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Incumbent NDP MPP Michael Prue is finding his first general election easier than his first by-election, when Beaches-East York riding was thick with political organizers from across the province.

Beaches-East York is one of the ridings that the NDP must hold on to if it is to keep its party status in the Ontario Legislature. If the Liberals had wrested it away from the party in the 2001 by-election, it would have been a sure sign that the Grits were on their way to power at Queen's Park.

But Mr. Prue, a former Toronto councillor and ex-mayor of East York, defeated a high-profile Liberal candidate, broadcaster-environmentalist Bob Hunter, by 3,785 votes after Frances Lankin, a former minister in the Bob Rae government, stepped down to become president of the United Way.

Now Mr. Prue is back to homegrown politics, where he knows the volunteers in the campaign. The riding appears to be reverting to its deeply rooted blue-collar anglophone voting pattern, where the race is usually between the Tories and the NDP.

Demographic change has been slow, and while the riding is not as anglophone as it once was, it is still one of the most homogenous ridings in the central part of Toronto, a riding where strong local neighbourhoods often play a dominant role in politics.

North of Danforth Avenue, most of which was in the former municipality of East York, the riding traditionally voted Progressive Conservative. Even when Ms. Lankin won the riding, the Tories carried many of the polls in the north end, despite weak candidates.

But Ms. Lankin won her seat by racking up large majorities south of the Danforth, where the working-class political ethic was socialist with a more recent overlay of urban environmental activism.

Carolyn Lecker, a writer who lives on Wheeler Avenue in the heart of the Beaches, said that Mr. Prue will get most of the votes in her neighbourhood, where some families have lived as far back as three or four generations.

"It's an NDP stronghold and always has been traditionally," Ms. Lecker said. "It is a traditional working-class neighbourhood that has become posher, but has kept the holes in the pants."

Tradition shapes strategy in the riding. The Tories are trying a reverse their traditional approach by running from south to north. Their candidate, Toronto Catholic District School Board trustee Angela Kennedy is a lifelong resident of the Beaches. "We're tying to infiltrate into the south half. This is where I grew up. I think I've got a good chance," said Ms. Kennedy, a nurse at Toronto East General Hospital for more than 30 years.

"I've been knocking on some of the doors in the Beaches and lots of people have moved out and new families have moved in. I've seen quite a bit of Tory support down there, more than I thought. I've got friends in low places, close to water."

Like Ms. Kennedy, the Liberal candidate is also a nurse: Jamaican-born Monica Purdy, who works at Mount Sinai Hospital.

She is not as high-profile a candidate as Mr. Hunter was, and her campaign relies heavily on the central theme of the provincial campaign: the need for political change in the province.

"People are definitely ready for change this time around, and in fact, are considering this election quite seriously, because they woke up with a government they were not in favour of, the day after the last election," Ms. Purdy said.

As for Mr. Prue, faced with the traditional voting pattern, he is pursuing a dual strategy. "South of the Danforth, I push the NDP; north of the Danforth, I push Michael Prue," he said.

In his view, it's working. "Many of our environmental supporters who drifted [away]last time have come back now, particularly in the south end of the riding," he said.

And in the north, his municipal experience is still paying off. "One of the old Tories told me the other night, 'We're voting for you, Mr. Prue, despite the fact you're a New Democrat, not because you are one.' "

All three candidates agreed that education and health care -- in that order -- are top issues in the riding.

"The No. 1 issue is education without a doubt, especially as a lot of young families have started moving into this area. It used to be an older population, and now it's a very young population. You hear education more than health. A few years ago, I would have expected the reverse," Mr. Prue said.

Beaches - East York

2003 candidates:

PC: Angela Kennedy

LIB: Monica Purdy

NDP: Michael Prue

Green Party: Tom Mason

1999 result:

NDP: Frances Lankin; 19,703; 45.9%

PC: Judy Burns; 12,776; 29.8%

LIB: Bill Buckingham; 9,332; 21.8%

Others: 1,089; 2.5%

SOURCES: G.P. MURRAY RESEARCH LTD., STATISTICS CANADA