The only thing missing from Cathy Crowe’s victory party was the victory.
In Thursday’s Toronto-Centre provincial by-election Crowe, a well known street nurse and star candidate for the NDP, earned 8,685 votes (31 per cent), nearly doubling the party’s previous performance in the riding but not enough to claim the Liberal stronghold.
Glen Murray, a former mayor of Winnipeg and the Liberal’s own star candidate, held the seat with 12,327 votes, or 47 per cent of ballots cast.
The by-election, called to replace former provincial energy minister George Smitherman, now running for mayor of Toronto, was considered a bell-weather for Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty; his Liberal government has been under fire for a series of spending scandals, the harmonized sales tax and discontent over the economy.
But by the end of the night what had been touted as a horse race turned out to be more of a sleep walk, with voters in the demographically diverse, downtown riding staying away in droves. Out of 93,198 eligible voters, only 26,204 ventured out to cast a ballot, a participation rate of 28 per cent.
Eight candidates contested the seat, including the Progressive Conservative’s Pamela Taylor, who pulled in 4,030 (15.4 per cent) of the votes, and the Green Party’s Stefan Premdas, who won 806 votes, for 3.1 per cent.
At NDP headquarters, located in the ABC Ballroom of the Ramada Plaza on Jarvis Street, Thursday night, expectations ran high as Crowe mounted an early lead in the vote count, only to see it slip away as more polling stations reported in.
One hour after the polls closed Crowe conceded and was gracious in defeat, telling supporters the vote was clearly a moral victory:
“We gave them [the Liberals] one heck of a run for their money, there’s no question about it,” Crowe said. “Things were daily, daily improving for us.”
With only 24 days on the campaign trail Crowe said “democracy needs a little more time,” but she had no regrets, telling campaign workers they had succeeded in making a difference on the ground.
The NDP’s campaign battle to save Toronto Grace Hospital was a case in point, she said: “it gave a lot of credibility to our race.”
The 101-year-old hospital, located in Toronto-Centre, received a last-minute stay-of- execution from province on Thursday, a move seen as a ‘Hail Mary pass’ by the Liberals to the hold the riding from the NDP, which appeared to be gaining traction with the issue.
“Within days of the campaign we had housing press conferences happening by the premier, we had the premier hold off on hospital cuts,” said Crowe. “It wasn’t about the small things, it was about the big things.”
Both federal NDP leader Jack Layton and provincial leader Andrea Horwarth were at the party’s campaign headquarters and spoke to supporters, praising Crowe for the ‘huge difference’ she made in improving the party’s fortunes in the riding.
“I think the government’s arrogance at the beginning of this campaign was sadly trounced by the NDP,” said Horwath. “Our candidate did a great job.”
Although the outcome wasn’t what Crowe had been hoping for, she was still optimistic about the her future in the riding, saying a second run for the seat, expected in 2011, would be ‘quite tempting.’