The time for Stephane Dion's one shot at taking up residence at 24 Sussex Drive is quickly approaching. The NDP are ready to take down the government. The Bouchard/Taylor report on reasonable accommodation is due on March 31. This will be used as a rallying cry for the Bloc. The Liberals will not be able to sit out a budget vote in order to force an election at a more convenient time.
The writ has been dropped for by elections on March 17th in four ridings. Vancouver, Saskatchewan and two Toronto ridings have all been left vacant by Liberals. It is still too early to guess if the government will be toppled before the by elections are held. The Liberals should easily maintain control of all four ridings. Losing a single seat will spell the same disaster as the loss of Outremont except there will not be time to regroup before a general election.
This riding has been Liberal since John Turner took over in 1984. Some experts have predicted this is the Conservatives best shot at winning a seat. The chances of a change are very slim.
Rookie MP Gary Merasty won this riding by a mere 67 votes. This party has traditionally bounced around between different parties. Dion has hand picked NDP MPP Joan Beatty to run.
The optics of this appointment are bad. Beatty was reelected to the Saskatchewan legislature just over a month ago. She had been approached to run federally before the provincial election. She declined because she thought the NDP were going to be returned to office. Not only is she a turncoat but she is willing to turn her backs on her constituents when her party has been sent to the opposition benches. If her nomination had not been guaranteed the decision to contest for the Liberal party nomination after being elected would have been more palatable.
The decision also shafted David Orchard who had declared he wanted to run. He was a big supporter of getting Dion chosen leader. Overriding the nomination process is an effective way to alienate Liberal supporters. In some cases people spend lots of time and money trying to land the nomination. In the long run this hurts the parties ability to fund raise and generate volunteers at a time when help is needed the most. The Conservatives have come under fire recently for refusing to sign nomination papers. This decision weakens the Liberals ability to launch their standard criticism of Harper for being too controlling and micromanaging his party members. The Liberal justification that wanted a female candidate is an insult to women across the country.
This riding has been Liberal since Bill Graham took office in 1993. With the Conservatives unable to break through in Toronto, Bob Rae should have no problem taking this riding. Rae has learned from his failings as NDP Premier and has gone on to build a successful political career. His position as Foreign Affairs critic will help him as the discussion turns to Canada's role in Afghanistan. There are some who will never forgive or forget his record as Premier. This should not stop him from winning the riding.
Martha Hall-Findlay is the Liberal candidate. Her federal political career includes losing an election to Belinda Stronach. She than lost her Liberal nomination when Stronach crossed the floor to join the Liberals. She was one of the non-contender candidates in the Liberal leadership convention. Running in a Toronto riding should give her the bump to finally get elected. She is in tough competition against Conservative Maureen Harquail. Harquail is a former environment lawyer who has military training. She should be able to keep things interesting.
Dion is shifting the Liberal party to the already crowded left side of the political spectrum. This gives him a tough ride against the NDP and Green Party while leaving the centre open for the Conservatives to retain votes from Red Tories and gain support form right leaning Liberals. Anything but a clean sweep of the by elections will create further rifts in the Liberal party that will be costly at election time. Under Dion's leadership even the safest riding have become a source of concern.