Friday, November 22, 2013

November 25 federal by-election profiles: Toronto Centre

Location of Toronto Centre within Toronto

Part 2 of my series on the November 25 federal by-elections is on the Ontario riding of Toronto Centre. Toronto Centre is as the name suggests, in central Toronto. It exists at the east end of the Downtown core, bounded on the east by the Don River and on the south by Lake Ontario. The riding is very diverse socio-economically. For example, the riding takes in the most densely populated neighbourhood in the country (St. James Town) as well as one of the richest neighbourhoods in the country in Rosedale. These two polar extremes has meant that the Liberals have done well here in recent years, thanks to their ability in bridging the gap between these two communities. The Liberals have held the riding since 1993 in federal elections, and since 1999 in provincial elections, and is generally considered to be a safe Liberal seat.

Toronto Centre was vacated on July 31 when former Ontario Premier and former interim Liberal leader Bob Rae resigned his seat to become chief negotiator for James Bay area First Nations. Rae, a former New Democrat had held the seat since being elected in a by-election in March 2008. Prior to that, the seat had been held by another Interim Liberal leader in Bill Graham, who held the seat since 1993.

Map of the neighbourhoods of Toronto Centre


The area now known as Toronto Centre has been covered by the riding of Rosedale from 1933 to 1996, then by Toronto Centre—Rosedale to 2003, and then by Toronto Centre since then. Since 1933, the southern and eastern boundaries of those ridings have remained more or less consistent, with Lake Ontario on the south and the Don River on the east. Also from 1966 to 2003, the riding also included Toronto Island. Also since 1933, the northern boundary has tended to be in the vicinity of Mount Pleasant Cemetery. The western boundary of the riding has been the most fluent. From 1933 to 1966, it followed (from north to south) Yonge Street to Bloor Street to Sherbourne Street. In 1966, the boundary shifted westward to include the area between Sherbourne and Yonge south of Bloor. This western boundary stayed the same until 1987, when the boundary shifted westward once again to Avenue Road / University Avenue (south of the CPR). This boundary remained until 2003, when the western riding boundary was shifted back east to Yonge Street south of College Street.

Prior to 1933, the area covered multiple central Toronto ridings. From 1924 to 1933, the area north of Boor was in the riding of Toronto Northeast, while south of Bloor was in the riding of Toronto East Centre. From 1914 to 1924, the area north of Bloor was in the riding Toronto North, the area south of Queen Street was in Toronto South, while the area between Bloor and Queen west of Sherbourne was in Toronto Centre, while the area east of Sherbourne was in Toronto East. From 1903 to 1914, the northern boundary of Toronto Centre was further south on College Street, which was the southern boundary of Toronto North. The northern boundary of Toronto North was the city limits, which at the time cut through the northern part of modern day Toronto Centre. North of that was the riding of York South. The boundaries of Toronto East and Toronto South in the area remained unchanged from 1903 to 1924.  From 1872 to 1903 the area was split between three ridings, York East (north of Bloor- the city limit at the time), Toronto Centre (generally west of Jarvis) and Toronto East (generally east of Jarvis). Finally, between Confederation and 1872, the area was split between York East and Toronto east, divided at Bloor Street. West of Yonge was the riding of Toronto West.

The next federal election in 2015 will be fought on new boundaries, and with a plethora of new condo developments in the riding driving the population to over 130,000, the riding is set to get much smaller. The final redistribution report has Toronto Centre losing Rosedale and Yorkville to the new riding of “University—Rosedale”, while the area south of Mill Street will be transferred to the new riding of “Spadina—Fort York”. With the riding losing all of the wealthy areas that exist north of Bloor Street, the new Toronto Centre will become much more competitive between the Liberals and NDP in future elections.

Members of Parliament (following ridings found mostly within modern day Toronto Centre)

Toronto East (1867-1924)

  • Jas. Beatty, Cons. (1867-1874)
  • Jn. O’Donohue, Liberal (1874)
  • S. Platt, Ind. (1875-1882)
  • Jn. Small, Cons. (1882-1891)
  • Emerson Coatsworth, Cons. (1891-1896)
  • J.R. Robertson, I. Cons. (1896-1900)
  • A.E. Kemp, Cons. (1900-1908)
  • Jos. Russell, Ind. (1908-1911)
  • A.E. Kemp, Cons. (1911-1921) 2nd time
  • E.B. Ryckman, Cons. (1921-1925)

Toronto East Centre (1924-1933)

  • E.J. Bristol, Cons. (1925-1926)
  • R.C. Matthews, Cons. (1926-1935)

Rosedale (1933-1996); Toronto Centre—Rosedale (1996-2003); Toronto Centre (2003-present)

  • H.G. Clarke, Cons. (1935-1940)
  • H.R. Jackman, Prog. Cons. (1940-1949)
  • Chas. Henry, Liberal (1949-1957)
  • D.J. Walker, Prog. Cons. (1957-1962)
  • D.S. Macdonald, Liberal (1962-1978)
  • D.E. Crombie, Prog. Cons. (1978-1988)
  • D.H.S. MacDonald, Prog. Cons. (1988-1993)
  • W.C. Graham, Liberal (1993-2007)
  • R.K. Rae, Liberal (2008-2013)

The Conservatives dominated Toronto from confederation until World War II.  Between 1949 and 1993, the area was a swing riding, going back and forth between the Liberals and the Tories. The Tories elected during this time were Red Tories however. David MacDonald who represented the riding from 1988 to 1993 would even run for the NDP in 1997! Since 1993, the area has become super-safe for the Liberals. Much like the rest of central Toronto, the Tories have been a non-factor here. They have not received over 25% since 1988. Unlike most of central Toronto, the NDP have also been a non-factor in this riding. The NDP did not get over 25% here until the orange wave of 2011. However, they have finished 2nd in 5 of the last 7 elections.

Political geography

Since 1988, the Liberals have always received at least 40% of the vote in this riding, usually over 50%. Bob Rae’s 41% in 2011 was the worst showing by the Liberals here since 1984. The 2011 election was the closest race this riding has seen since 1988, where Tory David MacDonald defeated Liberal Bill Graham by just 80 votes. The race in 2011 was more comfortable, with Rae defeating NDP candidate Susan Wallace by 6000 votes.

Due to the socio economic extremes in the riding, the political geography shows the riding consists of two very different worlds. Prior to 2011 however, large Liberal wins masked this polarity. The 2011 election made the NDP competitive in the riding, and that made the map show the true (at least socio-economic) colours of the riding. While the Liberals won the seat in 2011, the NDP won the most amount of polls. The Liberals have won this riding because their centrist politics have been able to bridge the gap between the well-off inhabitants of Rosedale, and the working class residents south of Bloor. Where they didn’t win in 2011, they usually finished a strong 2nd place. And while the NDP won the most amount of polls- where they didn’t win- north of Bloor, and especially in Rosedale, their votes were few and far between.


Results by polling division (2011)

In 2011, the “Orange Wave” boosted the NDP across the country, and that hit Toronto Centre, despite the party not running a very large campaign. The Tories also so a boost in support in the riding, winning 23% of the vote, which was the best showing by a conservative candidate since 1988. But for the NDP, winning 30% was their best showing ever. And for the Liberals, it was their worst result since 1984. The Tories won 22 polls in the riding, almost all of them in either Rosedale or Yorkville. Their support was nearly non-existent south of Bloor Street. In contrast, despite winning a plurality of polls in 2011, the NDP won zero polls north of Bloor. NDP strength was concentrated in neighbourhoods such as St. James Town, Upper Jarvis, Church and Wellesley, the Garden District, Moss Park, Regent Park and Trefann Court. In contrast to the Tories and NDP, the Liberals were strong nearly everywhere. They only finished third in a small handful of polls. The polls that they did win were mostly in the bufferzone between the poorer southern half of the riding, and the wealthy north half. That is, mostly around Bloor Street, but also in Yuppie areas like Cabbagetown, and the new condo developments further south on the lakefront.

The strongest Liberal poll in the riding was the Kensington Apartments (poll #400) in Rosedale where the Liberals won 58%. The strongest NDP poll was #132-1 in the St. Lawrence neighbourhood, south of David Crombie Park near the lakefront. The  NDP won 65% there. Finally, the strongest Conservative poll was #12, in affluent Moore Park, next to the Carstowe Road Lands. The Tories won 60% there.

2008 (general) 

Results by polling division (2008 general)

The 2008 federal election was a very different story in Toronto Centre compared to 2011. Rae won over 27,000 votes, 18,000 more than his nearest rival, Conservative David Gentili. The NDP finished third in 2008, with 7,700 votes. Rae won 54% of the vote for the Liberals, which was enough to win all but a small handful of polls. Much like in 2011, Liberal support was spread fairly evenly across the riding. However, their strongest neighbourhood was in working class Regent Park, where they won over 70% is some polls.  The Tories won five polls, three in Rosedale, and two in Yorkville. The NDP won two polls in total. The Liberals’ strongest poll was #116 in Regent Park, where they won 73%. This poll covers a number of housing complexes surrounding Regent Park North. The strongest NDP poll was #418, which corresponds to 135 Sherbourne, an apartment in Moss Park. The poll just had 10 votes (6 of which were NDP). The top Conservative poll was #12 again, where they won 51%

2008 (by-election)
Results by polling division (2008 by-election)

A by-election was held in March 2008 to replace Bill Graham who had resigned in the previous summer. Graham had won 52% in the previous 2006 federal election, and the NDP was in 2nd with 24%. With NDP leader Jack Layton holding the neighbouring riding of Toronto-Danforth, the seat was a target for the NDP, but the Tories and the Greens also targeted the riding. Bob Rae would win an impressive 59%, which would be the highest percentage the Liberals have ever won in the riding. The three other parties won a similar share of the vote, at around 3000. The NDP’s El-Farouk Khaki finished 2nd with 14% of the vote, nearly 11,000 votes behind Rae. Just like Rae’s victory later in the year, the Liberals did generally evenly well across the riding, except for Regent Park where they did especially well. The NDP won a handful of polls, while the Tories tied in two, and the Greens won one.

The Liberals’ strongest poll was #125 in Regent Park, where they won a massive 88%. This poll includes a number of apartment buildings on the south side of Dundas Street between Sackville St.and River St. The strongest NDP poll was #424, which is in the Bay Street and Bloor area. They won 61% of the vote there. The Conservatives top poll was #107 in St. Lawrence, a poll they tied with the Liberals in. This poll which surrounds Berczy Park had both parties receiving 43%. There was one poll the Greens won, #460, which corresponds to 96 Gerrard St in the Garden District. 

2008-2011 two-party swing

NDP vs. Liberal two-party swing (2008 GE-2011)
The 2011 election gave the NDP a 14% swing from the Liberals. While this was not enough to give the NDP a victory, it did mean that all but two polls in the riding also swung in their direction. And some polls swung significantly more than others- another indication of how polarized the riding is. From 2008 to 2011, the Liberals went from winning nearly every poll, to less than even the second place NDP. Most of the swing to the NDP cam south of Bloor, indicating that lower income residents were more likely to change their votes, than the wealthier crowd in Rosedale and Moore Park. While those areas also swung to the NDP, it was in very small numbers. This shows that residents in the north part of the riding were more hesitant about switching their vote. Overall, the NDP saw its largest swing in Regent Park, but also saw large swings in Church & Wellesley, the Garden District, St. James Town and Moss Park. 

If the NDP wants to win the by-election, it will have to focus its resources on the area south of Bloor. Voters in the north part of the riding are clearly resistant to voting NDP, and there is likely very little to gain by focusing on Rosedale, Yorkville or Moore Park.


I’ve discussed quite a bit about how polarized the riding is economically, and one statistic that really shows this is the difference between average income and median income. The average income of the riding is $63,000, however the median income is almost half this, at $32,000.

Second most common mother tongue (after English) by Census Tract
South of Bloor the riding is quite multicultural and diverse, while the north half of the riding is very White. Overall, 58% of residents are White. The riding also has sizeable communities of South Asians, ethnic Chinese and Blacks.
47% of the riding is Christian (almost half of which are Catholic) while 34% of residents have no religion. 8% are Muslims. 

English is the dominant language with 62% of residents being native English speakers. Chinese is the second language of the riding, with 7% of residents being native speakers. The second language map I have made shows three significant linguistic clusters in the riding. There are a large number of Chinese speakers in and around the University of Toronto campus in the western part of the riding and the northwest corner of the Garden District, which is next to Ryerson University. Many of these people could be non-voting students. St. James Town is another linguistic cluster. The neighbourhood is very linguistically diverse, by Tagalog is the largest non-English language there. Further south in Regent Park, another linguistically diverse area has Bengali as being the dominant non-English language. 


The by-election in Toronto Centre has narrowed down to a two horse race between the Liberals and the NDP.  According to the most recent Forum Research poll conducted on November 14, the Liberals lead the NDP in the riding by a 47-32% margin, which appears to be a fairly safe distance. This result would be a bigger margin of victory than the Liberals had in 2011. However, it’s possible that momentum could be in the NDP’s favour, which could mean a tightened race. As by-elections usually go, the third and fourth place parties in the riding (the Tories and Greens) may see their vote be depressed, and that could be good news for the Liberals, as the Tories are polling in the mid-teens, and the Greens at 4%.

The Liberals are running writer and journalist Chrystia Freeland who is a past writer for the Globe and Mail among other noteworthy publications. The NDP is running Linda McQuaig, who is another journalist, noted for being a left wing scribe. She is also a former Globe and Mail employee and also a writer for the Toronto Star. The mudslinging between the two candidates have been predictable, with Freeland being criticized for just moving back to Toronto in the Summer to run in the by-election (after living in New York) and McQuaig being criticized for her left wing ties, such as saluting Hugo Chavez. The sacrificial lamb for the Conservatives is Geoff Pollock, a corporate lawyer and the Greens are running John Deverell, another journalist with the Toronto Star.

If the election does tighten up, expect a similar map as in the 2011 election, with the Liberals winning in the north and the NDP in the south. A collapsed Tory vote will mean very large margins for the Liberals in Rosedale and Moore Park. To win, the NDP needs to turn out their would-be base in places like Regent Park and St. James Town. Even if the NDP loses, they could potentially win the poll count again, thanks to the giant vote sink north of Bloor where much of the Liberal vote will be from. An NDP win would be huge for the party, as it would negate a potential Liberal pickup in Brandon-Souris. However, I think an NDP win in Toronto Centre is still unlikely at this point. We’ll see what the final polls say!

Editor’s note: Expect a post on Provencher this weekend and on Brandon-Souris on Election Day Monday.


  1. I wouldn't agree that an NPD win would negate a Liberal win Brandon Souris. And NDP win in Toronto Centre was always a possibility, but a Liberal win in Brandon-Souris was never thought to be in the cards until forum started polling one. While I'd rather see that Liberals win both, a win in Brandon would be all together more surprising than a loss in Cabbagetown

  2. It's all about political spin. The Liberals will spin a Brandon victory as huge for them, while the NDP will spin a Toronto Centre victory as huge. The Liberals have held Brandon before, and also remember, neither the Reform Party nor the Canadian Alliance ever won there, so it's not a hugely conservative riding. Meanwhile, the NDP has never won Toronto Centre. Personally, I am pulling for a Liberal win in Brandon and an NDP win in Toronto Centre because that would be the most interesting result possible.