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Canada Red is the new orange: Will Sudbury’s voters forgive a Liberal MPP for crossing party lines?

Glenn Thibeault, the Liberal candidate in Sudbury, used to be an NDP MP for the riding. Then in 2015, he returned for a by-election in the provincial seat as a Liberal.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Premiers and ministers and even prime ministers have done it successfully.

The Canadian list is extensive: Bob Rae, René Lévesque, John Crosbie, Scott Brisson, Jean Charest, Belinda Stronach, Jack Horner, Lucien Bouchard, Ralph Klein, Elijah Harper, Jack Layton, Thomas Mulcair … there are dozens upon dozens of politicians who left one party for another and failed to pay the price their critics and doubters had predicted.

Dozens of others, of course, tripped while crossing the floor and ended up out of office completely.

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Glenn Thibeault will know some time Thursday evening whether he joins the list that includes the likes of Mr. Rae, the NDP premier of Ontario who became a successful federal Liberal, or the list that includes the likes of David MacDonald, the Prince Edward Island politician who had a stellar career as a federal Progressive Conservative but later switched to the NDP, ran again and lost.

Mr. Thibeault, then with the New Democrats, was Sudbury’s member of Parliament from 2008 to 2015. When a February, 2015, by-election was called for the provincial seat in the riding, he abruptly quit Ottawa to return home and run for the Liberals.

He won handily, but it was not pretty.

May 23: Glenn Thibeault pays a visit to Sudbury’s Crosscut Distillery with Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

There were accusations that Premier Kathleen Wynne’s staff had acted unethically, perhaps even illegally. Mr. Thibeault had been the Premier’s preferred candidate and it appeared that Andrew Olivier, the loyal party member who had stood for the previous election and believed he would stand again, might have been forcibly bumped aside.

Charges were eventually laid against a key Liberal operative at Queen’s Park and a local businessman who had worked together, police alleged, to bribe Mr. Olivier with an appointment offer to step aside and had cemented Mr. Thibeault’s leap to their side by offering paid jobs to two loyal staff members.

After more than two years of court hearings – including testimony from Ms. Wynne – the charges were thrown out last fall when the judge ruled there was not enough evidence to allow the case to continue.

Many in Sudbury believe that the NDP is determined to enact some measure of revenge. There is already ample anger aimed at Ms. Wynne from the right as well as the left, making the Sudbury riding perhaps the most difficult to call in the north of the province.

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Sudbury’s Big Nickel.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

It has been more than three decades since a Progressive Conservative held this seat, but Tories have pinned their hopes on Troy Crowder, a 50-year-old businessman who returned home after a decade of professional hockey that included stints with the New Jersey Devils, Detroit Red Wings, Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks.

Mr. Crowder is best known in hockey circles for legendary battles with enforcer Bob Probert. Renowned for his willingness to engage, Mr. Crowder declined to speak to The Globe and Mail, on advice (orders, if you prefer) from the party’s Toronto headquarters.

It may have been a wise call, as Mr. Crowder is considered an “F.O.P.” by party insiders, meaning he is a loyal friend of former leader Patrick Brown, who was ousted over the winter amid charges of sexual impropriety and replaced by Doug Ford.

A billboard for Sudbury PC candidate Troy Crowder.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Inside Mr. Crowder’s campaign office. He declined to speak with The Globe and Mail.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Mr. Crowder has built his new reputation on various causes, from children’s health to helping soldiers reintegrate into society, and the seriousness of his campaign is found in about 750 lawn signs and multiple electronic billboards around the city.

Jamie West, a 46-year-old health and safety expert who has worked in the Sudbury smelters and lectures on the subject at Laurentian University, is the NDP candidate. He says the people he meets at the door don’t like Ms. Wynne, don’t trust Mr. Ford and don’t care much for what Glenn Thibeault did nearly four years ago.

“It’s like hiring a guy to build a deck and halfway through he decides he’d rather mow the lawn,” Mr. West says of Mr. Thibeault’s defection.

Mr. West keeps a small campaign poster close at hand that he can hold up beside his head when someone answers his knock and they will see that he, in fact, is the candidate. His face has never been on a hockey card, nor has it appeared regularly in the local paper.

“I’ve had trouble getting my name out there,” he says. “I just say to people, ‘West is Best.’ ”

Jamie West is the NDP candidate for Sudbury.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

‘Helping hands’ adorn a wall at Mr. West’s campaign office.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

“It’s a volatile time,” says Mr. Thibeault, a 49-year-old former social worker. As minister of energy campaigning in a city where hydro rates are a big issue, he spends a lot of time explaining how rates got so high and what his new party has done to alleviate some of that strain. He also hears, of course, a lot about Kathleen Wynne.

“I get people who say, ‘Glenn, I like what you’ve done for our community, and if it was just you, it would be a very simple thing, but we don’t like your leader.’ I say, ‘Okay, can you tell me why?’ No one can pinpoint it. I say, ‘So, then you’re for Doug Ford?’ ‘Absolutely not.’ ”

Leaving one party for the other happened years ago, he believes, and should not be an issue today. He says he could no longer take the NDP’s “rigid ideology” and found the Liberals more to his liking.

“I put it to the people,” he says. “I said, ’I’m resigning. I’m leaving and I’m running provincially for the Liberals. If you don’t like what I’ve done, you can vote against me.’ I won with 42 per cent of the vote.”

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It cost him some supporters, but switching brought new supporters. “My friends are my friends,” he says. “There are those who say, ‘Glenn, we disagree on policy but we’ll still be friends.’ And then there’s others who were fair-weather friends. As soon as you turn they turn on you.”

In a way, that is the 2018 Ontario election in a nutshell: everyone turning on Liberals, Conservatives turning on New Democrats, New Democrats turning on both – and in this particular riding, perhaps on one who was once one of their own.

That is why, on a rainy day, Glenn Thibeault runs from door to door, stuffing pamphlets, knocking hard, eager to tell whoever answers about the hundreds of millions the Liberals have committed to health care, the importance of daycare and long-term care …

“I believe in the common good,” he says between raindrops. “I want to continue to serve them. I try to persuade them to give me another shot.”

The Liberals are locked in a tight race in Sudbury.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

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