One week before the Liberal leadership convention, it's NDPers who are among the most agitated.
Perhaps that's not surprising given the rising star of Bob Rae, former premier and once-eloquent defender of social democracy. But while many New Democrats are dismayed at the prospect of waging an election against the brainy turncoat, other party mmbers are more positive about the prospect of a Lib PM committed to the idea of government and the value of public services.
It's that very constituency the Rae camp considers its ace.
But those running for the NDP or trying to hold their seats definitely don't share the enthusiasm. For them, a Jack Layton/Bob Rae faceoff is the worst-case scenario.
Two months ago, Toronto MP Olivia Chow, assuming her party would be taking on Michael Ignatieff, confided that she was boning up on his collected writings, all the better to shame him on his support of the Iraq war.
A lot has happened since then. Marilyn Churley, a one-time Rae cabinet minister, is now doing a textual review not of Ignatieff, but of her former boss. The former MPP takes pleasure in comparing what the Liberal PM wannabe said a decade ago and what he writes now about the Grits' 1995 deficit-slaying budget that cut a huge hole in Canada's social safety net.
"Mean," and the source of "incredible devastation," he said then. "The greatest achievement of the Chretien-Martin government," he calls the budget in his new book, Canada In The Balance, in which he extols fiscal responsibility as a new core value.
Churley, who's considering another run at Ignatieff supporter Maria Minna in Beaches-East York, is one of several high-profile New Democrats taking to the media to undercut the Rae threat.
The ex-premier's switcheroo is hardest on those who stuck with Rae during the darkest days of his government, she says, recalling macho union men with tears streaming down their faces when the social democrats tore up collective agreements. Yet they stood by him. "I worry about the betrayal those people are feeling," Churley says gravely.
That's the official NDP story. But safely away from the microphones, there's a mix of emotions from fright to delight.
"I'm praying for Ignatieff," says a loyal NDPer who worked in the Rae government. "He would be god's gift to the NDP. With Rae, it will be very difficult."
This long-time key party player who asked to remain anonymous sees a possible loss of seats across the country with the party only being able to count on seats in its Manitoba heartland and everything else up for grabs, including seats in Rae's home province.
"I don't buy the Ignatieff camp's spin that Bob is a liability for the Liberals in Ontario. He was always more popular than the party."
Compounding the Rae factor is the Green party menace. The Greens, led by respected environmentalist Elizabeth May, could eat into the crucial NDP base in BC as much as Rae in the next federal election, according to economist and Rabble.ca associate publisher Duncan Cameron. "It would be a big problem for Layton," Cameron predicts.
Green competition may explain why Layton is playing Mr. Fix-It with Stephen Harper's joke of a Clean Air Act, much to the chagrin of NDPers nervous about being seen bargaining with the scarily right-wing Tories.
Alas for Layton, at the same time as he has to worry about his Green side, he'll be pressured to forgo casting himself as a mainstream presence, as he did in the last election, in favour of a return to social democratic basics.
That's certainly what NDP federal council member and Steelworkers political liaison Peter Leibovitch will be advising if Rae captures the convention. Surveying the sad state of the Ontario manufacturing sector, where high-paying jobs with pensions are falling as fast as the autumn leaves, Leibovitch sees one of the core issues of the next NDP campaign.
"It's because of economic deregulation, and the NDP has to address those issues very clearly," Leibovitch says.
But another NDPer indeed, someone who has been elected to office wearing the party's colours thinks it's worth the hit his party will take to have someone like Rae leading the country, a view not hard to find these days in progressive circles.
"What's not to like?" the NDPer asks. "He talks about the environment and social justice like he's motivated about them. He can stand at the front of a room and make people laugh and feel good about the country. Now he has another shot at having an impact on the political life of Canada. So go for it, man."
This happy-with-Bob NDPer, who wishes not to use his name, anticipates that his party will lose seats if Rae is Liberal leader, but wonders whether that will make any real difference. The party's bedrock support, he says, is good enough for a dozen or 15 seats, and for a party with zero chance of forming a government "the difference between 15 and 25 seats is not much."
More important than the effect on the NDP, he says, is freeing the country from Conservative rule. "With someone like Harper in power, all the political space gets affected," he says. "I'm deeply affected by that change. If [electing Rae] means trouble for the NDP, so what?"