It started off as a test of Dalton McGuinty's government. Now, we find out the by-election in St. Paul's is a test of both Stephen Harper and Michael Ignatieff's leadership and prospects in possible a fall federal election.
"St. Paul's vote a national battlefront?" - cries today's Toronto Star headline.
"If the Progressive Conservatives, who are fielding a scrappy Toronto Sun columnist, wrest the seat from the Liberals, it would be the first Tory win in Toronto - provincially or federally - in a decade."
This is of course true. John Tory never won a thing in Toronto (well, actually, Tory has never won anything pretty much anywhere, Toronto rejecting him is thus nothing of particular note). Stephen Harper has swung and missed in every attempt in the 416. That's a fact.
The Star goes on: "[T]at should have Prime Minister Stephen Harper watching the contest closely, observers say." Not sure who the observers are but if Stephen Harper is spending more than 10 minutes watching a provincial by-election in St. Paul's, he has too much time on his hand.
And I have a feeling Harper knows better.
He had a star former journalist run for him in a little riding called St. Paul's back in 2006. Kent, I believe was his last name. He was supposed to take out a Liberal MP and well, pretty much everything that is now being said about this Sun columnist was said about him. Strong ties to the Jewish community. Urbane. Popular. Feisty. Whatever.
He got killed. It wasn't even close.
Other than unnamed sources (mostly Liberal, to be fair), is there any reason to think St. Paul's will be anything other than Liberal after the by-election?
Premier McGuinty is at roughly 50 per cent in the polls. He is higher in the GTA than he is elsewhere in the province. He has a strong candidate who won the nomination for the Liberals after an open, competitive nomination. The party is taking the by-election seriously and is putting resources and their best people to work to win it. The NDP is nowhere right now provincially generally and in Toronto specifically. Tim Hudak is unknown at best.
In other words, while anything could happen, I wouldn't bet a quarter that St. Paul's will be anything other than a Liberal win.
The irony of the nervous-nelly hyping about how dangerous the Conservatives should be in St. Paul's is if Hudak's hand-picked candidate falls flat; if she doesn't win or at least come close to winning, this has now become an early referendum on Tim Hudak's leadership and his prospects in urban Ontario.
You see, over-hyping by-elections can swing both ways.