How times change!
The Toronto Star, the ever-faithful house organ of the Liberal Party, has now seen the consummation of its hopes with Toronto's control of the party, and it could hardly be happier:
Stephen LeDrew, bow-tied former president of the Liberal Party of Canada, is trying to exhale one of his famously monstrous laughs. It's just that there's a slight thinness to the gale this time, as if he's heard a variation of the quip a little too often of late.
That would be the one about how, these days, anyone vying to replace Paul Martin as Liberal leader has to be from Toronto and/or another party.
"There will be enough people running from the Liberal party," he vows. "I hope we have eight or nine or 10 people who are running, some of whom don't expect to win but are in there for the debate."
"We may have a great sea change," he adds, likening the sheer number of potential candidates to what the party enjoyed in 1968, a similarly big runoff that eventually gave us one Pierre Trudeau.
Except that, this Liberal party, the one whose national executive meets this weekend to plan its next leadership convention, is unlike any of its immediate predecessors. Virtually hounded out of Quebec in the last election — and perennially weak in western Canada — the Liberals have all but retreated to become the Liberal Party of Toronto.
Such is the state of Canada's natural governing party that more than a third of its seats in Parliament now come courtesy of Greater Toronto.
So perhaps it shouldn't surprise that no fewer than 10 of those considering a leadership bid are from the GTA — among them MPs Ken Dryden, Carolyn Bennett and Maurizio Bevilacqua. Little-known Martha Hall Findlay, a Markham lawyer, has already officially entered the race.
And the acknowledged front-runners? All from the GTA, but with additional twists: former Tory Belinda Stronach, former NDP premier Bob Rae and Michael Ignatieff, barely back in the country after an academic career in the United States.
If there is one phrase that we all want expunged from the Canadian political lexicon, it is "natural governing party." The very phrase should be offensive even to Liberals, because it suggests some sort of divine right to govern, its victories a confirmation of that divinity, its defeats a mere tactical withdrawal to rest and rearm for battle.
That the Toronto Star could use it without irony, even as the Liberal Party base increasingly narrows to Toronto, is a reflection of the arrogance that afflicts Toronto and the Liberal Party alike.
Only the Liberals have the moral right to govern, because only they have the support of Toronto.
Toronto has replaced Quebec as the necessary and sufficient reason to vote Liberal.
Canada now begins at the Rouge River and ends somewhere west of Highway 427.