TORONTO — In hockey, retribution for a dirty hit or a perceived public slight can unfold many games later. The team rallies behind the aggrieved player and tries to settle the score.
In politics, those personal rivalries can play out over years and stimulate just as much emotion and feelings of team loyalty.
This election, two close Ontario faceoffs are replays of the tough fights that unfolded during the 2011 campaign, and saw two Liberals lose their seats. Borys Wrzesnewskyj wants to win Etobicoke Centre back from Conservative Ted Opitz. Same goes for Liberal Mark Holland versus Chris Alexander in Ajax.
“(Mark) was the firepower in Parliament, he gave them a tough time, so they wanted him out,” said Liberal supporter Radha Radhakrishnam of Ajax.
“It was a technical knockout, not a real knockout, it was a very small difference. This time we are out in full force.”
The party machinery in both parties is invested in the outcome too — they see flags to be planted in two important parts of the Greater Toronto Area.
Trudeau paid a visit to Holland’s campaign HQ on Wednesday evening, and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is due on Thursday. Earlier in the week, Trudeau, Wrzesnewskyj, and other MPs met with the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.
Conservative Leader Stephen Harper paid a private visit to Opitz’s campaign office earlier this week, pepping up the campaign workers. By the weekend, he’ll be back again for a rally in Etobicoke.
Opitz won his seat there by a slim 26 votes, and Wrzesnewskyj argued that procedural irregularities such as improper paperwork at polling stations skewed the result. That sparked a bitter court challenge, which Wrzesnewskyj eventually lost at the Supreme Court of Canada.
Wrzesnewskyj, whose campaign declined several interview requests by The Canadian Press, still harkens back to the close result in a recent letter dropped off at voters’ homes.
“As you may remember, we lost the last election in Etobicoke Centre by only 26 votes,” he wrote. “That is 26 people who forgot to vote, didn’t think their vote mattered, or got confused by misdirecting robocalls.”
Them’s fighting words to the Opitz campaign, which points out their campaign was not linked to misleading robocalls in 2011.
For his part, Opitz says he’s got even more things going for him this election — including the fact that he’s no longer the rookie candidate who came into the race at the last minute with no existing organization.
The former Canadian Forces lieutenant colonel says he doesn’t have time to focus on his Liberal rival. He says people want to talk about transit, about jobs.
“I don’t talk about him at the doors, because if I do that, I’m not telling them what our government is proposing to do, I’m wasting their time and my time, and then I find very little’s been accomplished,” Opitz said in an interview in his campaign office.
In Ajax, the stakes seem even higher — Alexander is a cabinet minister, and Holland has a reputation for getting under the skin of Conservatives.
In 2011, the Conservatives poured resources into the area to ensure Holland’s defeat. Alexander took the riding, then known as Ajax-Pickering, with 2,782 votes more than Holland.
This time, Alexander has the target on his back — the Liberals are looking to take out a cabinet minister.
“I haven’t seen nearly the strength of the Conservative campaign that was there before,” Holland said, shortly before the Trudeau event Wednesday night.
“We’ve never had more signs, never had more identified supporters, never had more donations … leave nothing for granted, leave no stone unturned.”
As much as the parties might be focused on these duels, colleagues rooting for their friends, voters are a different story.
Outside a Wednesday farmer’s market at Etobicoke’s Montgomery’s Inn, the names of the candidates in the riding only sparked vague recognition.
“It’s funny, I’m not too crazy about the local candidates but the whole party appeals to me, so I think I do vote for the whole party rather than the candidate,” said recent graduate Olga Polstvin.
Jennifer Ditchburn, The Canadian Press