November 29th: A Day of reckoning – Keith Beardsley’s View From the Hill – Cornwall Ontario

Cornwall ON – November 29th will see the bye-election in Vaughan come to an end. It will also see two others settled as well, although I bet most Canadians couldn’t name where they are being held. For those interested, the other two are both in Manitoba in the ridings of Winnipeg North and Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette.

Vaughan is important for a number of reasons and not just whether or not Ignatieff will face another setback. Harper also has a lot hanging on the Vaughan results.

For the Conservatives to win a majority (without success in Quebec) they have to pick up a lot of seats in urban and suburban ridings across Ontario. This means that the Conservatives will have to win in several more Liberal strongholds.

Frankly they need a break through in our larger metropolitan centres and to do so they will need policies that are attractive to urban and suburban voters. Passing a stack of crime bills might help, but crime isn’t the only issue that concerns urban voters.  Vaughan will give the government a chance to assess the attractiveness of their present policies to these voters. If changes are necessary, they still have time to make adjustments before the next election.

Typically Conservative spinners downplay the potential for a win in Vaughan as they repeatedly point out that it is a long time Liberal stronghold. But to win in Ontario, you have to beat Liberals and in this case the Conservatives have a high profile candidate, no incumbent and a weak federal Liberal party. Pretty good conditions for a potential win.

Ignatieff also has a lot riding on the results. A loss will send a signal to his Ontario caucus that none of their seats can be considered a safe bet in the next election. Almost certainly this will lead to a number of his Ontario MPs deciding not to run again. With the majority of his caucus being from Ontario, a loss in this Liberal stronghold will be hard for them to swallow, the knives will be out for the leader.

All of this helps to explain some of the silliness in Question Period where the Liberals and Conservatives waste time with accusations and counter accusations about the candidates in the Vaughan bye-election. It might make for great partisan rhetoric in the House, but I doubt the voters are glued to their TV at 2:15 breathlessly waiting for an answer on who spent what and when.

Keith Beardsley is a senior strategist for True North Public Affairs in Ottawa, as well as a blogger and political analyst. He can often be found running or cycling on his favorite bike trails.

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