Gerard Kennedy versus Peggy Nash in Parkdale-High Park: the huggiest grudge match ever
Like so many ridings in the 416, Parkdale-High Park is hosting a showdown between the Liberals and the NDP while the Tories and the Greens duke it out for third place. What’s odd about this district, however, is that it might actually change hands on May 2—and both of the viable candidates have “re-elect” signs (the NDP put orange tape over the “re-” without being forced to the way the Liberals were elsewhere). Liberal incumbent Gerard Kennedy took Parkdale-High Park from the NDP’s Peggy Nash in 2008 by 3,000 votes, and Nash is back for a rematch. Like in Trinity-Spadina—the one other downtown riding that may swing—this is a fight between the left and the really left. The knives aren’t out, but the fight is interesting nonetheless, especially with the NDP’s numbers on the rise across the country. Here, we talk to Kennedy and Nash about what’s at stake for Parkdale-High Park.
Over the course of our interviews, the candidates gave their sharpest responses when the issue of the air-rail link from Union Station to Pearson Airport was raised. As we’ve discussed before, the community is in a bit of an uproar over the province’s decision not to electrify the line until after the 2015 Pan Am games. Nash says, “I’ve been pressuring the federal government to spend the money we need to build it right the first time.” She says an NDP government would introduce a national transit plan set in law and transfer more money to cities to deal with their transit problems. Trying to win Toronto votes with transit spending? Where have we heard that before?
Kennedy agrees that the relationship between Metrolinx and the community around the air-rail link has at times been “ridiculous.” “I think Metrolinx has been sluggish. If I’d been in the government, I’d have to take responsibility,” he says. “There’s two points though: they have committed to electrification, and the local movement, the couple or three ridings, have been taken over by the NDP and used for partisan purposes.” Kennedy says he’s had a hard time trying to get groups like the Clean Train Coalition to give him the time of day, much less the time to speak. “When I went to a meeting and asked for a chance to speak, they tried to give me one minute.”
Responding to criticism that he’s been absent from the spotlight over the last two years and that the residents of Parkdale-High Park need an MP who can attract more attention to their concerns, Kennedy asks people to judge him by his record. He says he brings the issues to the forefront, not his own face: “Maybe I haven’t done the best job promoting myself, but I’ve been in hundreds of stories on infrastructure and the environment.”
There are, of course, plenty of other issues in this riding. The air-rail link may have inflamed the most passion, but it probably won’t be the issue most people remember on voting day. Both Nash and Kennedy say they’ve heard from voters about the economy, how dysfunctional Parliament is, and, of course, a desire to fight Stephen Harper and the Conservatives.
As well, the recent spate of unprovoked beatings in Parkdale has the entire community nervous and looking for a better solution to mental health issues than locking people up. Nash points out that mental health is only one side of the coin—poverty is another. She and the NDP want a national housing strategy to help combat urban poverty, a national plan the Liberals failed to deliver during the Chrétien-Martin years. Kennedy says he’s been working with local police in an unofficial capacity. “Nobody in the community is clamouring for the law-and-order Conservative stuff,” Kennedy says. “People want to know what will we do, how will we keep people safer.”
Whatever happens, the fate of this riding won’t change the balance of power in Parliament. It’s not going to take a seat away from the Conservatives, and hanging on to it probably won’t change the Liberal prospects for a win on voting day. But since this riding is one of the few in Toronto that could conceivably change hands—Nash herself won it after Liberal Sam Bulte had a bit of an Internet meltdown in 2006—it remains on our list of ridings to watch.