Monday, October 25, 2010

It's on in Vaughan

I know, I know, everyone's all excited about the big T.O. mayoralty election today. At least, those of us in this neck of the woods. Will it be Ford or will it be the Smitherman, we shall see this evening. Good luck to everyone out there working hard to get out the vote.

In the background, yesterday, the writ was dropped for three federal by-elections to take place on November 29th and among them is the Vaughan riding which has attracted much attention. A few thoughts here...

First, this Postmedia report had a quote offering a reasonable take on the big picture for that race, devoid of spin:
“The opposition does well in byelections because it’s often a way for people who are disenchanted to voice that, but there can also be times where an individual candidate with a lot of name recognition can have a lot of media prominence.”
That seems to be a reasonable statement of the conventional wisdom that opposition parties tend to do well but with the proviso that a star candidate can upset the apple cart. That's what might happen in Vaughan given the obvious high profile candidacy of Conservative Julian Fantino. The rest of the spin we've been seeing, largely driven by Conservatives seeking to set expectations high for the Liberals, is just that. The Conservative 2010 spin is similar to their 2009 spin, by the way.

Speaking of which...the most recent federal by-election precedents, the four held last November, are probably the most useful to determine what might happen in Vaughan. And among those results, the Montmagny race in particular is a helpful parallel. That was a strong Bloc riding, the conventional wisdom said it would stay Bloc, yet it ended up in Conservative hands. How? They recruited a star for that area, a former local mayor who proved popular, Bernard Genereux. Then the Harper Conservatives flooded the riding with federal dollars. That play from the 2009 playbook seems to be on again. Will they exceed the $242 million that poured into the Montmagny riding on the eve of that vote? Something to watch for.

The Prime Minister has already kicked off the federal business intermingling with the partisan with his same day Fantino announcement/small business innovation programme announcement. ("The Prime Minister's Office insisted the press conference was about showcasing a successful and innovative small business, and not about boosting support for Fantino.") Let's count the Vaughan announcements over the next month.

As for what this race might mean for Michael Ignatieff, that's not really the issue in Vaughan and it's hard to see how it will be coming out of it. With respect to the Outremont suggestion and more portents of Liberal unrest, fall 2007 Dion circumstances seem quite different from fall 2010 Ignatieff circumstances. Fall of 2010 is a better place for a Liberal leader. The summer bus tour was a success and the fall, thus far, has seen the defeat of the gun registry repeal effort. Policies are being rolled out and are being well received. Choices are shaping up, there's a more concrete sense of alternatives on offer. Narratives against this government are beginning to take hold. That's much tougher to accomplish in this internet, hyped up news cycle era. But overall, the air feels much different and even if there were to be a loss in Vaughan, the doomsaying present in that Hebert column doesn't seem to capture the moment.

The parallel with Outremont is not a neat one geographically either. The NDP broke through in the middle of a Liberal fortress. An orange shot amidst the red that was a real breakthrough. That's not what we'd see with this race in the GTA. Conservative Peter Kent holds Thornhill which borders Vaughan and he won it by 10 points. The blue is there, neighbouring Vaughan, so a Conservative win wouldn't be as shocking.

Now having said all that, there's going to be a fight for that seat. Ignatieff has said so and is not shying away. There is a good locally rooted Liberal candidate, Tony Genco who is now nominated and ready to go. If the Liberals fight hard in Vaughan and lose, they'll have lost to a star candidate and put up a good fight. If the Liberals fight hard and win, they'll have maintained the seat. Either way, certainly no cause for doom.