Peter Kent, who Stephen Harper has put in charge of winning more Conservative votes in Toronto with an eye to forming a majority government, boldly predicts last year’s change in the city’s political tack means good things for Tories in the next election.Yes, that's right, people: Harper put Peter Kent in charge of winning his majority from the Toronto region next election. And his strategy so far is to: a) rely on Rob Ford; b) say people voting for other parties are silly; and c) reading further on, is reading a lot into Fantino's election.
Speaking om CTV's Question Period Sunday, Mr. Kent said the election of “quite a different Toronto municipal council and mayor” points to that political awakening in the country’s largest city.
... “I think that in Toronto, as in Montreal and Vancouver – the three big urban centres in Canada – voters have tended to vote by habit and haven’t been paying attention to, certainly in the last five years, the very good government that Stephen Harper and his government have provided to the cities,” Mr. Kent said.
The new Environment Minister said it is his job to remind Torontonians they have a choice and “they don’t have to go with parties representing the opposition coalition, and they should, should look to even better government with a majority Conservative government.
Okay, Mr. Kent, I'll bite. Let's discuss this, shall we? Point by point. Let's go:
1. Rob Ford shows Torontonians are willing to vote for conservatives
So did Mel Lastman's back-to-back, and far more impressive, victories. However, in both the 1997 and 2000 elections, the Liberals easily outdistanced other parties, including the combined fortitude of the Progressive Conservatives and Reform/Alliance parties. That's not a good start to this theory.
Let's also remember that Rob Ford's election may not necessarily prove to be a boon to conservative ideology, as much as it was a rejection of the 7 years of David Miller's rule. Ford was the biggest break from that continuity, much more so than Smitherman, and definitely Pantalone. You can confirm this in two ways: one, the fact that a slew of right-wing candidates weren't elected to Council, and two, that polling has yet to show the Conservatives getting any sort of advantage because of Ford's election in Toronto.
There's also an issue surrounding the idea of whether or not Toronto voters consider Ford and Harper's Conservatives the same thing. Remember, you guys don't exactly have the fiscal numbers to back your positions up, given your huge deficit and your incumbent status. You can easily take hits on those two points, given that the Liberals will drive home "planes and prisons" an awful lot, and will probably get a sympathetic ear; and of course, if Ford's election represented a break from the incumbent Miller's rule (or at the very least, the idea of it), why do you think your incumbent status will change anyone's mind?
Face it, Ford's election wasn't very pro-conservative, because it was more about incumbency, change, and new directions. It will not benefit you in any major way, and it certainly doesn't represent a huge shift in Torontonian's voting habits. At least, no more than Naheed Nenshi's victory would boost the Liberals in a major way in Calgary.
2. Torontonians will benefit from voting for the government instead of the Opposition
We've heard this line before, and while there's a certain ring to it, Torontonians have yet to see to voting for the governing Conservatives yet. This is because the idea of "voting with winners" only has so much appeal among the electorate. While its nice to be a winner, that option has yet to become a major force in how voters choose who they support yet, as far as I know. Otherwise, we wouldn't even be discussing this. Or, you could just visit all your Conservative colleagues Newfoundland for proof.
Further into this reasoning is that the Conservative government has been "good" to the city for its past five years in government. Mhm. So good that you demote ministers for supporting Toronto's Gay Pride Parade, and your attack dogs continuously refer to people from the area as "Toronto elites," and not in any good sense of the term. Hm. Need I go much further?
3. Fantino showed it could be done
And so did you, Mr. Kent. After all, winning Thornhill was no easy task. Neither was winning Whitby-Ajax for Jim Flaherty. But one thing you have to remember: unless you can win on a large swing in the City, you will not go very far.
Let's remember that of the 11 Conservative ridings in the GTA, 6 of them already had a strong Conservative base. Of the other 5, two of them could be considered "flukes" - Mississauga-Erindale and Oak Ridges-Markham - and not-easily-held-on-to, given that there is less than 1% difference between our parties. That leaves three ridings - yours, Fantino's, and Flaherty's. These are the only ridings which don't fit into the regular Conservative fold and were your biggest upsets, and were won because all three of you are star candidates. If it hadn't been Mr. Flaherty in 2006, he probably wouldn't have won over Judi Longfield; if it wasn't you in 2008, I doubt anyone would have won over Susan Kadis. And if Fantino hadn't run in the recent by-election, Vaughan wouldn't be yours right now.
Put more simply: star power counts. Unless you guys can run a star in every riding, then you have a lot of your work cut out for you. Other ridings similar to Vaughan without Fantino's gravity as a candidate won't fall easily to your party. So, while you three can show us that Conservatives can certainly win in Liberal-leaning ridings, it probably isn't so for your lesser-known friends.
But of course, there are close ridings in Toronto itself that are worth looking at for your party. Like, for instance, Don Valley West, where John Carmichael (your guy) came within 6% (or about 3,000 votes) of beating Rob Oliphant (our guy). Or York Centre, where it was about a 2,000 vote difference. Enticing, no?
Much like Mississauga-Erindale or others along those lines, these ridings are ones that, yes, you do have a shot in. But like the others, expect them to be very close, and given the strengthened Liberal hand in Ontario right now, you may not be able to count on them anymore. And that is your party's problem, Mr. Kent; you can win, certainly, but you either have to depend on a large or built-up swing, or you must have a star candidate able to appeal to voters. Of course, as Vaughan showed, even that may not be enough. You're already at an inherent disadvantage, and Fantino's election has not made it any easier.
In conclusion: good luck, Mr. Kent, because you will need it. Your party is facing a huge Liberal obstacle, and while I don't dare say you can't do it, you're not exactly who I'll be putting money down on. Maybe you can make some better decisions over at Environment Canada....