Ont. Tories call on Rossi to lead Toronto breakthrough
The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, February 1, 2011 3:37PM EST
TORONTO - The defection Tuesday of a once high-profile Liberal to Ontario's Progressive Conservatives had the Tories talking about a possible breakthrough in Toronto in the Oct. 6 election, while Liberals fumed.
Rocco Rossi raised millions for the Liberals as the federal party's national director, but is now seeking the provincial Tory nomination in the Toronto riding of Eglinton-Lawrence.
Rossi, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Toronto last year, said his defection from the Liberals to the Tories is a natural move for him.
"Anyone who followed the 11-month campaign in Toronto will see those principles I stood for, principles of fiscal responsibility, of practical solutions, are ones that line up very well with the kinds of change that Tim Hudak and the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party wants to bring," Rossi said on the grounds of the provincial legislature.
"There is no contradiction and no issue other than wanting to serve the public, and to bring to this city and this province the future it so richly deserves."
As PC supporters applauded Rossi's arrival at a brief but frigid outdoor ceremony, Opposition Leader Tim Hudak said Tories would put a strong emphasis on making a breakthrough in the province's most populous city this fall.
"Rocco understands like I do that a strong Toronto is a foundation for a strong province," said Hudak.
"Our party is making Toronto and the GTA a priority. The Liberals have taken the GTA for granted for far too long."
Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynne, who is also vice-chairwoman of the Liberal campaign, said recruiting Rossi smacked of "desperation" by the Tories to win a seat in Toronto.
She rejected suggestions Rossi's defection showed the Liberals' chances of re-election in October are slim.
"What it says is nobody knows where Mr. Rossi stands...and that, from my perspective, is consistent with Tim Hudak because we don't know where he stands either," said Wynne.
"Tim Hudak is desperate to find a message and he doesn't have one, and I don't think Rocco Rossi's going to be able to provide him with one. His message was not clear during the mayoralty campaign, and it's not clear now."
Word of Rossi's defection had Liberal operatives working overtime to dig up old quotes where Rossi attacks Prime Minister Stephen Harper or contradicts current PC policy.
Liberal blogger Warren Kinsella took pot shots at Rossi, calling the follicly challenged new Tory "Benedict Baldy" and posting old quotes where Rossi praised the Liberal Party.
"I never called him a lying, duplicitous, good-for-nothing scumbag, who this morning has continued a failed political 'career' marked by bizarre and erratic behaviour. I never said that," wrote Kinsella.
Kinsella also removed from his blog old quotes where he had praised Rossi.
The New Democrats said Rossi's defection to the Tories shows most people believe the Liberals are headed for defeat this fall instead of being re-elected to a third term in office.
"Some may call Mr. Rossi an opportunist, (but) I'll say simply that he's clever enough to not go down with the sinking McGuinty-Liberal ship," said NDP critic Peter Kormos.
"He's pushed his way to the front of the line and grabbed the first life boat he could find."
Rossi, who turns 49 on Sunday, is a former CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario and was campaign manager for former PC leader John Tory's unsuccessful bid for mayor of Toronto in 2003.
If Rossi wins the Tory nomination -- Hudak does not have the power to appoint candidates as Premier Dalton McGuinty can with Liberal candidates -- he will face off against veteran Liberal Michael Colle, who won the riding by fewer than 2,200 votes in 2007. Colle won with 43 per cent of the votes, while the PC candidate captured 38 per cent.
Angry Liberals vowed Tuesday to work hard in the mid-town Toronto riding to defeat Rossi and make sure Colle gets re-elected.