer to former Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty – won a closely fought nomination, besting Mr. Karygiannis’s preferred candidate. Mr. Chan has close ties to Mr. Trudeau’s team and said the party’s success in the riding is two-fold. “The brand is very strong, of course, but Jim’s brand is also incredibly strong,” Mr. Chan said during a recent interview while door-knocking along the suburban north edge of the riding where Liberal lawn signs are prevalent, Conservative signs are scattered and NDP signs are a rare sight.
Mr. Chan will not be often confused for Mr. Karygiannis: He demonstrates a wonkish passion for politics and party history, one at odds with Mr. Karygiannis’s bare-knuckled, gregarious reputation.
“I’ll be stylistically different. Jim was in many ways a larger-than-life personality. I am a different individual,” he said. “… But on the flip side, I would like to be seen as a reasonably thoughtful one. I will be in the House of Commons, I will do my committee work, I will attempt to advance what I consider to be important issues locally.”
Mr. Karygiannis has since endorsed Mr. Chan, and said he thinks the race is a three-way contest, with the Liberals slightly ahead, adding he’s seen NDP lawn signs in once “totally Liberal streets.”
The Conservatives hold three of the five ridings bordering Scarborough-Agincourt, where their candidate is teacher Trevor Ellis. But one Conservative source said the by-election in the riding is thought to be “locked in for Trudeau.” A Liberal source, meanwhile, said “we expect it to be close.” Mr. Ellis didn’t reply to an interview request.
The Conservatives released a pamphlet in the race targeting Mr. Trudeau’s position on marijuana, showing a photo of a child smoking and quoting Mr. Karygiannis saying the party has changed. It caused a stir among Liberal officials, who dismissed it as misleading. While Mr. Chan and Ms. Long said they don’t think the attack ad will have an effect, Mr. Karygiannis said it may have if timed differently.
“The Tories are stupid,” Mr. Karygiannis said. “… If they’d have been smart, they wouldn’t have put it out this week, they would have put it out next week. They wouldn’t give the Liberals an opportunity to respond.”
Ms. Long said she was a former card-carrying Liberal who abandoned the party in 2007 after it supported an immigration bill she opposed. Now she’s leading the charge against the party in the riding.
“I think it’s going to be exciting,” she said. “We’re all in the same boat. We all have the same amount of time. It’s just [a question of] whoever can get the message out to the most people, a message that will resonate with people.”