Councillor Peter Milczyn jogs north among the tidy lawns and two-storey homes of Lunness Road, zigzagging from one side to the next to knock on doors in this southwesterly slice of Etobicoke-Lakeshore.
Underlying his brisk, businesslike manner is a steely determination to win the Aug. 1 provincial by-election; he hands out Liberal-red campaign flyers and asks each resident in turn, “Can we put a sign on your lawn?”
Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday, the former mayor of the pre-amalgamation city of Etobicoke, does not jog. He walks purposefully among the stately homes of Mervyn Avenue, near the riding’s northern boundary, and stops often for residents who want a hug or a handshake.
He distributes Tory-blue flyers, but does not push politics unless asked; rather, he chats about Monday’s storm, classic cars and his old-timers’ hockey league.
In the battle for the newly vacated Etobicoke-Lakeshore seat at Queen’s Park, Mr. Milczyn’s polished electoral machine has a slight edge over Mr. Holyday’s humble, folksy charm — 45% compared to 39% in a recent poll — but the three-week campaign has just started.
The by-election is a contest between municipal allies, both of whom sit on Mayor Rob Ford’s cabinet-like executive committee and tout his fiscally conservative agenda.
But it is also a fight to shape the future of the province, On that score, Mr. Holyday, a Progressive Conservative, diverges sharply from his Liberal opponent.
“If the right people with the right mind set to control finances don’t take control [at Queen's Park], I’m afraid of where we’re going to end up,” the deputy mayor says during an afternoon canvass this week.
Mr. Milczyn, meanwhile, touts the plans and achievements of the Wynne government: “As a councillor, for years, I’ve been involved in transportation and transit issues. We have a government now that is finally doing something about it.”
The Etobicoke-Lakeshore seat opened up last month, with the surprise resignation of former Liberal education minister Laurel Broten. The riding, comprised of close to 90,000 eligible voters, has been a Liberal bastion for a decade, but the well-respected Mr. Holyday — buoyed by a seething undercurrent of public anger over the Liberal gas-plant scandal — is the Tories’ best shot at breaking into Toronto, where the PC party has no seats.
Also running in Etobicoke-Lakeshore are former school trustee P.C. Choo (New Democratic Party) and businesswoman Angela Salewsky (Green Party). Neither is expected to pick up much of the vote.
At a chaotic all-candidates debate Thursday in the Royal Canadian Legion on Lakeshore Boulevard West, attended by Holyday supporter Mayor Ford, it became evident the two front-runners were evenly matched. No clear winner emerged, with both earning enthusiastic cheers when they hit their party’s talking points.
Mr. Holyday, who started slow but became feistier as the debate dragged on, used the forum to hammer the Liberals’ financial record.
“Somebody has to get the house in order down there and it’s not going to be them,” he roared, to thunderous applause.
Mr. Milczyn, even-keeled and unflappable, even when residents booed his contention the Liberals had “apologized” for the gas-plant fiasco, emphasized his record of fiscal sustainability at City Hall, his belief a Liberal government would deliver on transit and his history as a city councillor in the riding.
“You know who I am,” he announced at the beginning and end of the debate. “I grew up in this riding, in Mimico. I’ve lived in this riding my entire life. [It] is my home.”
The comments were a veiled shot at Mr. Holyday, who grew up in Etobicoke-Lakeshore but moved in the early 1970s to Etobicoke Centre, where he still lives.
To counter criticism he is not sufficiently in touch with the riding he wants to represent, Mr. Holyday points to his long history in Etobicoke-Lakeshore: His grandparents moved to Long Branch in 1919, and his childhood home on Twenty Sixth Street remains standing. Three or four times a week, Mr. Holyday is down at the MasterCard Centre by Kipling and Horner avenues to play hockey with his old-timers’ league.
Ultimately, the by-election may simply come down to who can get out the vote.
On a recent afternoon, Economic Development Minister Eric Hoskins has joined Mr. Milczyn on the hustings, the latest in a parade of cabinet ministers — including Charles Sousa, Linda Jeffrey and John Milloy — to bolster his campaign. Some residents tell Mr. Milczyn he has their unqualified support.
“I will be voting for you, regardless of whether or not you came by,” says Rommel D’Souza, who believes the Tories do not serve the middle class.
Others are more hesitant.
“I don’t know how this neighbourhood votes,” Ivo Simic says, almost apologetically, as he declines Mr. Milczyn’s offer of a lawn sign. “That corner’s conservative. This corner’s liberal. You never know which way it goes.”
On the other side of the riding, Mr. Holyday admits he is not used to campaigning. For years, he has won elections easily, without spending a dime.
This time is different. This time, like Mr. Milczyn, he is out about six hours a day, knocking on doors to shore up support.
“We’ve only had this place open officially since Monday. It was created out of dust,” he says of his newly minted Kipling Avenue campaign headquarters, launched in haste after the Liberals announced the unexpected by-election.
“We’ve had to jump on a moving train, but we’ve caught the train.”
On Mervyn Avenue, Joe Locicero crosses the street to meet Mr. Holyday.
“There’s a celebrity,” he grins, heartily shaking the deputy mayor’s hand. “We’re looking forward to some change in the area.”
Around the corner on Prennan Avenue, Mark Chouinard says he has “always been a big believer” in Mr. Holyday, recounting how a friend and former Etobicoke city staffer used to trumpet Mr. Holyday’s fiscal responsibility endlessly.
The deputy mayor simply laughs.
“He didn’t tell you what a good hockey player I was, though, did he?”