Every federal election season, citizens of Toronto are treated to a sight more hopeful than the first robin of spring. That is, Conservative candidates and their supporters suggesting that this time -- this time -- they will finally break through and win seats in the city.
"The Liberals and NDP are strong in our riding," they say, "so there is room for us to come up the middle if they split the vote." It is endearing to see such optimism, but it has little basis in reality.
How about no: You're not coming up the middle, or in from the side, or around the back. You are going to lose and like it.
But this does not mean Toronto's Conservative candidates do not have a valuable role to play. In fact, it can be liberating for these locals to know that they can speak their minds without endangering their Commons seat. Such candidates can be the most effective in exposing key members of the Opposition.
Consider former NDP Ontario premier Bob Rae, now the Liberal MP for Toronto-Centre. There are myriad reasons why Rae deserves a public talking-to from a Conservative opponent, but Sir John A. Macdonald himself could not unseat this once and future socialist.
If Rae is soundly defeated in debates or pushed into making intemperate remarks that gain national attention, however, that could prevent him from becoming prime minister and doing the same damage to Canada that he did to this province.
If Conservative candidate Chris Reid can accomplish this, even in defeat, he will have served his country well.
Likewise Deputy Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, who will almost certainly be re-elected in his riding of Etobicoke-Lakeshore, can and should be exposed for his boundless personal ambition and retrograde positions. Whatever this man says and does in his local campaign -- especially if it is something egregious or all-too-truthful -- will catch the public eye and remain a matter of record for years.
In this way, the work of Ignatieff's Conservative opponent, Patrick Boyer, could come in handy if and when Ignatieff becomes Liberal leader.
The world over, urban centres are safe havens for left-wing politicians, and Toronto is no exception. If you hold right-of-centre views and wish to be elected to office in Canada, the adage is, "Go West, young man" (or perhaps to the Maritimes, or even some parts of Quebec).
The steadfastness and optimism of Toronto's Conservative candidates ought to be admired. They will not win, no matter the success of the national campaign, yet they press on in the face of this reality.
HE'S NO BRIAN
Certainly, some point to internal polls and pie graphs as proof that the glory days of the Mulroney sweeps can be repeated. But Toronto's ridings have been gerrymandered since then and, to borrow a phrase, Stephen Harper is no Brian Mulroney.
If local Tory campaigners can advance free-market, responsible policy ideas while forcing their opponents to make mistakes, they will have done well.
Congratulations to Toronto's Conservative candidates for their courage, and here's hoping that despite the odds, they can seize opportunity.