Keystone XL, the new PC party, and the Nov 25 federal by-elections
If Liberal leader Justin Trudeau is so willing to publicly state his support for the Keystone XL pipeline in Washington, why won't his candidate in Toronto Centre, Chrystia Freeland state whether she agrees with it at home?
In Brandon-Souris, they're running Rolf Dinsdale, the son of the long-time PC member of parliament, Walter Dinsdale, who has been endorsed by another former PC MP, Rick Borotsik, and the Liberals are clearly cutting into traditional Conservative Party support by embracing that tradition.
But that shift to the right – even with a fake left on marijuana policy – risks leaving the party's centre-left flank open in Toronto Centre. Hence the need to remain vague on the kinds of policy details that make it hard to straddle the middle of the political spectrum.
The week before the commentariat pounced on Trudeau's sexy fundraiser in next-door Trinity-Spadina or his speech days later in Bourassa, it was in fact his first trip to Washington as Liberal leader that started to register on the doorsteps in Toronto Centre, particularly the unequivocal support he expressed for Keystone XL.
The issue figured so prominently, that the NDP used an opposition day motion in Parliament the Thursday before the break week to raise it further and get the Liberals on the record, a debate that Trudeau missed to attend the now-infamous "ladies night" fundraiser. The motion will be voted on this Tuesday evening, November 19.
NDP support is now trending upwards in Toronto Centre in Forum tracking, as canvassers report hearing from voters in swing polls that they don't recognize the current Liberal Party. And after ducking a debate specifically on climate change, Freeland then avoided answering direct questions on Keystone from NDP candidate Linda McQuaig in the Rogers Cable debate Wednesday night, and again twice in Saturday's abbreviated all-candidates meeting at the University of Toronto. [That meeting was interrupted by several screaming fits from frequent candidate Kevin Clarke, after an earlier disruption by John Turmel, and then cancelled altogether.]
[Click photo to view the debate on CPAC]
Freeland says that she doesn't envisage any disagreements with her leader and caucus, since she will be heavily involved in drafting their policies, though that only makes her reluctance to answer the Keystone question more noteworthy. Instead her campaign started to portray her as Toronto Centre's "transit advocate" late last week. The Liberals have also tried to highlight differences between McQuaig's writings on tax policy and NDP leader Tom Mulcair's preference for corporate tax hikes over personal tax increases.
With just a week to go in the four federal by-elections, Brandon-Souris will see a few more all-candidates meetings; Bourassa has no further meetings scheduled after a single meeting last weekend where Liberal candidate Emmanuel Dubourg had to leave after 30 minutes to attend another event outside the riding; and the Conservative front-runner in Provencher, Ted Falk, has been reluctant to debate much either.
But three significant all-candidates debates remain in Toronto Centre this week, in what's looking like a closer and closer race:
- Wednesday November 20, 7 – 9 PM – hosted by the association of community associations, and moderated by John Tory (Jarvis Collegiate, 495 Jarvis St.)
- Wednesday November 20, broadcast at 8 PM (repeated at 11 PM) – on TVO's The Agenda, hosted by Steve Paikin http://theagenda.tvo.org
- Thursday November 21, 7 – 9 PM – Rosedale United Church Sanctuary, 159 Roxborough Drive
The final week of the by-election campaign will demonstrate whether the Liberals can grow out their base, from their current squeezed position in the middle, on both sides equally; or whether by shifting right to try and pick off a Tory-Conservative seat like Brandon-Souris, they've allowed a resurgent Tom Mulcair and Linda McQuaig to occupy much of the centre-left in their old Toronto Centre stomping grounds for the NDP.
POSTSCRIPT: It does look like the Liberals are trying to change the terrain of debate for the final week to their old standby: national unity. It will be interesting to which of the two issues becomes the vote-determining question for Toronto.