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morning buzz

Julian Fantino laughs with supporters prior to announcing his bid for the Tory nomination in Vaughan, Ont., on Oct. 12, 2010.Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

1. Sparring in the city above Toronto. Michael Ignatieff and his team are keeping things pretty hush-hush, but it appears a Liberal candidate has been chosen to take on Julian Fantino in the suburban riding of Vaughan.

At their closed-door caucus meeting Wednesday, the Liberal Leader told MPs and Senators that the expected and soon-to-be announced by-election in Vaughan is "ours to win." A caucus source also said Mr. Ignatieff warned caucus not to let the Conservative star candidate "walk on water."

Everyone's support is needed for this, he said, according to the source. It seems that Mr. Ignatieff is rather anxious about this by-election - and he has good reason to be. Mr. Fantino, the former Toronto police chief and recently retired Ontario Provincial Police commissioner, is well-known in the riding and instantly recognizable; he also plays well to the Conservatives' law-and-order agenda.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper knows this. He wasted no time in signaling to Vaughan residents his support for Mr. Fantino, spending a day in the riding last Friday, just after Mr. Fantino was acclaimed as the Tory standard-bearer.

It appears the former top cop will face off against Tony Genco, a businessman from the riding who is involved in a lot of community initiatives and charities. The Liberals, however, won't yet confirm he is the party's chosen candidate; a spokeswoman would only tell The Globe Wednesday that the nomination process is underway.

Much is at stake for Mr. Ignatieff in the by-election as Vaughan has been Liberal for 22 years. It was won by former veteran MP and Chrétien cabinet minister Maurizio Bevilacqua, who served since 1988 and stepped aside this year to run for mayor in Monday's municipal election.

But it will be a tough fight, given Mr. Fantino's prominence. Indeed, there were many Conservatives in attendance at the recent B'nai Brith gala in Toronto and few Liberals. (Brampton MP Ruby Dhalla was spotted in the crowd.) Mr. Fantino was there and the streams of people who came up to him and congratulated him for his foray into federal politics did not go unnoticed.

It is expected the Prime Minister will call by-elections in four ridings very soon. Three of them, including Vaughan, were vacated by MPs who are throwing their hats into the municipal ring. The other one belonged to British Columbia veteran Conservative cabinet minister Jay Hill, who resigned after announcing he was not seeking re-election.

2. Making nice in Newfoundland. Stephen Harper is back on the Rock for his second visit in a month. He's fitting the trip in before he jets off later Thursday for the Francophonie summit in Switzerland.

Not that long ago, the Prime Minister was at war with Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams, who ran an anybody-but-Conservative campaign in the last federal election over what he characterized as a broken promise on equalization by the Harper government. Mr. Williams was successful; the Conservatives were shut out of the seven Newfoundland ridings.

Not anymore. The Prime Minister and Premier, joined by former Tory MP Fabian Manning, now a Senator (Mr. Harper appointed him to the Red Chamber in 2009 after he lost his seat in the 2008 election), are to make an announcement about renovation work done at Canadian Forces Station St. John's. It is expected, too, that Mr. Harper will have another meeting with the Premier about federal-provincial relations.

"This is playing well on the Rock," a Conservative insider told The Globe. "A Prime Minister has never visited the province this frequently."

Mr. Harper also toured the damage left by hurricane Igor on a visit to the province in late September.

"This is not entirely an innocent policy-driven exercise," the insider noted. "If greater co-operation is legitimately forged between the PM and the Premier, federal Tory seats could be picked up there in the next election."