Ignatieff stop energizes Ferri’s faithful

10 Apr

Liberal candidate Mario Ferri, left, takes a moment at Saturday's festivities to pose with Danny Santilli and his 10-year-old son Christian, of Woodbridge.

An apparent snubbing of a young local reporter should not be what is remembered about Michael Ignatieff’s campaign stop in Vaughan on Saturday. So minor was the incident itself, occurring near the end as Ignatieff was preparing to board the bus, that it might have gone unnoticed altogether were it not for the strange juxtaposition of rhetoric and its implied contradiction.

The Liberal leader was only moments removed from milking, to the delight of the partisan crowd, the perception of Prime Minister Stephen Harper as a control freak for placing limitations on the number of questions the media can pose at campaign events — and declaring that he, himself, would answer any and all questions from the media.

But that’s Ignatieff’s personal row to hoe. It should not overshadow the remarkable job he did to energize the local faithful, and to boost the spirits and the fortunes of Mario Ferri, who is trying to unseat Conservative Julian Fantino in Vaughan.

Drawn quite naturally by the star power of Ignatieff himself, hundreds turned out to Ferri’s community barbecue and to mingle with other Liberal party luminaries at the candidate’s Weston and Rutherford headquarters. And Ignatieff didn’t disappoint. Rock star or travelling evangelist, he could easily have been mistaken for either. His presence ratcheted up the excitement level at a party that already was in full swing when his entourage arrived.

While I find the classical ceremony, prepared and flawless choreography, and the implied dignity of the Harper-Fantino approach impressive in its own right, the Liberals turned my head by living rather than merely reciting their message on Saturday. And in this absence of austerity, none of the devoted seemed compelled to fall down in solemn worship when Ignatieff arrived; they wanted his autograph instead!

That, to me, is the sharpest contrast between the two front-running parties as the May 2 federal election draws near. Both are convinced that they have ultimate truth, and that the opponent is in grave error, but the only thing the observer knows for sure is how their convictions are evidenced in the way they live. (The warmth of joy is pleasing to experience, but that is not to say there is no meaning in reverent solemnity.)

Ignatieff was clearly in his element in that festive environment. And substance of the message delivered (and validity of charges leveled against his foes) aside, the juiced up faithful left inspired and reassured.

As for the matter of his brushing off the cub reporter at the end, it bears mentioning that a memo had gone out to all the media on Friday, declaring the event to be a photo-op only, with no question-and-answer period. That said, Ignatieff sort of undid the memo in his pumped-up sermon.

The kid can be forgiven for not realizing he might be breaching protocol. And, just on a human level, he deserved better than to have the Old Man he just approached (dignitary, idol, messiah or whatever) turn away from him as though he wasn’t there. The requirements of a good citizen dictate that.

— Dan Hoddinott


Some lasting impressions

8 Apr

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, stumping for Vaughan MP Julian Fantino, dropped in on the Joe and Mary Padone household in Woodbridge on Thursday.

That’s what this election campaign was missing: a good media scrum.

The campaign cycle leading up to the May 2 federal election has only a little better than three weeks to go, but the faceoff between Conservative incumbent Julian Fantino and Liberal challenger Mario Ferri in Vaughan hasn’t seen a lot of firepower. The promised explosion from Tony Genco’s breathtaking defection to Fantino’s camp hasn’t really panned out, the NDP has been silent and the showing by the Greens (they with the multi-purpose Norbert signs) has been as yet a circus. The leading candidates have both had occasion to publicly state their positions, but there hadn’t been any events.

Enter Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who knows how to stage an event.

When the Conservative re-election buses rolled into town on Thursday, the whole affair — from Fantino’s re-election effort in Vaughan to Harper’s national agenda — took on an air of importance, and the election seemed to be about something after all.

I was part of the media scrum that descended with the Harper-Fantino entourage on the Padone family residence on Embassy Drive in Woodbridge. While a few brief sentences can do no more to describe the scope of the event than they could to capture the entirety of the Conservative platform as outlined by Harper and Fantino in the Padones’ backyard, I do believe two impressions I came away with pretty well put into perspective the essence of this election.

First, the entire event was a picture of efficiency. For all the negative press Harper gets for his tendency to control his environment, I was impressed with the choreography (not to mention the courtesy and good humour of his people) in moving a lot of people and equipment in and out of the staging area inside a very tight window of opportunity. And watching the prime minister, himself well-choreographed and prepared, I was struck by this thought: Harper’s brought his A game. He’s in it to win it!

The other thing of note was a remark by Fantino. Yes, he mentioned “coalition” probably as many times as Harper did in referring to the opposition parties — without ever feeling moved to define the transgression — but a remark he made about the spirit with which members of the Bloc Québécois occupy the House of Commons was sobering: Bloc members won’t even come into the House in the morning, he said, to sing the national anthem with the rest of Canada’s MPs; they wait until the anthem is done, and then file in.

Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff will be in Vaughan to stump with Ferri on Saturday. I haven’t had occasion to be part of an Ignatieff event so far in this election cycle, so I have not yet formed an opinion. I will say this: Harper is going to be a tough act to follow.

For his own sake, if not for yours, Ferri needs to have Ignatieff draw a do-not-cross line between himself and the Bloc when he is here on Saturday. Coalitions by definition are not contrary to the spirit of parliamentary democracy, so the “coalition” idea the Conservatives use as a wrecking ball may not be fairly used against either Ferri or Ignatieff, for all I know. But coalitions forged such that a party which makes a point of not pledging allegiance to the country gets a hand in its governance should be a concept that disgusts any potential prime minister.

Dan Hoddinott

Signs of disarray

5 Apr

Claudia Rodriguez-Larrain, and not Norbert Koehl, is believed to be running for the Green Party in Vaughan.

Leave it to the Greens to mess with form. People like me, who have an inexplicable soft spot for the Green Party in spite of their best efforts to dissuade us, are tempted to spin their constant state of disarray as “thinking outside the box”. The evidence suggests, however, that the frustrated fan base wants victory more than does the party itself.

Norbert Koehl’s election signs at the corner of Jane and Rutherford were on the ground this morning. I don’t know if it was the work of an angry god, or merely someone in Claudia Rodriguez-Larrain’s camp thinking better of posting signs that promote someone else as the party candidate in a riding in which she is to run.

I suspect the latter, even  for a brand that appears to value party over personality, and percentages gained over actual seats, election to election. I only suspect these things; I don’t really know, because making contact is easier said than done.

On Monday I received an email response from Rachael Lave, who identifed herself as Rodriguez-Larrain’s campaign assistant. She told me that Rodriguez-Larrain is indeed running, but did not mention the signs proclaiming Koehl as the Green Party candidate. The email went to my personal account; ignored was a request to be contacted at Vaughan Today. Furnished were a phone number (unattended and without voice mail when I called), a Twitter handle and a website URL (which won’t be active until Friday). And in case anyone’s counting, the link to the Green Party Association of Vaughan website was also a dud.

Just to be clear, the soft spot for the Green Party doesn’t extend all the way to love,  so I stop short of allowing myself to indulge in irrational hope. But even if it is just once, I’d like to see the party demonstrate that it takes the election process as seriously as do its faithful followers.

— Dan Hoddinott

Getting ready for prime time

4 Apr

Finding information as basic as just who is running, and where, in the May 2 federal election has been surprisingly difficult, considering we’re living in an era of supposed instant information. I’m sure we’ve been spoiled by sure hits all the time in other aspects of information hunting, so when we encounter disarray in data-dishing for a very public event, such as an election, the shortcomings may seem more glaring than they really are.

Take the riding of Vaughan as an example. We told you, pretty much as it happened, that Mario Ferri, running for the Liberal party, would be challenging Conservative incumbent Julian Fantino. But that was a week ago. In an election cycle that will last scarcely a month and with the rapid-fire action characteristic of Vaughan political races, that feels like a lifetime. So it does come as a surprise to see the Elections Canada website still listing Fantino as the only registered candidate in Vaughan.

There is no controversy there; Ferri has been registered. Elections Canada simply hasn’t updated the site. In fact, a final list of candidates won’t be posted until Wednesday, April 13.

Now, if my eyes don’t deceive me, a third player has appeared on the scene in Vaughan: Green Party signs promoting candidate Norbert Koehl began popping up on Maple street corners on Sunday. However, no supporting evidence could be found on the Internet; to the contrary, the party’s website lists Claudia Rodriguez-Larrain as the candidate in Vaughan, and Koehl in Thornhill — both realities of previous elections, not this one. And an email attempt at making contact with the party (Gmail…ugh!) also failed to yield results.

Is it possible that the Internet is simply not ready to take over as the primary platform for communicating major events? Eek! Or is this relative chaos more to do with the usual suspects not being able to get themselves ready for prime time? While I would wish to make the case that content providers sometimes need reminding there is an audience ready, waiting and expectant, I am sobered by the tepid response I’ve seen to online polls, both here and on other local sites.

Ready or not, the Internet is going to be the primary platform for election coverage in Vaughan Today — here and on the main site. This abrupt election call has been a rude imposition on our magazine’s publishing schedule, so we consider ourselves sort of ’Net-rescued: a website, a blog and a flock of Twitter birds will see us through.

We are ready. Were we not is when you would have noticed. And that is why more than our curiosity has been piqued when we find the organizers and some of the players in this national drama a little out of step. 

Dan Hoddinott

Suddenly, the politics becomes local

31 Mar

Tony Genco, who ran against Julian Fantino in November, is now supporting his former rival.

Say what you want, politics in Vaughan is never dull.

Just in case you were expecting the May 2 federal election to be all about a power play unfolding in Ottawa and having no play worth mentioning at the local level, Tony Genco enters the picture on Wednesday — and makes spinning heads everywhere stop on the action about to develop in the riding of Vaughan.

Genco is the Liberal candidate Conservative Julian Fantino defeated in the Nov. 29 byelection to end a 22-year Liberal stronghold in Vaughan. On Wednesday, Genco went public to announce his support for — get this — Fantino, and not Mario Ferri, who is carrying the Liberal banner this time. He used what he termed an Open Letter to the People of the City of Vaughan to transmit both his endorsement of his former rival and his disillusionment with the Liberal party.

In the letter, Genco praised Fantino’s work as an MP and expressed faith in the Conservative party’s ability to form a majority government, while lamenting what he considers the disappearance of the values that drew him to the Liberal party.

“The Liberal Party that I joined over 20 years ago in university has disappeared,” he wrote. “The ideas that I tried to represent of balance, diversity and nation building no longer exist in this version of the Liberal Party.”

Of course, the cynics were quick to suggest opportunism was behind Genco’s big switch (as they are wont to do), and Liberal party insiders muttered about being disappointed, though they stopped short of smearing him. And this being Vaughan, it didn’t take long for someone to wonder aloud whether his newfound love for Fantino was more a matter of the enemy of his enemy being, by default, his friend. For me, there is no evidence one way or the other yet, so I am going to give him the benefit of the doubt for now and presume sincerity.

It has to come as a blow to Ferri to see his party undressed like this before his campaign can even get off the ground. I wouldn’t be too worried about him, though. He’s a big boy, seasoned in municipal politics, and now probably going to draw a lot of attention he might not otherwise have got.

Who knows what this all might mean? The fortunes of many a hopeful candidate have turned on less. If this tremblor through the self-satisfied ranks of tradition-based Liberalism in Vaughan has delivered the jolt I expect it has, we may see significant self-examination of the habit of rote voting along party lines.

By the way, am I alone in feeling Fantino’s aloof comments about Genco’s public declaration of support were off-putting? It’s not like I spend my time waiting for an invitation from Fantino to a baby-kissing photo op or anything, but Genco having stuck his neck out for him like he has done was a courageous move and deserved recognition, not an arrogant remark that could be construed as suggesting Genco has, instead, merely come to his senses.

— DH

If I only had a sign

29 Mar

Mario Ferri, left, and Julian Fantino

Call me the first to get with the program. You might even call me a seer, or at least someone attuned to the times — just before they arrive. (Just don’t robo-call me.)

I went out last night looking for some signs that might indicate the onset of an election campaign somewhere in the Vaughan area.

I found them. In my own garage.

They are lawn signs. Two of them: one decked out in Conservative blue, the other in Liberal red. The blue one, as you might expect, proclaims Julian Fantino as Vaughan’s best voice in Ottawa, while the red one calls for a vote for Mario Ferri.

A little early for lawn signs, you say? Actually, they’re left over from earlier campaigns: the Fantino sign from the Nov. 29 byelection in which he defeated Tony Genco, and the Ferri sign from the Oct. 25 municipal election in which he ran unsuccessfully for regional council.

I remember how I came to have those election signs on my lawn. You say yes or no to those requests for all the timeless/momentary, philosophical/impulsive and traditional/temporal reasons you vote the way you do. I just can’t remember now the reasons for not giving them back at the end of the respective campaigns.

I was a free agent back then, so considered myself free to participate or otherwise indulge in a political event however I saw fit. That changed when I came onboard at Vaughan Today. Now, instead of getting to enjoy having the corner on repurposed election signs, I have to wait for the neighbours to catch up, and then take pictures of theirs.

By the way, in case it matters still, I have two slightly used election signs ready for pickup.

— DH

And they’re off!

28 Mar

The federal election that few seem to have an appetite for is officially under way, and the NDP, in Vaughan, is the only one of the major parties in Vaughan Today‘s coverage area not to have a candidate out of the gate.

While Mario Ferri was ready before the writ was dropped on Saturday to carry the Liberal banner in a quest to unseat Conservative Julian Fantino in Vaughan, the NDP riding association said on Monday it is hopeful that a candidate will be named within the next two weeks.

All three top parties in Thornhill were ready to start campaigning when the word was given. Peter Kent, the incumbent Conservative candidate, will face competition from Karen Mock (Liberal) and Simon Strelchik (NDP).

More later…

— DH

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