Olivia Chow and Adam Vaughan in tight Spadina-Fort York race

Federal candidates across the country are looking to score in big cities, but few races are as high-profile as the one playing out in downtown Toronto between Adam Vaughan and Olivia Chow.

Political veterans vie for votes in new downtown Toronto riding

Political titans locked in tight Spadina-Fort York race

8 years ago
Duration 2:01
High-profile candidates Adam Vaughan and Olivia Chow vie for votes in new downtown Toronto riding

Federal candidates across the country are looking to score in big cities, but few races are as high-profile as the one playing out in downtown Toronto.

Spadina-Fort York is one of the most hotly contested ridings and one of the most visited by the top three party leaders.

But this is one race where many voters aren't just casting their ballots for their chosen party or whom they envision as the next prime minister. Many are equally invested in who will be the riding's next MP.

Political veterans vying for votes

Two political titans are going head to head in this riding. Liberal incumbent Adam Vaughan and former NDP MP Olivia Chow are both well-known and well-liked in the community.

Chow, the widow of former NDP leader Jack Layton, started out as a municipal councillor for the area from 1991 to 2005, when she left to make a federal run to represent the riding when it was known as Trinity-Spadina. She was elected to Parliament in 2006, with Vaughan, a former journalist, claiming her council seat after defeating her constituency assistant.

In 2014, Chow resigned as an MP in her bid to become mayor of Toronto. She was unsuccessful, but left her seat open once again for Vaughan to claim. He won the 2014 byelection to replace Chow in Parliament under the Liberal banner.

For longtime resident Marcia McClung, the Spadina-Fort York riding is one that stands to represent big cities across the country.

NDP candidate Olivia Chow and Liberal candidate Adam Vaughan are locked in a tight contest for the coveted downtown Toronto riding of Spadina-Fort York. (Darren Calabrese/Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

"It's a mixed riding in terms of income and in terms of diversity, so I do think in some ways, it's a microcosm for a lot of the issues in the country," McClung told CBC News. "We're having a hard time making up our minds about what we really want. Do we want change or do we not want change? It's difficult."

The Conservative candidate in this riding, Sabrina Zuniga, won't be playing much of a role in this race. The Conservatives have traditionally placed third in this riding.

Zuniga, a former science teacher, did cause some controversy, however, when she recently downplayed the seriousness of oil spills, stating that the ground would absorb them because oil is a natural substance.

Affordable housing a top issue

Situated in the heart of downtown, Spadina-Fort York spans from the Distillery District to City Place, reaching past the city's Harbourfront and over to the Toronto Islands. Eighty thousand people live in the riding, many of them filling the vast number of condo buildings that have popped up over the past decade.

Sabrina Zuniga is running for the Conservatives in the Spadina-Fort York riding, but is not favoured to win. (CBC)

"There are more 40-storey buildings in downtown Toronto than the rest of Canada combined," Vaughan has said. "And almost all of them are in this riding."

Affordable housing in an increasingly pricey, condo-filled part of the city has been one of the main campaign issues in Spadina-Fort York.

"We came all the way from Pickering and had a two-storey house," said Raphael Santiago, a new resident in the riding. "Coming here, we really downsized. The pricing is a little much."

Chow has called the situation "desperate," saying earlier this month that an NDP government would commit to building 10,000 units of affordable housing its first year in office.

Vaughan has also touted his party's plan to invest in affordable housing, pointing to the Liberals' $20-billion plan for social infrastructure. That money would be provided over the course of 10 years and provide $125 million per year in tax incentives for developers and landlords to build and renovate rental units. It also aims to make investment in affordable housing and residences for seniors a priority.

Of course, while affordable housing has made its way to the fore as a top issue in this riding, as in many big cities, voters are also looking for leaders to address issues like transit and the need for affordable child care.

"Child care is the No. 1 issue as far as I'm concerned," said resident Ben Rossiter. "Right now, we're paying the equivalent of a mortgage every month. It's unsustainable."

Rossiter told CBC News that he'll be voting NDP in this election specifically because of its campaign promise to support or create one million child-care spaces over the course of eight years at a cost of $15 per day.

"Right now, the NDP's child-care platform just seems like the strongest. I haven't heard anything from the Tories or Liberals that comes close to approaching it," Rossiter said.

Fighting for common causes

As far as the main issues in the riding are concerned, Vaughan and Chow seem to be largely on the same page. While they may be political foes in this race, they have a history sharing similar stances and championing the same causes. Nearly evenly tied, the two political veterans are fighting hard to set themselves apart.

While Vaughan has made a strong effort in appealing to the growing condo community, Chow says she's not worried about how close the race has come.

"I don't know whether it's tight or not," Chow told CBC News. "I just know a lot of people have said welcome back and we are so ready for your experience and to repair the damage Stephen Harper has done."

Vaughan has similarly insisted that his campaign has more to do with bringing about change than winning over his competitors.

"I'm running to get a housing program started in Canada. I want to make sure transit and cities are funded properly," Vaughan told CBC News at a recent debate on health care. "I'm not running against any particular person in this race. I'm running for a series of issues that have been very important for me."

With this federal election still looking to be a relatively close three-way race, every vote and every riding counts.

In a race as tight as this one, Spadina-Fort York could very well represent a crucial win for either the NDP or the Liberals.