Comments made yesterday by Ontario Liberal Member of Parliament David McGuinty undoubtably triggered a collective “W^@* THE F#*%” moment in Calgary-Centre Liberal candidate Harvey Locke‘s by-election campaign headquarters.
The Liberal campaign in Calgary-Centre is riding high from a visit by superstar leadership candidate Justin Trudeau and two recent polls showing them in the statistical dead-heat of a three-way race between Conservative Joan Crockatt and Green Chris Turner.
In a heated debate on the floor of the House of Commons, Mr. McGuinty, who announced yesterday that he would not run for the Liberal Party leadership, ranted against Conservative MPs, who he described as “very, very small-p provincial individuals who are jealously guarding one industrial sector, picking the fossil fuel business and the oilsands business specifically, as one that they’re going to fight to the death for.”
Mr. McGuity followed up by telling the Conservatives to “go back to Alberta and run either for municipal council in a city that’s deeply affected by the oilsands business or go run for the Alberta legislature.”
Almost immediately after the comments were made, right-wing SunTV jumped into attack mode, giving Conservative MPs an instant soapbox to stand on and denounce the Liberal politician.
Ms. Crockatt, who has done her best to avoid engaging with the media since the by-election campaign began, wasted no time issuing a statement on her Facebook Page denouncing the Ontario politician. With one week before the by-election ends, Conservatives in Calgary-Centre are hoping to use Mr. McGuinty’s rant to divert attention away from criticism and internal dissent caused by its poorly orchestrated local campaign.
There is no doubt the comments made by Mr. McGuinty’s comments were politically ill-informed and just plain “dumb”, but they seem to be par for the course what in what has become a disgustingly hyper-partisan political Ottawa dominated by a Prime Minister Stephen Harper,‘s Conservative majority in both houses of parliament.
It is important to remember that controversial comments are not limited to the benches of the third-place Liberal Party. Let us not forget Conservative Science Minister Gary Goodyear, who told reporters that he did not believe in evolution, or Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, who once said that anyone who opposed the Conservative government’s invasive internet privacy legislation was siding with pedophiles.
And we cannot forget the time when Calgary-West Conservative MP Rob Anders used an official Government of Canada media conference to endorse right-wing politician Ted Morton‘s bid for Alberta’s Progressive Conservative leadership.
Mr. McGuinty’s heated comments against Alberta’s federal representatives (excluding Edmonton-Strathcona New Democrat MP Linda Duncan, I assume) remind me of the anti-Quebec rhetoric espoused by the western-based Reform Party from the late 1980s and 1990s, which has continues to dog the Conservative Party in Quebec.
In terms of simple electoral math, Mr. McGuinty’s gaffe has done his party no favours, especially with the opportunity presented to them in the Calgary-Centre by-election.
By my count, since the by-election was called, at least nine of the thirty-five Liberal MPs in Ottawa have visited the riding, including Mr. Trudeau and interim leader Bob Rae. The Liberal Party sees an opportunity in Calgary-Centre, but they should stop themselves from turning their attention away from Alberta if the votes are not in their favour on November 26.
With Alberta’s population expected to grow by at least 2 million over the next 30 years, the importance of the western province on Canada’s electoral map will only increase along with its already growing economic importance. Any federal political party aiming to build a truly national coalition that will succeed in the future will need to reach out to, rather than alienate, voters in Alberta.