If you were a longstanding municipal politician with some gravitas and more recently have had to contend with being something of an apologist for a colleague who has been making the news headlines for all the wrong reasons, you might be very tempted to take the first reasonable opportunity to find a dignified way out while still maintaining political ambitions.
If that opportunity presented itself as a provincial by-election in a riding where you already have high name recognition, then it would be foolhardy not to grasp the moment.
But if you have made a strong point in the past about how unbecoming it would be for people elected to one political office to changes horses midstream, then you would have to handle the transition very gingerly. You would have to make it known that you had to be mightily convinced – coerced even – to make the leap.
If you were Toronto’s deputy mayor, Doug Holyday, you would, with customary dignity, remain calm and steadfast when barraged with criticism for what to many looks like hypocrisy. Politics, whether as a profession or as a calling, is a messy business and, given the vigilance of the media as they play the role of erstwhile opposition, every blunder is magnified for public consumption and public judgment.
However, with typical aplomb, Holyday, formerly mayor of Etobicoke and now on leave from his post as Toronto’s deputy mayor and councillor for Ward 3 Etobicoke Centre, has been tactful about his decision to run in the upcoming provincial by-election. Holyday is now the Progressive Conservative candidate in Etobicoke-Lakeshore.
Even so, wouldn’t any thinking person ask whether his decision had anything to do with putting some distance between himself and all the unwanted attention and uncomfortable questions about illegal drug use and drug dealing that still remain regarding Rob Ford, this city’s current mayor, and his brother Doug Ford, the councillor for Ward 2, Etobicoke North?
Perhaps it is also the case with his rival for the seat, Councillor Peter Milczyn, now aiming to be the provincial representative in the same area he was elected municipally to represent. The Ward 5 Etobicoke-Lakeshore councillor declared his decision to enter the by-election even before Holyday did. Also vying for the seat is New Democrat P.C. Choo.
Like Holyday, Milczyn had been part of Mayor Ford’s executive committee, his inner circle. Milczyn’s preparedness to run provincially was evident by the noticeable presence of Liberal lawn signs bearing his name in the first days of the announcement by Premier Kathleen Wynne of the five by-elections that will be held August 1. As the days wear on, Holyday lawn signs are now more evident, although not outnumbering Milczyn.
The Etobicoke-Lakeshore riding has shown preference in the past for Liberal representation. Federally, voters there have favoured Jean Augustine and Michael Ignatieff. The riding, which hasn’t elected a Conservative to the provincial parliament since 1999, became one of five in the August 1 by-elections because Laurel Broten, beleaguered former Ontario education minister, decided to step aside. Broten was the incumbent going into the 2011 elections.
Former Liberal leader Dalton McGuinty has also stepped down from his Ottawa South seat, a practical political move designed to put even more distance between the memory of his time as leader and Wynne’s ambitions to remain as head of this government.
Wynne is showing herself to be a calculating politician and her decision to hold these by-elections in the heat of summer could present some interesting results. If Holyday should manage to take the riding for the Conservatives, some might see it as a sign the Liberals may not be able to outrun the baggage they are still dragging in the aftermath of McGuinty’s fall from grace. There is a great deal of public resentment over the more than half billion dollars in penalty fees paid out, under McGuinty’s watch, to contractors following the cancellation of power plants already under construction in Oakville and Mississauga. This was seen as an effort to save Liberal seats in the last election.
A win by Holyday inside Toronto would be significant for the Conservatives, since the city is traditionally a Liberal stronghold. It would also send a strong message to the Liberals prior to the next election scheduled in the fall of 2015. That is, if the minority government can actually last that long.