Premier ernie eves's seeming reluctance to go to the polls this spring has forced some Toronto councillors to make a difficult choice between municipal and provincial politics.Councillors Lorenzo Berardinetti, Irene Jones and Paul Sutherland have already secured provincial nominations to represent the Liberals, NDP and Tories in Scarborough Southwest, Etobicoke Lakeshore and Don Valley East respectively. And councillor Brad Duguid has pretty much decided he wants to be the Grit candidate for Scarborough Centre when the Ontario election writ is dropped.
It was quite easy for these four civic politicians to entertain provincial ambitions back when it appeared likely Eves would call the vote for late May or early June. If the councillors failed to come away from the ballot box with seats in the legislature, they could easily turn around and run municipally in November with virtual certainty they'd be returned to City Hall.
But the premier's suggestion this week that a spring election is no longer in the cards has all but eliminated the opportunity for these hopefuls to make a play at both the provincial and municipal levels. In the wake of an EKOS Research poll that showed the governing Tories trailing the Liberals by almost 20 percentage points, Eves is now hinting that the Ontario election won't happen until fall (September or late November have been mentioned) or even as late as next spring.
"There are lots of considerations,' the premier said. "You'll choose when you think is the best opportunity."
Yup, that just about says it all.
To their credit, the ambitious councillors looking to move up University Avenue to Queen's Park all say they'll be provincial candidates regardless of when the election is called. "My mind was made up long ago," says Berardinetti, the council rep for Ward 37 (Scarborough Centre). He has been the chosen Liberal flag bearer in Scarborough Southwest for almost a year now and figures to have a decent chance of knocking off Tory MPP and cabinet lightweight Dan Newman.
Jones is less sure of defeating veteran Tory Morley Kells on the Lakeshore. But she, too, is committed to a provincial bid and "a better opportunity to help my community. "At the end of this I could be unemployed," Jones says. "But I've made a decision."
On Monday night, April 7, Sutherland accepted the Tory nomination in Don Valley East, and the next morning he was adamant there'd be no turning back. "I'll definitely be going provincial," he said. Sutherland will be up against Liberal MPP David Caplan. Spitting into the wind, you say? The Ward 33 councillor doesn't think so.
For his part, Duguid says he'll make an official announcement concerning the status of his Liberal candidacy "in the next two or three weeks." But the Ward 38 councillor is already talking like one of McGuinty's Marauders when he suggests that if Eves calls the vote for September there'll still be time for his vanquished Tory opponent -- MPP Marilyn Mushinski -- to attempt her return to municipal politics by competing for his vacant seat.
"If you're truly committed to running provincially and making changes at Queen's Park, it really shouldn't matter when they call the election," Duguid says. "Once I make the decision to run -- and it will be soon -- I will be running provincially regardless of whether they call the election in the spring, the fall or even next spring. I will not run municipally. I don't think that would be appropriate.'
Of course, a provincial vote in September would allow any unsuccessful councillor plenty of time to regroup for the November 10 civic election. You've got to figure that's what Pickering mayor Wayne Arthurs would do if he can't manage to oust Finance Minister Janet Ecker from her Pickering-Ajax-Uxbridge seat for the Liberals. Or maybe he'd be so stunned by the outcome that he'd leave town, never to be seen again. Alas, we'll probably never know. A November election seems much more likely if the Tories want to do anything other than simply toss the Pink Palace keys to the Liberals when their second term starts pushing up daisies early next year.
"I still think it's quite possible to have an election this spring, but it's obviously very probable it will be later," Sutherland says. And he acknowledges that the Tories could gain an advantage if they call for a provincial vote to be held shortly after all the municipal balloting is done.
"It usually benefits the party in power," the councillor says. He notes that several federal elections have gone the reigning government's way in Ontario when the national vote followed on the heels of civic polls hereabouts. According to political practitioners, electors can become afflicted with a malady called "voter fatigue" when one big election comes immediately after another. The folks making the Xs might be marshalled to do their democratic duty once. But they tend to get most of their political frustrations out in one fell swoop and lack the get-up-and-go to do it all over again later.
There's no denying that the Tory regime appears headed in a direction where severe voter fatigue may be its only hope of survival. "That's just one of the considerations," Eves said when the timing of municipal elections was raised with him this week.
A late-November vote could have quite an impact on Toronto's mayoralty campaign, where five candidates are currently trying to raise the $1 million plus they're each said to need. And there'll be more than just a competition for charitable patrons. Several would-be chief magistrates have enlisted experienced Tory campaign strategists. For example, Barbara Hall has Common Sense Revolutionary Jaime Watt on board. But for how long, as the focus of the provincial election moves from spring to fall?
David Miller is taking the counsel of John Laschinger, a Conservative rainmaker going back to the Bill Davis years. Eves has been known to ask the veteran campaigner for his Red Tory views from time to time. Will he be called upon in this time of need?
John Tory has been counting on his friends at Queen's Park for all manner of help come fall. But how much help will they be if the Tory name is being dragged through the mud of a provincial campaign in the weeks leading up to the mayoral vote? That's not the kind of acclaim the Rogers Cable exec was hoping for when he tossed his hat into the ring two months ago. And it's probably too late to make a legal name change now.