Sunday, November 23, 2014

Byelections set to test Grit comeback

OTTAWA—Four federal byelections today will provide a test of just how far back from the wilderness the Liberals have come under the leadership of Justin Trudeau.
While they’re not necessarily harbingers of what’s to come in next year’s general election, the two Toronto and two Alberta ridings up for grabs may go some ways toward answering some questions about the current political landscape.

Which among the NDP and Liberal parties is best positioned to challenge the Harper government in 2015? How well or not have Conservative attacks on Trudeau worked so far?
And as unlikely as it seems, are there signs of life for the Liberals in wild rose country—a Grit wasteland since Trudeau’s late father imposed the reviled national energy program more than three decades ago.
The most crucial test today likely will be in Trinity-Spadina, where the Liberals are going all-out to steal a seat held by the NDP since 2006 by Olivia Chow, the widow of beloved former party leader Jack Layton.
Chow resigned to run for mayor of Toronto.
An upset in that downtown Toronto riding would constitute a huge boost for Liberals and a big blow for New Democrats in the battle for position as the alternative in voters’ minds to the Harper Conservatives.
Liberals not only would have the satisfaction of besting the party that vaulted past them in 2011, reducing the so-called natural governing party to a humiliating third-party rump, they’d also be grabbing a seat which always has tended to be something of a bellweather.
When the Liberals have won Trinity-Spadina in the past, they’ve also won power nationally; when the NDP won the riding, the Conservatives won the country.
Initially, it appeared unlikely the Liberals could mount a strong challenge in the riding.
NDP candidate Joe Cressy—a tireless, young social activist with close ties to the Chow and Layton families—got a head start on campaigning while Liberals indulged in a messy internal feud over Trudeau’s decision to bar Christine Innes, who had lost twice in the past to Chow, from seeking the nomination.
But the party’s prospects appeared to change after popular city councillor Adam Vaughan announced his intention to run for the Liberals.
In the other Toronto riding, Scarborough-Agincourt, the Liberals are fighting to hang onto a seat that’s been the personal fiefdom of bare-knuckle political brawler Jim Karygiannis for 25 years.
The Conservatives should hang on to the two Alberta seats—particularly Macleod in the south, where retired Tory Ted Menzies won with 77.5 percent of the vote in 2011.
But further north, the Liberals have poured resources into Fort McMurray, the heart of Alberta’s oilsands industry where the party ran third with a meagre 10 percent of the vote in 2011.
Liberal candidate Kyle Harrietha maintains the Harper government takes Fort McMurray for granted.
He also promises to be “the squeaky wheel” that goads the government into treating the area “like real communities, not just work camps.”
Most observers say it would take a miracle for the Liberals to actually win the riding, but they’re hopeful they can pull off another Brandon-Souris—the Manitoba Tory fortress that nearly fell to the resurgent Grits in a byelection late last year.

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