Tag Archives: Simon Strelchik

So this is the way it would end

5 May

MP JULIAN FANTINO’s softer side was seldom portrayed in media coverage of his often-stoic, no-nonsense campaign. Vaughan Today photographer Agnes Ramos captured this moment as Fantino campaigned door to door in Woodbridge.

The federal election just past is one for the history books. What started out as an expensive exercise no political party seemed willing to take responsibility for spawning — not to mention having no readily apparent aim, drive or direction — ended up rewriting the electoral map in Canada.

It was not without its drama, either. Not insignificant were some garish examples of major media outlets (CBC with the bogus Conservatives-fleeing-Fantino-camp tale in Vaughan; the Toronto Sun with its tawdry story masquerading as a Jack Layton exposé in Toronto) that blurred the lines between reporting and activism.

As it turned out, neither of the stories had much beyond the accusatory headlines, and neither Julian Fantino nor Layton were any the worse for wear in the end. In fact, Fantino won the Vaughan riding with a whopping 56.3 percent of the vote, and became part of the story of the night on Monday as Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives rolled to their first majority. Layton survived to lead a breathtaking orange onslaught that vaulted the NDP into the position of official Opposition.

The adage that all politics is local didn’t hold true any better here than it did in most ridings across Canada. Incumbent Conservatives Fantino and, in Thornhill, Peter Kent were no doubt buoyed by the Blue Wave that swept 167 seats into the Harper fold. And their respective Liberal challengers, Mario Ferri and Dr. Karen Mock, surely lost ground on two fronts they could not possibly have fought: the national apathy toward the Liberal party and the impossible late-campaign NDP surge that impacted races everywhere.

The NDP phenomenon ballooned the perennially third-place party’s take to 102 seats, delivering a plethora of unlikely MPs in ridings across Canada. It was particularly felt in Quebec where it decimated the Bloc Quebecois, leaving that separatist party with a mere four seats.

In Vaughan, it manifested itself in no-show NDP candidate Mark Pratt collecting an astonishing 7,950 votes. Not bad for a media-shy candidate who provided no contact information, put in no appearances, posted no election signs and handed out no literature! In Thornhill, Simon Strelchik finished a distant third, as he did in 2008, but this time he almost doubled his vote count, getting 7,106.

So what lessons did we learn from the exercise? Beyond the obvious one that pistol-whipped Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff and Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe learned about being careful what you wish for, that is!

The once-proud Liberal party, complete with its understood divine right to rule, was reduced to a mere shadow of itself (34 seats). Its lock on the riding of Vaughan, which Fantino first broke in a narrow November byelection victory, is clearly a thing of the past. Perhaps Ignatieff did the right thing in stepping down after the drubbing his party took on Monday night (and losing his own seat in the process), but to blame him for the result is to give no credit to the parties that did win.

I did not sense, based on the couple of stops he made in Vaughan, that Ignatieff was doing such a terrible job connecting with the people. Ferri and Mock were both credible candidates, and the faithful who turned out to the rallies I dropped in on were as vibrant and enthusiastic as you’d expect from a Liberal crowd. I don’t see the result of this election, then, being a matter of the people saying no to one party and its message as much as it was saying yes to another.

The Conservatives succeeded in selling their message, plain and simple.

Harper showed nowhere near the social flair of an Ignatieff (or Layton) at campaign stops. Where other leaders blew into town pumped, in a party mood and ready to get down with the people, Harper made an entrance. And though he didn’t whip the faithful into a giddy frenzy, from his mouth flowed streams of flawless data that, even in the absence of resonance, seemed to compute.

Fantino very much reflected his party’s stoic image. While the media and the public alike looked to see more personality, what we saw for the most part was absolute focus on what he deemed to be priorities. Like his party in general, he soldiered on with his message and would not be sidetracked by grenades lobbed at him or barbs from a media that wasn’t always private in its discomfort with his rigid personality.

Nonetheless, I found the sheer efficiency of the Conservative campaign admirable, even if I was not a fan of its austerity. We won’t know now whether Ignatieff as prime minister would have created a kinder, gentler climate, but I wouldn’t argue very enthusiastically that Harper is not, of those available, the best CEO we could have chosen to run the business of the country.

The NDP didn’t exactly come from nowhere to supplant the Liberals as the official Opposition. Under Layton’s dynamic leadership they were going to be players anyway, even in third place. Where their fortunes turned, though, was in the French-language leaders debate. Quebec voters have traditionally gone after carrots en masse. Layton, who is no stranger to charm or to fantastic promises, was able to articulate it well enough in French to dazzle the electorate right out from under Duceppe, whose own promises were not going to be coming to pass any time soon.

And then the Greens won a seat, with party leader Elizabeth May finally finding a province, a riding and an occasion that was just enough this side of impossible to win.

Yes indeed, it’s been one for the history books. I can’t imagine what kind of story would have to develop to see the fall provincial election in Ontario top that!

— Dan Hoddinott

Peter Kent’s ruff, ruff ride

13 Apr

Thornhill Conservative incumbent weathered a full-on attack by rival candidates in Sunday's debate.

My first reaction when reporter Tristan Carter told me that Peter Kent was given a rough ride at Sunday’s all-candidates debate in Thornhill was: “Really? Peter Kent? The Peter Kent?”

What has Peter Kent, one of the nicest guys you’ll meet in politics (if not on the street), ever done to invite the wrath of anyone? Steal a bite out of someone else’s apple when he was in Grade 3, perhaps?

Well, actually, it was the rival candidates, and not the crowd of some 500 gathered at Beth Avraham Yoseph Synagogue, who gave him a hard time. And it’s his position as Minister of the Environment in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government that brought the activist element of those opponents out with guns blazing. Or, as NDP candidate Simon Strelchik puts it, his record as Harper’s environment minister.

For the record, he has been in that cabinet post only since January, so his personal legacy as to decision-making on environmental issues would be limited. It is most likely that it was Peter Kent the Conservative and not Peter Kent the environment minister — and especially not Peter Kent the local candidate — who came under fire. He was grilled on all sides for the Harper government’s position on mining crude oil deposits in the Alberta tar sands, issues well outside the scope of immediate concern for the average Thornhill voter.

This is further evidence that this election is about issues other than things local. In fact, Liz White, of the Animal Alliance Environment Voters of Canada Party, told VaughanToday.ca that she threw her hat into the ring in Thornhill for one reason: an opportunity to run against Kent.

“I decided to run there to … see if we can move some votes away from him to somebody else, so he loses,” she said.

White, who, à la Elizabeth May, has run twice before in impossible-to-win Toronto Centre, was not invited to participate in the Sunday debate, but will make her debut in a locally televised debate Thursday night.

Situations where self-serving individuals pick a riding — any riding — and stride into unsuspecting communities with pillage and not contribution on their minds, serve to weaken, not strengthen, my faith in democracy as we practise it here. It is conceivable that one day a crazy roll of the dice will see one of these rabble-rousing, single-issue candidates pitch a tent in my riding — and win the right to become my esteemed parliamentary representative!

Now is not a good time to remind me of my “duty” to vote on May 2.

— Dan Hoddinott

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