Sunday, September 07, 2008

Pressure's On Jack Layton

Potential leadership challenger Michael Byers waiting in the wings

In 2006, NDP leader Jack Layton led his party from a meagre 18 seat caucus to prey upon Liberal weakness and return 29 Members of Parliament.

The eventual by-election victory of Thomas Mulcair in Outremont -- a Liberal stronghold riding formerly held by Pierre Trudeau brought the NDP up to a respectable total of 30 seats.

With the 2008 federal election now underway, however, it seems the pressure on Layton could be as intense as ever. If he fails to make further gains or (worse yet) loses seats, it seems the NDP's candidate in Vancouver-Centre, Michael Byers, may decide to make a run for the NDP leadership.

According to the Georgia Strait's Charlie Smith, the entrance of BC Liberal MLA Lorne Mayencourt as a federal Conservative candidate may have put Byers in the driver's seat in Vancouver-Centre.

Mayencourt, currently representing the provincial riding of Vancouver-Berard, may siphon enough conservative Liberals discontented with the carbon tax to potentially unseat Hedy Fry.

According to Smith, if Mayencourt manages to attract as much as 20 percent of the ridings voters -- based on appeal to pro-free enterprise gays and lesbians and the law-and-order vote -- and Green candidate Adrianne Carr (formerly a provincial Green party leader) can attract 15-20% of the vote in the riding, either Byers or Fry could claim a victory with just over 30% of the vote.

Smith predicts that Byers could do even better than that, winning 35% of the vote if Jack Layton runs a good, solid campaign. Even if Layton doesn't run a good campaign -- and there's no reason to expect he won't -- Byers is still a definite contender in the contest.

Byers seems to understand this, as well. Byers didn't even wait for the campaign to begin before taking the fight to Hedy Fry.

Certainly, a successful campaign by Layton would benefit Byers at least in the short term. However, such a successful campaign could only put off any leadership amitions Byers may have.

However, should the NDP campaign flounder federally, Jack Layton will almost certainly find himself subject to a leadership review. Should disgruntled New Democrats decide to ouster Layton as leader, a Byers victory in Vancouver-Centre -- toppling the giant killer who once slew Prime Minister Kim Campbell -- would make him a tough opponent to beat.

Not that the NDP is guaranteed to be well-served by Byers' leadership. He has a tendency to make narrow ideological foreign policy statements that fail to stand up to scrutiny.

But if Byers wants to follow Michael Ignatieff's lead into federal politics, he may as well do it in style. And while it may be unbecoming for Byers to be keeping his fingers crossed for the failure of his party leader, one can't help but wonder if that isn't exactly what's on his wish list for the 2008 federal election.

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