Tony Genco: Michael Ignatieff’s second, third, or tenth choice?

From Jordi Morgan’s Maritime Morning show on Rogers News Talk Radio in the Maritimes,

Michael Ignatieff initially courted Julian Fantino before being turned down by the former OPP commissioner now running for the Conservative Party in Vaughan. Mr. Ignatieff continues in the interview to say that the Liberals spoke to many people to run for them in Vaughan. Why did he have to settle for former Liberal staffer, Tony Genco? If Vaughan has been a Liberal seat for over 20 years, why did Ignatieff have any trouble filling the candidacy?

Jane Taber reports,

Stephen Harper’s star candidate, Julian Fantino, was asked by Michael Ignatieff to run for the Liberals in Vaughan – but turned him down, according to the Conservatives.

Now, on the eve of Monday’s vote, the former Toronto police chief and OPP commissioner is being subjected to what the Conservatives consider character assassination by the Liberals.

And so the Tories are fighting back. They are charging hypocrisy and are breaking their silence on a secret they’ve kept since the beginning of the by-election campaign.

“We were aware from the beginning of the campaign that Mr. Ignatieff asked him to run for the Liberals,” Conservative Party spokesman Fred DeLorey said. “We had no intention of making it public – but to see the Liberals actually attack his character and integrity, a man who has committed his career to public service and fighting crime, is just too much.

UPDATE: Greg Rickford’s SO-31 in the House today,

The morning after for John Tory

Now that the sun has come up on a new day at Queen’s Park, many are taking stock of last night’s PC loss Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock by-election. There are a few truths that need to be said as well.

I sincerely believe that the PC Party will now be better equipped to fight an election against Dalton McGuinty than it would have been under Tory. A leadership process will bring out policy debate, will highlight personalities and will give Ontario a fresh face for the next election.

As for John Tory, obligatory nice guy references aside, the guy was not a conservative’s Conservative. In fact, at the recent PC policy convention I quickly identified Tory’s base of support within the room as it voted on policy. I came to realize that an easy crib sheet for voting became to vote in the opposite way of these folks. When John Tory announces that he’ll step aside later today, the party will begin the process of voting for a leader that will excite conservatives. Though it was a by-election, 10,000 PC voters stayed home last night and you know you have a problem when its the electorate that informs the party that it is not conservative enough. In politics (and more often Liberal politics) lack of ideological purity can be forgiven if your leader has a sharp political instinct. John Tory was weak on both.

In politics, as in life, one should focus upon areas where one excels. John Tory excels at a number things, but I don’t believe this pursuit is one where his efforts and skill will be most appreciated.

John Tory loses by-election, expected to resign as party leader

Earlier tonight, as the polls came in, it became clearer and clearer that PC Party of Ontario leader John Tory would lose his last chance at challenging Dalton McGuinty for the Premier’s office.  By the time the Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock by-election was called by the Canadian Press at about 10:30pm, Tory’s margin of loss represented a 9% point drop from former PC MPP Laurie Scott’s electoral footing.  Scott beat her opponent by 20% during the last provincial election.

Tory has scheduled a press conference for Friday and many expect the embattled leader to resign.  Having faced a humiliating loss in the previous provincial election after championing a policy on religious school choice and polarizing the party after a divisive leadership review, it is unknown how the former CEO of Rogers and commissioner of the CFL expects to quarterback his team after this evening’s loss of what was considered a “safe seat”.  Tory did hint to reporters tonight – and I’m paraphrasing – that his future ‘may not be in public life’.

From reports on the ground, party workers were not expecting this loss though some cite the typical organizational campaign and e-day deficiencies.  I have it on good authority that the PCs did not do any internal polling in the riding for this contest. (I have it on better authority that polling was done and 10 days prior to e-day and it showed Tory trailing by 5 points).

As a leader, John Tory retired the debt of the PC Party bringing the party’s fiscal position back into the black.  The party will hopefully continue to benefit from his strengths as a fundraiser.  Many have described Tory as a good man, though not the right man.  Despite his shortcomings tonight, public service is a sacrifice to one’s family life and career and I know that Conservatives, myself included, are thankful for his tireless contributions.  From my personal experience, I’ve known Tory to be a dedicated, passionate and faithful activist for Canadian Conservatives.  I know that he’ll continue to be committed to advancing our parties both provincially and federally.

Names of potential candidates to replace Tory as leader of the PCPO that are being pushed around tonight include Christine Elliot, John Yakabuski, Randy Hillier, Peter Shurman and Tim Hudak.  It is expected that many will step forward as there were many known to be waiting in the wings prior to the previous leadership review.

An interesting and chaotic era in provincial Conservative politics begins tomorrow.  Rebuilding starts in the morning.

FLASHBACK: Five years ago this month, I met John Tory as he went on a provincial listening tour before contesting the provincial PC leadership.

By-election notes

- big loss for Stephane Dion tonight. In by-elections, the number of votes for the government usually goes down. In seat +/-, we see Stephane Dion -1 and Stephen Harper +1.

– Liberals will say that three out of four by-elections is a victory. All four ridings were Liberal, so anything less than holding those four with margins as strong as before is a loss for the Liberals.

– Stephane Dion’s hand-picked candidate lost in Desnethé–Missinippi–Churchill River. This is, of course, the riding in which Dion put an end to David Orchard’s hopes of being a candidate there and cherry-picked an NDP MLA to run as a Liberal. Political observers will remember Dion’s hand picked candidate Jocelyn Coulon in Outremont losing to the NDP in a big by-election upset months ago.

– In contrast, the Conservatives’ weak finish in Toronto Centre is a result of a poor history of electoral success for this incarnation of the Conservative party there and the party’s decision to drop their candidate in the riding. Dion’s move in Saskatchewan was to enhance electoral success, Harper’s Toronto Centre decision was in made in order to prevent divergent messaging that could have an impact outside of this riding in which Conservatives weren’t even competitive.

– Vancouver Quadra is also turning out to be a bitter win for Dion. Liberal vote share in that riding is down and Conservative vote share is up. While Harper is finding it difficult to increase share in downtown Toronto, the Vancouver result is encouraging. It appears that Conservatives are and will be competitive in that riding for the next general election.
UPDATE: Final margin in Vancouver Quadra is 151 votes with the Liberals just barely holding this seat from going Conservative. This is a big upset for Dion. UBC is within the riding and the riding is urban and generally quite well-to-do. This seat should have been solidly Liberal. Quadra just became a target riding for the Conservatives in the next election.

– By-elections are always experimental in that we sometimes see a preview of party strategy for general elections. In the Liberals, we see more of an emphasis on the team rather than their leader. In Conservatives we see primary focus on Harper’s leadership. A general election is leadership focused, however, as debates and daily news coverage have a bias towards leadership. Many voters, in all 308 ridings, cast a ballot for Harper or Dion, rather than the their local candidate or party. Paul Martin de-emphasized the Liberal brand and put his leadership in the front window during both 2004 and 2006 general elections. Dion would be wise to downplay his leadership and emphasize the Liberal brand. Martin hid the brand because it was tainted by the Sponsorship Scandal, and the man dubbed Mr. Dithers believed he provided strong leadership. Is the Liberal brand still sufficiently tainted by scandal? Despite this consideration, Dion’s leadership could not be emphasized over the Liberal brand; whereas we saw “Team Martin” sign instead of “Liberal” signs, we won’t be seeing “Team Dion”.

– Jack Layton also had a bad night. His vote share is down. While he works with the Conservatives to carve up Liberal votes left and right, he may find that he needs more time to accomplish this goal. A general election would hasten the dispatching of Dion, and bring forward a more competitive Liberal leader in most scenarios. Therefore, Layton and Harper should figure out how to loudly oppose each other while sustaining the life of this government for the longer rather than shorter term.

– Dion is going to find his front bench increasingly crowded with alpha candidates for his job. Liberals will be start looking seriously past Dion and it will be difficult for him to catch up.

– Conservative and NDP strategy should be to establish themselves as principled ideologues on the left and the right. Conservatives should emphasize good management and strong leadership. Jack Layton should challenge Harper to a one-on-one debate. Both parties should try to keep the government alive to draw out Liberal divisions.

– Luckily for Harper and Layton, Dion’s strategy is also to survive and the only way this can happen is for the government to survive. Liberals will be chomping a the bit in order to “get back to power as soon as possible” and most realize that this is impossible under Dion and much easier when they hold a leadership race and select a more capable leader. The easiest way for the Liberals to remove Dion is via a loss in the general election. The Conservatives and the NDP would be smart not to provide them with this opportunity. If the hunger gets too strong, the Liberals may start eating their own and we may see Dion swallowed whole. This would immediately trigger a general election as the Conservatives and NDP would be willing partners in increasing their respective vote proportions as Liberal voters stay home on election day.