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Vaughan by-election: High stakes, new opportunities

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Cross-posted from Catch 22 Harper Conservatives.

Op-ed by John Deverell*

As Chantal Hebert points out so very clearly in today's Toronto Star, the moment of democratic choice for Michael Ignatieff and the Liberal Party of Canada finally has come. 

It's precipitated in the Ontario federal riding of Vaughan where ubercop Julian Fantino has volunteered to carry the Harper Conservative banner in an upcoming by-election.

Vaughan by-election a likely momentum-killer for Ignatieff

None of those handicaps apply to the Liberals in Vaughan. If they fail to hold a seat that has long been part of their Ontario power base, the message to their MPs will be that they will have to count on their own wits rather than those of their leader to survive the next campaign...

And then, unless Ignatieff demonstrates that he has the potential to beat Harper in a general election, he will have a hard time prying anti-Conservative votes off the NDP and the Bloc Québécois in the next campaign.

Vaughan, the city above Toronto, has been a Liberal stronghold but the incumbent MP, Maurizio Bevilacqua, is retiring. Fantino, a high-profile man who always plays to win, has a very strong following.

To secure Vaughan from Conservative raiding the Liberals will need every NDP and Green vote they can muster -- but how to get them?

Ignatieff’s winning move is to convince Jack Layton and Elizabeth May that, just this once, the NDP and the Green parties should stand down in favour of a Liberal Democratic Green Alliance candidate. But why would they do it?

So far the Liberals are pretending, against all logic and evidence, that they can beat the Conservatives in a general election and form their own phony majority government.

A Fantino by-election win in a Liberal seat will shred the Ignatieff fig leaf everywhere and sink the hopes of the majority of Canadians who long desperately for an end to Harper government.

But what if Ignatieff were to transform the Vaughan challenge into a bold and sweeping initiative? What if the Liberal leader were to propose a country-wide Liberal Democratic Green Alliance in say 50 or 75 swing ridings to bring an end to the over-representation of the Harperites and the Bloc Quebecois in Ottawa?

What would it take to get Jack Layton and Elizabeth May and their nervous and frustrated loyalists to support a Liberal-led velvet revolution in Canada's Parliament?

Ignatieff would have to promise the NDP and Greens that, upon the victory of the Alliance in a general election, both would get what they have long sought -- an immediate democratic voting reform to give all Canadians equal representation of their choice in Parliament, and some other common platform commitments for the new government.

The three parties would all have to get their fair share of Alliance nominations. Assuming that a majority of voters would welcome this once-in-a-lifetime chance to end Canada's perpetual and dispiriting electoral stalemate, all three would deserve and get fair (dare we say proportional?) representation in the cabinet of the new government.

Would Layton and May be able to persuade their fretful supporters that Canada would benefit permanently from taking the calculated risk to achieve a permanent democratic reform? Probably.

Will the question even arise? That depends entirely on whether the Liberal Party really believes that the Harper "wrecking crew" must be removed from office at the first opportunity -- the next general election.

Over to you, Michael Ignatieff. The historic opportunity to lead Canada to democracy is yours.


* John Deverell was a labour, political and business reporter for 25 years at the Toronto Star before his retirement in 2004. He is a past president of Communications, Energy & Paperworkers (CEP) 87M Southern Ontario Newsmedia Guild, chair of the Fair Vote Canada Labour for Fair Voting caucus, and co-author of the 1993 book Democracy, Eh? A Guide to Voter Action.

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