In East York, Liberal incumbents tossed; Tories, NDP gain

The national political landscape shook on Monday night — and the tremors rumbled through East York.

Nationally, the Conservatives gained enough seats to form a majority government, and locally, they took Liberal stronghold Don Valley West in a high-pitched squeaker… with a 639 vote plurality, out of 53,506 cast.

The New Democrats have surged into the role of official Opposition, and leader Jack Layton hit a home run in his home riding of Toronto-Danforth. Next door in Beaches-East York, the Liberal MP for the last 18 years has been defeated by an NDP newcomer.

As of about 2 a.m. Tuesday morning, the numbers…. In Don Valley West, with all polls reporting, Conservative challenger John Carmichael has 22,992 votes, verses Liberal incumbent Rob Oliphant’s 22,353. That’s a difference of 1.2 percentage points. Voter turnout was 66.7 per cent. In Toronto-Danforth, NDP incumbent Jack Layton led his runner-up by more than 20,000 votes; with all polls reporting, Layton got 28,998 votes and Liberal challenger Andrew Lang got 8,463. Voter turnout there: 66.3 per cent. And in Beaches-East York, with 213 out of 219 polls reporting, New Democrat challenger Matthew Kellway has beaten incumbent Liberal Maria Minna, 19,316-13,974. Turnout was 64.4 per cent.

Those voter turnouts were all ahead of the national average of 60.5 per cent.

The closest race was in Don Valley West, traditionally the most politically conservative of the three ridings, and one that political observers had considered a particular Tory target this time.

There, Liberal Rob Oliphant and Conservative John Carmichael ran a rematch of their rivalry three years ago. That was after Oliphant, then a United Church minister and former accountant, won the Liberal nomination following the retirement of Liberal M.P. John Godfrey. He faced Carmichael, a car dealer and veteran Conservative candidate, who had already secured the Tory nomination a year prior. The two battled to the closest call in East York on that 2008 election night as well; but that time, Oliphant won, by fewer than 3,000 votes out of more than 50,000 cast.

A story earlier this year in the respected Hill Times newspaper, specializing in federal politics, listed Don Valley West as one of 45 ridings across the country that the Conservative party’s national apparatus would work especially hard to flip to its side.

Almost simultaneously, a leak from the office of Jason Kenney, the Conservative immigration minister, revealed a plan to target so-called “ethnic” ridings with specialized campaign advertising. Don Valley West wasn’t among the handful of ridings specifically listed in the plan, but the concentration of recent immigrants in the southern end of the riding — especially around the apartment blocks of Thorncliffe Park and Flemingdon Park — were a good fit for the Conservative plan.

In Toronto-Danforth, meanwhile, incumbent Jack Layton — the federal NDP leader — multiplied his margin of victory from 2008, when he finished more than 7,000 votes ahead. This time, the margin over the same Liberal rival was almost three times that. That rival was Andrew Lang, son of Trudeau-era justice minister Otto Lang.

Layton has been telling interviewers that while he’s noticeably thinner and using a cane, his recent hip operation and treatment for prostate cancer have gone well — and he’s dealt well with the rigours of campaigning. So well that the New Democrats caught fire nationally in the closing days of the campaign, and Layton is now Opposition leader-designate — replacing Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, who lost in his own riding, and whose party has been reduced to third-party status nationally.

In Beaches-East York, meanwhile, incumbent Liberal Maria Minna — first elected in 1993 — was defeated by New Democrat and political newcomer Matthew Kellway. Published reports indicated a particular push by the New Democrats’ national campaign to capture the riding.