Sunday, October 20, 2013

Federal party fortunes put to the test in four federal byelections called for November 25th

Federal byelections will be held in four vacant ridings on November 25th, 2013: my own riding of Toronto Centre (my very first byelection as a voter!), as well as Bourassa in east-end Montreal, and two ridings in rural Manitoba: Provencher and Brandon-Souris.

I'll be volunteering on Liberal candidate Chrystia Freeland's campaign in Toronto Centre (spreading the word through social media, this blog and door-to-door knocking) to help showcase what a great candidate she is and what she will bring to federal politics if elected. I'm hopeful that the voters in Toronto Centre will see in Freeland a dynamic, worldly, deeply intelligent yet personable candidate who will work very hard at representing this riding in Ottawa. I endorsed her long before this byelection got called as she's brilliant and has developed a sophisticated understanding of the major economic challenges we face as a country and as a planet going forward. I want someone of Freeland's calibre representing me in Ottawa. Freeland is already playing a major role in assisting the federal Liberals in drafting modern economic policies to push the country and middle class forward by co-chairing an economic committee with Liberal MP Scott Brison. Freeland's long-held views complement Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau's own focus on strengthening the middle class.

Toronto Centre NDP candidate Linda McQuaig has a profile too as a writer and columnist. She'll likely provide Freeland's biggest challenge in this byelection. I'm sure that McQuaig's team will repeatedly attack the Alberta-born Freeland for having worked the last 11 or so years outside of Canada. But such attacks could backfire as the majority of Toronto Centre voters probably don't care much about such things. Residents in Toronto Centre are probably the most transitory in the country, with residents regularly moving in and out of the riding and many only having lived in Toronto, and even in Canada for that matter, for a short while. We are an international riding, deeply concerned about Canada's place in the world. We welcome newcomers and people who want to work hard to make Toronto Centre a better community.

It's likely that Freeland will spend the majority of her campaign talking up her experience, knowledge and what she has to offer the riding in terms of representation going forward. Based on her campaign's communications since being nominated in mid-September, I doubt that Freeland is going to spend much time attacking McQuaig personally, although some good jabs questioning McQuaig's flip-flopping on higher taxes would be welcome. I do hope that Freeland vigorously defends herself against NDP attacks.

In Montreal's Bourassa riding, the battle will be between the Liberals and New Democrats as well. Liberal candidate Emmanuel Dubourg, a former MNA for a portion of the area, will face off against lawyer and musician Stephane Moraille of the NDP in the traditional Liberal stronghold. The Grits will be working hard to increase their margins of victory over the NDP in both Bourassa and Toronto Centre. With their party running high in public opinion polls for months, how that support translates on the ground in these two seats will be illuminating.

How well the Liberals can do in the two rural Manitoba seats will also be informative. The Grits placed distant third or fourth places in those ridings in the 2011 election, with the Conservatives garnering between 64% and 70% of the vote. But a botched Conservative nomination process in Brandon-Souris this time has left many local Conservatives there fuming. It's likely many of them won't bother to turn out to vote in this byelection, while other conservatives may switch their votes to the Grits in protest. The high profile candidacy of Liberal nominee Rolf Dinsdale, the son of the area's former longtime Conservative MP Walter Dinsdale, could see the Liberal vote in that riding jump from a pathetic 5% in 2011 to what could easily challenge the Conservatives, whose vote will undoubtedly drop. Winning outright for the Grits will be a tall order, but not completely impossible, which is amazing to write considering the riding's history.

If the Liberals manage to run strong second places to the Conservatives in the two Manitoba seats, displacing the NDP in both ridings, as well as handily winning their strongholds in Toronto and Montreal, then Justin Trudeau's Liberals will continue to show that they've got the most momentum of the two main opposition parties in Ottawa. It will further reinforce the growing impression that the federal NDP is going nowhere but down and that progressive voters looking for a real, governing alternative to the Conservatives should return to the Liberal fold as soon as possible.

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