Going rogue

The NDP campaign has hit a snag. One of the party’s candidates in London, Ont., pulled out of the election on Wednesday to support his Liberal opponent — undermining a central part of the NDP campaign strategy.

Ryan Dolby poses for a photo near the Ford Assembly Plant north of St. Thomas

Ryan Dolby poses for a photo near the Ford Assembly Plant north of St. Thomas

BRAMPTON, Ont. — The NDP campaign has hit a snag.

One of the party’s candidates in London, Ont., pulled out of the election on Wednesday to support his Liberal opponent — undermining a central part of the NDP campaign strategy.

Ryan Dolby stunned party officials by announcing that he will support Liberal Graham Warwick in Elgin-Middlesex-London. He says he doesn’t want to split the vote and allow Conservative Joe Preston to win.

“I think it’s the best decision on behalf of my family, my community, and my country to do whatever I can to make sure there isn’t a Conservative victory, especially in this riding,” Dolby said.

“I want to make sure we get a progressive MP — one that cares about improvements to the Canada Pension Plan, improvements to employment insurance, believes in democracy instead of contempt, and believes in sustainable job creation instead of building more prisons.”

The move took both the NDP and Liberals by surprise. The Liberals were happy. The NDP, not so much.

NDP Leader Jack Layton said the party will have another candidate in place within 48 hours so that voters in the riding have a true choice.

Layton has encouraged voters to think strategically in order to defeat Harper. The pitch makes sense in Saskatchewan, Alberta and parts of British Columbia, where the NDP has placed a strong second in ridings that have elected Conservatives.

But in Ontario, the Liberals tend to dominate that second-place spot in Tory-held ridings. So anti-Harper electors thinking about how to consolidate their vote may be more likely to vote Liberal instead of NDP.

Layton and his staff were thrown into damage-control mode, hoping to make sure the Dolby switch is just a one-riding fluke.

“Voters are going to take a look at Mr. Ignatieff and they’ll take a look at me, and they’ll make a decision about who is really going to stand up to Mr. Harper,” Layton said during a stop in Brampton, Ont.

In an interview, Dolby said he had been contemplating for a month whether to pull out of the race. And now that he’s taken the plunge, he says he’s had supportive feedback from both Liberals and NDP members.

“I do believe in strategic voting,” he said. “But just to be clear, the aim, it’s not a coalition.”

Until Wednesday, Layton had avoided major attacks against the Liberals, since he wants to attract Liberal votes. But now, he is scrambling to differentiate himself from Ignatieff.

“Michael Ignatieff is taking Toronto for granted and is hoping you don’t notice,” Layton yelled at an afternoon rally in Toronto.

He insisted there are deep differences between the NDP and the Liberals in the election campaign, even as Ignatieff promised $700 million to alleviate poverty among seniors — a key pre-election NDP demand of the Harper government.

Ignatieff said Dolby’s move shows that Liberals are the only viable alternative to the Conservatives.

“This is an NDP candidate in a riding who looks at a great Liberal candidate, Graham Warwick, and understands something I think a lot of NDP voters are understanding.

“If you want to replace Stephen Harper, the place to go, the place to vote is to come into that big red tent at the centre of Canadian political life.”

Dolby ran for the NDP in 2008, finishing third with 9,135 votes. Preston was re-elected with 22,970 votes, while Liberal Suzanne Van Bommel was second with 11,169.