The sidewalks of Toronto’s Beach are typically clogged with SUV-sized baby carriages and purebreds on leashes.
Tuesday morning, the sidewalk in front of the Beacher Café spawned a different traffic problem. In this onetime Liberal stronghold, the comfortable fiefdom of New Democrat Matthew Kellway since 2011, supporters spilled onto the streets awaiting Justin Trudeau’s storming of this Beach. Some arrived an hour before the Liberal leader, who sometimes appears as if he’s aiming to take back these ridings one selfie at a time.
The place was teeming with the usual cadre of party officials, riding workers and volunteers, but those on the street were a different breed, including lapsed Liberals, longtime party supporters who feel they have emerged from the wilderness and former Conservatives, the rarest of Beach sightings.
This was only one riding, one event, one small sample.
It illustrated two things: the momentum Trudeau has in the final week, but also the mountain he still must climb.
A day after wooing former Progressive Conservatives with the message that the party had left them behind, he hit three NDP-held Toronto ridings Tuesday by pitching his platform as the “one of the most progressive platforms in Canadian history.’’
All three — Beaches-East York, Parkdale High-Park and Davenport — looked, until recently, relatively comfortable for their incumbents. Now these races are tight.
Trudeau must win voters from both his right and left flanks because the party has so far to come from its 2011 results and it is still a challenge to translate encouraging poll numbers into actual riding victories.
We have had historic collapses in Canadian electoral history — think of the 1993 Progressive Conservative dive from government and 169 seats to the two won by Kim Campbell.
On the other side of the ledger, Progressive Conservatives under John Diefenbaker and Brian Mulroney grew by about 100 seats or more, Diefenbaker moving to majority in 1958 and Mulroney winning power in 1984.
But a third party seizing power with a jump of 80 to 100 seats or so, as Trudeau is attempting, is uncharted territory. His party held a mere 13 seats in Ontario and seven in Quebec at dissolution.
Both the Trudeau camp and NDP Leader Tom Mulcair are playing fun with figures when they plot a path to victory.
Mulcair uses the number 35 — the number of Conservative seats needed to flip his way for him to leap frog Harper, but that presupposes that every single seat held by his party returns to the NDP.
The Liberals acknowledge the mountain ahead, but say that in this election every party starts with the same number of seats — zero. That overlooks the power of incumbency in Canada. Even with the number of Conservatives who bowed out before the election, legions of incumbents from the other two parties must be toppled by the Liberals.
They will have to do it by wooing the likes of those outside the Beacher Café — voters like Gail Sutton, a Saskatchewan native and lifelong Liberal who has, in the past, voted NDP; or Samuel Getachew, a onetime Progressive Conservative who says he has soured on Harper over an immigration bill that creates two tiers of Canadian citizens, the way he has ignored imprisoned Canadians and sold armoured fighting vehicles to Saudi Arabia.
Or maybe Rob Mollett, a construction worker who voted Conservative in the last election, but came away impressed with Trudeau’s “strong, solid handshake. You know what it’s like when a guy kind of shakes your hand with his finger . . .’’
Harper will use the remaining days of this campaign to sow doubt about Trudeau’s bona fides on the economy.
For the second day in a row, the Conservative leader used a stack of bills and old-style cash register sound effects to highlight what he says are the costs of Trudeau’s tax increases.
This time, he gave a “come on down,’’ to a small business owner, Dino Ari, who runs a pizza shop, but the gambit makes the leader of a G7 nation look like a game show host about to hand over that new snowblower behind the curtain to one lucky contestant.
But you don’t declare a three-time winner dead until you are counting votes, something confirmed by one Liberal MP who tossed out an exasperated “but you never know about that Harper gang . . . .” after extolling the depths of Liberal organization under Trudeau.
That about sums up the late-game attitude in Liberal circles. There’s a mountain, yet there’s a swagger. But beneath that swagger, lies a legitimate case of the nerves.