[attach]4005[/attach]The Green Party’s Elizabeth May notwithstanding, it’s safe to say that federal party leaders easily win their seats in the House of Commons seat whether or not they’re present in their riding during an election campaign.
If that’s a given, then the Toronto-Danforth race is Jack Layton’s to lose. Not only is he party leader of the New Democrats, he’s an incumbent who’s represented the riding in some form or another since 1994. Still, Layton has challengers from all the major parties, including Liberal Andrew Lang, who ran unsuccessfully against Layton in 2008.
“The longer you are an incumbent the more people become comfortable with you,” says Nelson Wiseman, a politics professor at the University of Toronto. “The longer you are a party leader, the more it contributes to your credibility.”
Layton became party leader in 2003 and in 2004 he beat incumbent Toronto-Danforth Liberal MP Dennis Mills. Layton was re-elected in 2006 and 2008.
As expected, Layton has been criss-crossing the country since the election writ dropped on March 26.
“I am grateful for the understanding of my local constituents that I can’t campaign as often in Toronto-Danforth, but I make up for it between elections by being in my riding frequently for events,” Layton said from British Columbia on April 7.
Layton served on Toronto City Council and Metro Council from 1982 to 2003 before entering federal politics.
This is Layton’s fourth election as NDP leader, and despite recent health troubles, he says he isn’t slowing down.
“As long as my party will have me as leader, I am ready to serve and we have a great team that’s growing.”
Wiseman said historically, the NDP has strong allegiance to their leaders regardless of how many seats they win or lose, so it’s unlikely the outcome of this election will affect his leadership.
However, Wiseman speculated that if Layton were to bow out sometime after this election it would be more likely to be for personal reasons.
After battling prostate cancer, Layton recently underwent hip surgery. Even during a grueling campaign, Layton says he’s taking care.
“I put a real priority on exercise and eating well so that continues throughout the campaign,” Layton said.
[attach]4006[/attach]For his part, Lang says he is determined this time to unseat Layton. But he’s aware of his prospects.
“I am not delusional,” he said. “I know running against a party leader is a daunting task,” said Lang, who lost by 7,000 votes in 2008.
He’s pushing strategy voting in the east-end riding.
NDP supporters locally need to understand that if people don’t want a Conservative government, they must elect more liberals, he said. And he says there’s mood for change.
“Given that the NDP won’t form the next government, more Liberal seats in the House of Commons is one step closer to Liberals taking government,” he said April 7. “NDPers see the need to get rid of (Prime Minister) Stephen Harper.”
For Conservative supporters, he offers a different motivation.
“Conservatives have a better chance of getting rid of the NDP (in Toronto Danforth) by voting Liberal than Conservative,” said Lang, who lives in Leslieville.
Lang was a policy advisory under former Liberal MPP George Smitherman when he was minister of energy and infrastructure.
Running in Toronto-Danforth for Conservative Party is Katarina Von Koenig, and for the Greens, Adriana Mugnatto-Hamu. Marie Crawford is the candidate for the Animal Alliance Environment Voters Party of Canada.
— With files from Karolyn Coors