The real fight in Etobicoke

More than a referendum on the Wynne Libs, Toronto by-election exposes internecine battles within PC party

The mayor was in Scarborough on Tuesday, July 30, to pump waning Tory fortunes in Scarborough-Guildwood, where one of two Toronto-area by-elections will be decided today (Thursday, August 1).

The Grits are looking good to hold on in Scarberia – the latest poll shows them seven points ahead of the PCs.

But across town in Etobicoke-Lakeshore, it’s a little more touch and go for the incumbent Libs and their candidate, Peter Milczyn, thanks to the long shadow of the mayor and his councillor brother, Doug, who’ve injected themselves into that race in a big way – unprecedented, some Libs would say.

Most observers are calling today’s contests a referendum on Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government. By-elections are never easy for sitting governments, least of all ones touched by the odour of scandal.

In some ways, however, the races, are more a referendum on Ford Nation.

That’s especially true in Etobicoke-Lakeshore where Ford’s deputy, Doug Holyday, the councillor and former Etobicoke mayor, is running for the PCs.

Anything less than a runaway win for Holyday in Ford’s Etobicoke backyard – both the mayor and his brother live in the riding and have been out actively campaigning for Holyday – would be a rebuke.

The Fords’ line at the door when canvassing is straight out of the handbook on gravy train rhetoric, only they’re sending Holyday to clean up the mess at Queen’s Park, not City Hall.

If they can’t deliver here, where the Ford Family Compact’s roots are deepest, then the prospects for the PCs – and for a repeat of the 2010 mayoral election landslide- dim considerably.

Should be a slam dunk given the fact that Mark Grimes, another of Ford’s point guys on council – they don’t call Grimes the “midnight mayor” for nothing – is part of the lacrosse- and pickup hockey-playing old boys’ network that’s been entrenched in Etobicoke-Lakeshore seemingly forever.

Question is, can the cabal get the vote out for Holyday? There are, after all, those internecine PC politics balling up the works. It’s a curious set of circumstances.

Lest we forget, Holyday entered this one at the 11th hour when the PCs were desperate to find a candidate.

Why isn’t Doug Ford carrying the flag in Etobicoke-Lakeshore? Well, it’s no secret that he covets current PC leader Tim Hudak’s job. And there’s no way Hudak was going to give him an easy entrée.

Those drug-dealing allegations in the Globe about Doug provided a convenient out for Hudak, but word is Doug told Hudak to his face that if Holyday doesn’t win, he’s coming after the PC leader’s job.

Doug Ford has long been planning for that eventuality, stacking the PC party executive with his slate at the last leadership review. Yes, that would be the same exec, headed by Ford loyalist Richard Ciano, that put Hudak on a short leash earlier this year by imposing a campaign spending limit.

If Doug really is after Hudak’s job, it would seem counterintuitive for the Fords to stump for Holyday. But it’s a win-win for the Fords whichever way the Etobicoke race turns out. Think scorpion and the frog.

If Holyday wins, it further entrenches the Fords’ influence in PC ranks. If Holyday loses, Hudak is toast for failing to deliver the promised breakthrough in the big smoke. At least that’s the way Ford Nation will see it.

For the Fords there’s another political motivation at work – namely, sticking it to Milczyn, who’s on the mayor’s executive as the local councillor but by all outward appearances has thrown his lot in with Karen Stintz, who’s already unofficially campaigning for a 2014 mayoral run against Ford. (Why, there she is wearing a Vote Peter Milczyn sticker on the candidate’s website.)

Milczyn barely hung on in 2010, winning by a handful of votes, and only after agreeing to endorse Ford late in the game in return for Ford’s not actively campaigning against him.

It’s been all hands on deck for Milczyn in this by-election. Lib MPPs from far and wide have come to Etobicoke to lend their support – so many in fact that they’ve been tripping over themselves in Milcyzn’s campaign office.

Tom Allison, the brains behind the preem’s impressive leadership win, has been dispatched to see if he can work some magic in Etobicoke.

At the doors, though, the Libs have been fighting a shitload of backlash over the cancellation of the Mississauga gas plant in the riding next door. Yes, the very one locals didn’t want in the first place and the Libs relocated as a result.

More than a few Libs are shaking their heads over that. Voters seem to have forgotten that Holyday expressed his own concerns. Call it cognitive dissonance. In Ford country, there’s a lot of that – and things are never as they appear. | @enzodimatteo

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