Monday, October 13, 2008

Green Shift is Michael Ignatieff's Hill to Die On

In the end, the final verdict on the carbon tax may be delivered in Etobicoke-Lakeshore

When Liberal leader Stephane Dion made what seemed to be an abrupt about-face on the issue of the carbon tax, some commentators dismissed it as a common, run of the mill flip-flop.

Those familiar to the game of politics know better. Dion's reconsideration of the carbon tax -- and the incorporation of the controversial measure into his vaunted Green Shift plan -- is a classic case of brokerage politics. In order to keep Michael Ignatieff -- who first floated the idea of a "revenue neutral" carbon tax -- firmly on board, Dion adopted Ignatieff's flagship policy plank.

But now that the carbon tax has effectively handcuffed the Liberals in the 2008 federal election campaign -- at one point pushing the party to the brink of third-party status, although it seems to have recovered -- there remain two ways to look at the implications for Michael Ignatieff.

In one sense, to those willing to overlook his proposal of the carbon tax, Ignatieff will remain very much in the game to decide who will succeed Stephane Dion as the next Liberal leader.

On the other hand, however, the unpopularity of the carbon tax proposal could be enough to erase the 5,000 vote margin by which he won Etobicoke-Lakeshore in 2006.

The similarity of Ignatieff and his Conservative opponent, Patrick Boyer, may even help sway some soft Liberal voters in the riding. Boyer has been described as "not too conservative" and Ignatieff as "not too liberal".

Boyer, meanwhile not only has experience representing the riding for the Tories, but also seniority -- he served out two terms under Brian Mulroney, whereas Ignatieff has two and a half years incumbency.

Boyer also enjoys one other advantage: he lives in the riding, whereas Ignatieff parachuted into the riding in 2006. "I know this riding. I live here," Boyer notes. "I'm not a drop-in candidate like the Liberal."

"I live 15 minutes from this riding. I come in by subway," Ignatieff responded.

A Boyer victory seems a real possibility as election day approaches.

Should Ignatieff go down in defeat in Etobicoke-Lakeshore, the carbon tax will be far from the only reason it happens. However, it will certainly be a factor, and it will be hard to look at an Ignatieff defeat as anything other than a verdict on the carbon tax.

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