It may yet turn out to be Tony Ianno's last laugh.
Mr. Ianno, the four-time Liberal MP for Trinity-Spadina who beat the NDP's Olivia Chow in 1997 and again in 2004 before losing to her in 2006, always insisted that he would be back for yet another rematch.
But on the eve of the election call, Mr. Ianno says, he had a change of heart.
After spending more than a decade in Ottawa, away from his wife and children, he suddenly realized how much he was enjoying private life.
"I go to my kids' soccer games, and I just sit there," he says to his own astonishment - no double-booked agenda, no buzzing BlackBerry, no plane to catch back to Ottawa. And so, at the very last minute, Mr. Ianno decided to step aside, finally putting an end to the bitter, nasty Ianno-Chow feud.
It's a nice story; it may even be true. There's only one reason to doubt his sincerity: The candidate running in his place is as strategically shrewd a choice as any the Liberals could have made. Her name is Christine Innes, an Annex lawyer and mother of four, active in the community, and a lifelong Liberal volunteer. She also managed all of Mr. Ianno's campaigns.
And she happens to be his wife.
Ms. Innes's candidacy has made the campaign more civil, at least on the surface.
Ms. Chow applauds her opponent's decision to run. "It's not an easy decision to make, especially with four children," she says. "But when she says, 'It's my time' " - the words Ms. Innes used when she kicked off her campaign on Sept. 5 - "I certainly know that feeling."
Beneath the veneer, however, Ms. Chow also knows that, in one of the city's most competitive races, Ms. Innes will have the backing of Mr. Ianno's formidable election machine: a canvassing operation that can blanket the riding within two weeks, and a database built and refined over six campaigns, assigning each voter a bar code to better track address changes. "Tony has never lent his machine to anybody, and nobody else would have gotten it," says a Liberal insider.
"Anyway, it's her machine as much as his. A lot of people were really working for Christine, not Tony."
Incumbents always have an edge in any campaign, and that remains true here. Ms. Chow has a formidable machine of her own, and Ms. Innes, though beloved by local Liberals, can't match Ms. Chow's name recognition in every corner of the riding.
But there's another factor at play: Trinity-Spadina, long the archetypal Toronto riding with its mix of white- and blue-collar workers and its Portuguese, Italian and Chinese communities, has been radically transformed by the real-estate boom.
Resale prices have surged, particularly in the Annex but also throughout the riding. Census data show that average home values here have increased from $292,519 in 2001 to $408,585 in 2006, a 40-per-cent increase that has spurred many long-time residents to cash in and give way to young, affluent urban families.
And the rash of condominiums to the south, near the waterfront, are packed with new voters - young professionals with no attachment to any of the area's long-time local representatives, and no party affiliation. Traditional power bases are eroding as the riding gets younger and richer.
Trinity-Spadina no longer eats lasagna and spends its evenings on the front porch; it goes to the gym after work and eats vegetarian. This ain't your nonna's neighbourhood.
On one morning this week, the residents of the condominium tower at 18 Yonge St. streamed out the doors and turned north, walking beneath the railway tracks on their way to work downtown. There is a uniformity to them. They are young. They are nattily dressed in business attire: slim suits and ties for the men, knee-length skirts and heels for the women. They have sunglasses, iPods and BlackBerrys. They are diverse in skin colour, including people from South Asia and the Middle East, though they also sport the standard uniforms and accessories. And they are politically unaffiliated.
"I might vote Green," says Greg, a twentysomething resident who works in financial services. Greg says he is also considering the Liberals, and that he "probably won't vote NDP."
Syma, a law clerk in her early 30s, voted Liberal last time around, "but I'm not sure this time. I thought [Stephen]Harper was doing a good job. And Jack Layton has been running a good campaign. I might vote for either one."
These voters aren't merely undecided - they're wild cards, failing to occupy a reliable spot on the traditional left-right spectrum. And there's more than enough to swing the seat back into the Liberal fold.
The numbers are eye-popping. According to Jane Renwick, vice-president of the real-estate research firm Urbanation, since the last election in 2006, a total of 33 new condo towers have been completed in Trinity-Spadina, for a total of 8,888 new units.
"And we're not talking south Florida here," Ms. Renwick says, referring to that region's rash of fully built, utterly empty condo towers. "These units are selling, they are closing and people are moving in."
Using the industry standard of 1.2 residents per unit, Ms. Renwick calculates a total of 10,666 new residents. Ms. Innes's campaign has been assuming an average of 1.8 residents per unit, which totals nearly 15,998 new residents, though she expects an even higher tally.
Whatever the actual number turns out to be, it will dwarf the riding's typical margin of victory.
Last time around, Ms. Chow prevailed by 3,861 votes. In 2004, Mr. Ianno beat Ms. Chow in a squeaker: 805 votes.
These newcomers are only accelerating the trends captured by the most recent census data. From 2001 to 2006 the riding's population increased by 9,275 people.
They are nearly all single: the number of residents who have never been legally married rose by 8,690. All age groups increased in numbers, but those that increased most were between the ages of 20 and 45, with the fastest rise coming among women aged 20 to 29. And while visible minorities still make up more than a third of the riding's population, the number of residents who speak neither English nor French is actually going down, as is the number of immigrants in the riding - signs that, though the riding isn't actually getting whiter, it's getting more culturally homogeneous.
But while the wild cards could swing the riding back to the Liberals, it's far from a sure thing. "You might think that the increasing affluence and the rise in home ownership would push the riding to the right," says Alan Walks, a professor of geography with the University of Toronto's Centre for Urban and Community Studies, "but that's not necessarily true. The decline of the Italian and Portuguese communities may have contributed to the Liberal defeat last time."
For every new voter who works in a big bank or law firm, Prof. Walks says, there is another who works in the so-called creative class - TV producers, journalists and the like - and it's hard to generalize how any of them will vote. In consumer terms, these gadget-addled condo dwellers are often called "early adopters," and Prof. Walks thinks that the label might prove true in politics as well. "It will be interesting to see how the emergence of the Green Party plays out down there," he says.
Given that the wild cards could decide the outcome, Ms. Chow has already honed her message to them. "A lot of them are paying off their student debt," she says, "and they need help." She also makes an appeal to their cavalier side: "This country needs to do something bold," she says, casting the Liberals as middle-of-the-road blandness.
Ms. Innes focuses her pitch on the economy. "A lot of young professionals arrive here from across Canada," she says. "They have more of a national perspective on the issues." Now if only any candidate could get their message through. Canvassing is forbidden in most condo developments, keeping these voters out of easy grasp of the traditional campaign machines.