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Thornhill an uphill battle for everyone

No candidate is likely to have it easy in one of province’s tightest races, pundits say

The crystal balls of political soothsayers are cloudy on the question of who will carry the crucial riding of Thornhill in the Oct. 10 provincial election.

With a recent electoral history of claustrophobically tight races, both incumbent Liberal MPP Mario Racco and Progressive Conservative star candidate Peter Shurman have good reason to be dreaming of victory – and dreading defeat.

“Thornhill is undoubtedly one of the bellwethers of this election,” says Patrice Dutil, associate professor of politics at Ryerson University. “The margins of victory in the last two elections were razor thin, and this is likely to repeat itself again this time.”

Racco beat incumbent PC Tina Molinari by only 796 votes in 2003. The 1999 provincial race was decided in a photo finish, with Molinari beating Liberal Dan Ronen by a scant 343 votes.

“Impossible to say,” said Ward 5 Councillor Alan Shefman when asked who he thought might win. “It’s very tough to say who has the greater advantage.”

While entering the race as an incumbent has proven a harbinger of defeat in Thornhill the past two provincial elections, observers say it will play in Racco’s favour this time.

“Mario Racco has an advantage because of his history here,” said Victor Schiralli, Catholic school trustee for area 5. “But Peter Shurman is also well spoken, a very smart guy.

“It’s a tough one to call.”

Shurman’s star status as a radio talk show host may give his campaign the sort of boost that could sway a close race in his favour.

“Peter Shurman’s candidacy in this riding may make a real difference,” Dutil said. “But he has to rise to the occasion like any other candidate.

“He has to campaign hard and he has to get his supporters out.”

Casting a long shadow over Thornhill, a riding that the 2001 census indicates is 36 percent Jewish, is the question of faith-based school funding. Opinion is split among political observers as to whether it will be a difference maker on election night.

“Clearly, for people who have their children in faith-based schools, it’s a very important issue,” Shefman said. “No question about that.

“But for the vast majority of people who live in this riding, this is not an issue. Let’s not make this more of an issue than it is.”

Regional Councillor Joyce Frustaglio disagrees, and considers private school funding “a serious issue”.

“(Thornhill) will be run on issues, not on the person,” she said. “It’s going to be on party policy.”

Though saying he believes in the principle of extending faith-based funding to other religious groups, Schiralli said he doesn’t think it will sway enough voters one way or the other.

“I don’t think issues are going to win it,” Schiralli said. “I think it’s the candidate who works the hardest that’s going to win it.”

Also running in Thornhill, though not expected to have much impact, are Sandra Parrott for the NDP, Lloyd Helferty for the Green Party, Nathan Kidd for the Family Coalition Party, Lindsay King for the Freedom Party and independent Malcolm Kojokaro.

In 2003, the NDP, Green Party and Freedom Party combined for less than 8 percent of the vote.

Though it’s still early in the campaign, the two main contenders are way ahead of the pack in a race that might just be too close to call until every vote is counted.

“The party that wins in Thornhill may well be the winner at Queen’s Park,” Dutil said.

Vaughan Today 
Friday, September 14, 2007 
Page: 1
Byline: Philip Alves