The key for the provincial Liberals in holding onto the St. Paul's riding will be making sure its vote turns out, says a political veteran.

"I think St. Paul's is a really diverse riding," Andrew Steele of StrategyCorp, and a one-time adviser to Premier Dalton McGuinty, told on Wednesday about Thursday's byelection in the midtown Toronto constituency.

A total of 84,212 people are eligible to cast ballots when the polls open at 9 a.m. (112,449 live in the riding, 22.4 per cent of whom are visible minorities).

On the west side, there are working-class neighbourhoods. In the middle sits the wealthy enclave of Forest Hill. The Yonge Street corridor and east has a lot of renters, and there are solidly upper-middle-class neighbourhoods such as Davisville.

In Forest Hill, "the butler will remind them to vote -- then put in the Bentley and drive them to the polls," Steele joked.

Those people have traditionally voted Progressive Conservative -- and they traditionally haven't been Mike Harris-style angry conservatives. One-time cabinet minister Isabel Bassett, who was socially progressive and fiscally conservative, was a prototype for that riding, he said.

Many of those in St. Paul's who are renting -- and as of 2006, about 62 per cent were renters -- tend to vote Liberal, Steele said.

However, "byelections are notorious for low turnout because people don't know there's a byelection going on," he said. "The hard part for the Liberals is to get people out to vote, but I think the votes are there for them."

On Tuesday, Elections Ontario said advance voting drew out 3,359 electors over six days. In the 2007 general election, 4,450 electors voted in advance over 13 days. Turnout in the 2007 general election was 54 per cent, compared to 52.1 per cent provincially.

Weather, which can dramatically affect byelection turnout, shouldn't be a factor. Thursday's daytime high is predicted to be 20 degrees Celsius and it should be sunny.

The candidates for the four largest parties are:

  • Dr. Eric Hoskins, Liberal
  • Sue-Ann Levy, Progressive Conservatives
  • Julian Heller, NDP
  • Chris Chopik, Greens

Hoskins has an impressive resume, being a family physician and the co-founder of WarChild Canada. He doesn't live in the riding, but lives in neighbouring Trinity-Spadina and has said much of his personal business is conducted in St. Paul's.

He lost in the 2008 federal election in Haldiman-Norfolk to Conservative cabinet minister Diane Finley.

Levy is the city hall columnist for the Toronto Sun newspaper. She is Jewish in a riding that has a substantial Jewish component.

This will be the third try in the riding for Heller, a lawyer and community activist.

The issues

The NDP and Tories have both been trying to make the Harmonized Sales Tax an issue. "We'll see if they're successful. I don't know," Steele said.

On July 1, 2010, the government will merge its eight per cent Retail Sales Tax with the five per cent GST to create a 13 per cent Harmonized Sales Tax.

Steele noted the issue has gotten a lot of play in the news, but he can't tell how it will play out among voters in St. Paul's.

"It's undeniably good economic and good job-creation policy. It's just not popular," he said. "It'll be interesting to see if people don't like the policy, or if they see that it's something that helps on jobs."

St. Paul's is probably more insulated on job issues than many GTA ridings, he said.

Almost half the residents have at least some university education, making it the most educated riding in Ontario. "It's post-industrial, technocratic. People there tend to work in the arts or in finance or in law," Steele said.

While it remains to be seen how strong the HST issue is among voters, Steele said if he had been advising Hudak, he would have advised him to build Levy's campaign around the economy.

Since Queen's Park resumed on Monday, McGuinty has taken some shots from the opposition over issues such as the spending controversies at eHealth Ontario and OLG. But Steele said the attacks aren't really new, and he doubts whether such "scandals" will hurt at the polls.

Electing Levy or Heller won't necessarily lead to better spending controls because the McGuinty government is already making those moves, he said.

As a political watcher, Steele said that rather than who wins or loses, he'll more interested to see afterwards whether neighbourhoods change their votes compared to 2007.

It might be worth noting the riding is often a bellwether, usually electing a government MPP.

Former Liberal MPP Michael Bryant was one of the few to break that pattern when he knocked off Bassett in 1999. He then held the riding for the Liberals for a decade before resigning as economic development minister in late May to take the job of CEO of Invest Toronto.

Bryan stepped down from that job after fatal accident involving a cyclist on Aug. 31. He faces two serious criminal charges and has indicated he will fight those charges.