Chantal Hébert has made a claim today that a loss in the upcoming Vaughan by-election (yet to be announced), in which former Ontario top cop Julian Fantino is running as the Conservative candidate, could very well stop Iggy from gaining on the modest momentum he's built over his time has leader, and especially since the September 2009 fiasco.
This is true - a loss in Vaughan would hurt the Liberals, their moral, and Ignatieff's prospects as leader. And whats more, Hébert is right in pointing out that Vaughan is starting to smell like another Outremont in the making, where in 2007 the NDP had the advantage of a popular and connected candidate that hit the ground running, when the Liberals were still looking for a candidate and ended up putting in a little-known candidate named Jocelyn Coulon, handpicked by then-leader Stéphane Dion, who had no connections to the Party.
While this time around a few things are playing to the Liberal's advantage - strong local power base, prospective Liberal candidates have ties to the Party, communications and support will be better, etc. - there is certainly the prospect of losing Vaughan, especially if the Liberals cannot get their act together by the time a by-election is called, which will most likely be next week. Fantino's name recognition and star power is enough to overwhelm an underwhelming Liberal machine in what should be a safe riding for the Grits.
But, Vaughan may not necessarily end up being a total killer for the Liberals. While losing the riding would hurt, and hurt badly, people have to remember that Harper likes to call by-elections in groups, and the other by-elections likely to be called are Winnipeg North, Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette, and if the pressure to step down (from his own leader!) succeeds, Haute-Gaspésie. Winnipeg North and especially Haute-Gaspésie represent two chances for the Liberals to turn a loss of Vaughan into an aberration, if not one that bucks the trend because of local pressure.
Haute-Gaspésie is the riding which was the closest riding outside of Montréal for the Liberals in 2008. Nancy Charest, a popular former local MNA, ran for Dion's Liberals and came within 600 votes of knocking off Bloc Québécois MP Jean-Yves Roy. Close, considering that in 2006, the Liberals were third place with 14% of the vote.
Nancy Charest is back and will face off against the new Bloc pick, Jean-François Fortin. Charest was in some hot water awhile back, question Ignatieff's leadership, but things seem to have been forgiven and forgotten. Riding financials seem sound, and Charest has out and about in the riding, along with Liberal MPs and critics, trying to gain support. If the Liberals can pick up this key seat in Quebec, yet lose in Vaughan, the bleeding can be stopped, even if there will be a scar left behind from it. Ignatieff would be able to save face, point to local indicators and name recognition, and pass it off as a one-off with Fantino (and it would be). I mean, the Liberals did win a seat in Quebec, a province where they're having notorious problems. Clearly Vaughan is different!
Momentum may not be pumped up, but it would more than likely be saved and probably increase in Quebec, where we need to be up in order to win anything close to government.
Then we come to Winnipeg North, which has been vacant for several months now, ever since former NDP MP Judy Wasylicia-Leis stepped down to run for Mayor of Winnipeg. This riding is pretty much nominal NDP, but the Liberals managed to score a fairly well-known name in the riding, former MLA Kevin Lamoureaux. Mr. Lamoureaux is the closest you'll get to a "star candidate" for the Liberals in Manitoba right now, and I'm glad he's come on board. It's doubtful he will win, but he will make an impact.
Which is a good thing, because an impact is all we need (though a win would be nicer). Lamoureaux's ability to pump up Liberal support in the riding, making it somewhat relatively close against the little-known NDP candidate Kevin Chief, is a plus. Even moving into second place against the NDP would help, which I'm very sure will occur. And given that the Liberals are moving on up in Manitoba federally according to recent polls, an upset win is not out of the cards.
More support in Winnipeg North would definitely help put a loss in Vaughan even more into perspective: we increased support in these two ridings, even winning one (or two), yet we lost Vaughan. That's how the cookie crumbles, but its clear that Vaughan was really local in its scope, instead of a referendum on the national scene. Go Iggy!
Even if Charest can't win in Haute-Gaspésie, increased support in those two ridings would still give Iggy somewhat of an excuse, though not as much of one. If support increases in Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette, then there's more credibility to that. And for anyone that says support only increased because the candidate was locally known, it's easy to throw it right back in their face with Fantino. These by-elections are most likely going to be fought on the local level, and most rises or falls of support for any parties will be because of the local scene on most counts. Though the national image of the Party in question will affect the outcome in some ways, one wonders how many Conservatives will blame any rise in Liberal support on local issues and candidates, while any Liberal losses are because of Ignatieff. Hm.
So, Ms. Hébert is right - Vaughan will dampen Iggy's momentum. But only to a point, especially if the Liberals pull off a Nancy Charest win, and an upset with Kevin Lamoureaux. Now, if the Liberals drop across the board, there's some major issues going on locally, nationally, and organizationally, and I'll probably be at the forefront of questioning Mr. Ignatieff's position. But if we do lose Vaughan, an entire possibility, but we score elsewhere, I'd say Mr. Ignatieff did his job well enough to give us some hope.