There’s about a dozen volunteers, young and old, answering phones and stuffing folders at the Craig Scott NDP office on Broadview Ave., where a colourful chart on the wall expounds the secret language of canvassing to those who can understand it.
Liberal candidate Grant Gordon is running out the door of his sleek, corner-spot on the Danforth — there’s a shivering cameraman waiting for him outside, where his name plasters almost every inch of window — while Conservative campaign manager Sean Calder is holding down the fort at Andrew Keyes’ sparse east-end headquarters, all by his lonesome.
With little more than a week to go before the March 19 byelection in Toronto-Danforth, the campaigns are in full swing — although some bats appear to be hitting harder than others.
Almost every day, the Liberal and NDP campaigns issue press releases about candidate events and appearances, including repeat visits from interim leaders Bob Rae and Nycole Turmel. On that front, the Conservatives have been mostly silent, although Keyes said in an interview Ontario MPs such as Kellie Leitch and John Carmichael have also stopped by the riding, to considerably less fanfare.
The Liberals and NDP also expect to spend on their candidates the limit as allowed by Elections Canada: almost $87,000. The Conservatives won’t divulge how much they’re spending, but campaign spokesman Jeremy Hollingsworth insists they’re “not wanting for anything.”
As for Keyes, he says he’s out in the riding between eight and 12 hours a day, and that support for his party is growing.
It’s true the Conservatives have garnered more votes in recent elections (up to 14 per cent in 2011 from 6 per cent in 2004) and the gap between the Tories and the Liberals is closing, with the Grits getting about 17 per cent of the vote last election. NDP support, under former leader Jack Layton, jumped to 61 per cent in 2011 from 45 per cent in 2008.
“My goal has been, get out there and knock on as many doors and meet as many constituents as I can,” said Keyes, the 51-year-old president of Armantus Inc., a communications company that specializes in e-marketing.
The Conservative Party is also helping Keyes, who’s worked on previous campaigns and ran unsuccessfully for the nomination in Oak Ridges-Markham, with training and advice.
“The party in Ottawa has been supportive, certainly,” said Keyes. “I’m a rookie candidate. This particular riding has been . . . Well, what can I say. Put it this way, the support is appreciated.”
Scott, the front-runner in the race to replace Layton, says he’s taking things day by day, but feels invigorated by his canvassing.
What he’s hearing at the door is concern over the direction the government is taking the country, he said.
“People seem — very, very frequently — to be almost looking forward to the ongoing NDP opposition in Parliament.”
The contest has also been framed against the backdrop of the recent robocalls scandal. The Conservative government has been linked to the use of automated voice messages sending voters to the wrong polling stations and the deterring of rival supporters from casting a ballot in the 2011 election.
Scott said people of the riding are “disgusted” over the allegations. “The anger levels are really high,” he said.
The government has denied any wrongdoing.
The Liberals’ Grant Gordon — an advertising executive who branded his campaign from the get-go with a G logo — uses a simple video message online to reach voters.
He smilingly informs a reporter that “something’s happening” in the riding. “It just feels like as people get to know me, their doors are opening wider and wider,” he said, noting that he’s out and about from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m. every day.
His campaign spokeswoman, Erika Mozes, says the party faces an uphill battle in Layton’s former riding, but the turnout thus far is encouraging. A few weekends ago, 200 volunteers came out to knock on doors and put up signs in the riding held by Liberal MP Dennis Mills for 16 years until 2004.
“We are energized by the support that we have so far witnessed,” she said in an email.
In total, 11 candidates are running to replace Layton, who died from cancer on Aug. 22. The others include the Greens’ Adriana Mugnatto-Hamu and Dorian Baxter with the Progressive Canadian party, a centre-right party in line with policies of the former Progressive Conservatives.
Scheduled debates include a tentative televised meeting on TVO moderated by host Steve Paikin on March 14, and an all-candidates debate at the Don Mills United Church on March 15, expected to start at 7 p.m.