I have always been fascinated by my riding. I always tell the story of our disparate communities coming together at common places and events, like the Cabbagetown Festival in September, or the No Frills on Parliament any day of the week. These are the times and places were people with some of widest income disparities in the city – maybe even the country – co-mingle over common needs and common enjoyments.
And at Election time, I have been particularly fascinated to see the election signs out, and to see what they say about the people around me, and what they say about our neighbourhood and its priorities.
First of all – just how large is the income disparity in Toronto Centre? It seems considerable to me. The average income for the entire riding is a modest $52,484, but this riding is a contrast of extremes. It can best be measured by taking a look at three of Toronto Centre’s most well-known neighbourhoods: Rosedale, Regent Park, and St. Jamestown. They tell you all you need to know.
Rosedale remains the wealthiest neighbourhood in Toronto Centre (it is second only to the Bridle Path in terms of overall wealth in Toronto): as of 2006, it’s average income was $213,941, and was, on average, 99% white. This is also, incidentally, the only neighbourhood in Toronto Centre where I have seen a Conservative campaign sign. (I snapped the photo above on a walk through Rosedale last night on my way to the pub.)
Contrast this with Regent Park and St. Jamestown to the south. As of the 2006 census, Regent Park has 76% of its population living below Statistics Canada’s Low Income Cut-Off, and 41% of its population are under the age of 18. This problem of income disparity will only get worse with a new generation of children coming of age in Regent Park. St. Jamestown, between Regent Park and Rosedale, is the largest high-rise community in Canada, and one of the densest populations in North America. Over 17,000 people live in its 19 towers, and they come to St. Jamestown from all over the world, making it over 73% non-white. As with most recent immigrants, they arrive with little, and the average income here is only $22,341 as of 2006.
This is an average difference of over $191,000.
It is here that you find the campaign signs for the Liberals, the Green Party, and the New Democrats. This is where votes will be coming from for all of these parties, including the Communists and the Independents who emerge from within these enclaves. So often ignored in the campaign to attract voters, some candidates emerge from within. Toronto Centre had a 59.2% voter turnout in the 2008 Election, slightly higher than our poor national average.
I thought about this as I wandered north through St. Jamestown and crossed Bloor St. into Rosedale and saw the signs change last night. But there was a more noticeable shift away from fruit vendors and street markets and bustling grocery stores and into high fences, massive Black Mercedes SUV’s, and desolate streets. No one was out walking. Only a few cars passed. The orange and green and red signs gave way to blue: not many blue, but perceptible enough.
It’s never simple enough to generalize communities and their individuals voting habits, so I won’t try. As I say – I am simply fascinated by the income disparity in my own backyard, and how this influences voting trends.
But take a walk through your neighbourhood before the signs come down. You can see the place in a whole new light.