Cathy Crowe is crouching down at a day care centre in downtown Toronto, hovering anxiously as four-year-old Sanjith bounces on a mini trampoline.
Ms. Crowe is the New Democratic candidate in the riding of Toronto Centre, and she is here in a last-ditch effort to make funding for child-care programs an issue in today's by-election. The 57-year-old street nurse says she is in a tight race with former Winnipeg mayor Glen Murray, who is running for the Liberals.
Toronto Centre is divided by geography. The two-way race between the Liberal and New Democratic candidates is confined to the riding's less affluent south, Ms. Crowe's bailiwick. But in well-heeled neighbourhoods north of the Rosedale Ravine, Mr. Murray's chief rival is Progressive Conservative candidate Pamela Taylor.
"It's a Liberal-Tory fight in the north half and it's a Liberal-NDP fight at the southern edge of the constituency," Mr. Murray said in an interview yesterday.
Since moving to Toronto in 2004, Mr. Murray, 52, has been a volunteer adviser to Premier Dalton McGuinty on environmental and city issues. He is the perceived front-runner for the seat that former deputy premier George Smitherman held for a decade.
But the demographics are beginning to change in the riding's south end, with pricey condominiums springing up in the Distillery District and along King Street. The Tories are picking up support there for the first time, Ms. Taylor said yesterday.
Toronto Centre is the first in a string of by-elections set for this year - the riding became vacant when Mr. Smitherman jumped to municipal politics last month. Voters will go to the polls in Ottawa West-Nepean and Leeds-Grenville on March 4.
Today's vote will show the governing Liberals how much of a backlash they are facing over the harmonized sales tax, which will raise prices on everyday goods ranging from haircuts to gasoline and condominium fees when it comes into effect on July 1.
Mr. Murray acknowledged that voters are concerned about the new tax and said he isn't taking anything for granted.
"I always run like I'm in second place," he said.
The NDP and Tory candidates said it has been a hot topic in the Toronto Centre by-election campaign. Ms. Taylor, a 57-year-old lawyer and community leader, was knocking on doors yesterday in a condo in South Rosedale, where she said many residents, including those who usually vote Liberal, were upset about paying higher taxes.
"The biggest issue that hits every single person, no matter what the socio-economic status, is the HST," she said.
Ms. Crowe said there's a huge awareness of how the tax will affect people. "They now know the HST will be on magazines," she said. "They're resentful."
But she was at the Bond Child and Family Development Centre yesterday to draw attention to an issue closer to her heart - daycare funding for children from low-income families. She was accompanied by New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath, who said the McGuinty government plans to cut $63.5-million from the province's child care programs, putting 7,600 subsidized daycare spots in jeopardy.
Ms. Crowe said the Bond centre has been around for 70 years and caters to immigrant and low-income families.
As a nurse, she has done physical checkups on many of the 40 preschool children there.
"For me, coming in the doors today brings back memories," she said.
Today, residents of the provincial Toronto Centre riding will vote in a by-election to replace George Smitherman, the former Liberal deputy premier who stepped down in early January to run for mayor of Toronto. Mr. Smitherman held the seat for 10 years. The candidates for the three main parties are:
- Ms. Crowe, 57, is an anti-poverty advocate and street nurse. She is the author of Dying for a Home and was the subject of the 2002 documentary Street Nurse.
- In 1998, she co-founded the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee, which declared homelessness a national disaster. She is a board member of St. Clare's Multifaith Housing Society.
- Mr. Murray, 52, was mayor of Winnipeg between 1998 and 2004, and moved to Toronto six years ago. He had mused about running in the 2007 provincial election, and recently about running for mayor of Toronto, but this is his first run for public office in Ontario. He is considered the front-runner and many observers predict he will be appointed to cabinet if he wins.
- Mr. Murray is CEO of the Canadian Urban Institute and a board member of the Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research.
- Progressive Conservative
- Ms. Taylor, 57, is a lawyer who specializes in intellectual property and broadcast media. She ran in the 2007 provincial election and placed second to Mr. Smitherman with 20 per cent of the vote, less than half the Liberal's 48 per cent.
- A former general counsel to TVOntario, Ms. Taylor co-manages a small food business. She is also a small-business consultant and a business law instructor at the University of Toronto and Ryerson University.
Jill Mahoney, with a report from Karen Howlett