Then Jean Chretien announced he was stepping down. The Liberal Party foundation in Hamilton East would begin to crumble. Indeed, throughout the city, fortunes for Liberals would completely change over the next 4 years.
After going down to defeat by Paul Martin at the 2003 Liberal leadership convention, Sheila Copps turned down the offer of a patronage appointment from Martin and announced that she intended to remain in the House of Commons. Many suspect that Martin wanted to appoint Copps as Canada’s ambassador to France or UNESCO. Tony Valeri and Stan Keyes, both Hamilton area MP’s were elevated to cabinet, while Copps was demoted to the backbenches.
Riding redistribution placed Hamilton East MP Copps in a serious nomination battle with another Liberal MP, Tony Valeri from Stoney Creek Glanbrook.
In a December interview Copps complained that Prime Minister Paul Martin was trying to drive her, other women and other Martin opponents out of the Liberal caucus. On January 14, 2004, she suggested that she could campaign for the New Democratic Party in the upcoming election if Valeri won the Liberal nomination. Copps later retracted this threat.
The once rock solid Liberal foundation in the Hamilton area ridings was showing great wear and tear by this point. John Bryden, the MP from the western part of the city had crossed the floor to join the Conservative Party. Beth Phinney, from Hamilton Mountain, was offering her seat to Sheila Copps. Dominic Agostino, the popular Liberal MPP from Hamilton East would throw his support to Valeri. Area city councillors, such as Sam Merulla, would not know who to support.
March 6, 2004 was the date of the Hamilton East–Stoney Creek Liberal party nomination meeting, and Valeri defeated Copps by 2,802 votes to 2,491. Copps alleged improprieties in the nomination process and the conduct of the vote, and called on various authorities to investigate. No evidence was found to substantiate Copps’ allegations.
On the Provincial scene in Hamilton East the popular Liberal MPP, Dominic Agostino suddenly died on March 24, 2004, of liver cancer, to the surprise of many. Some city councillors tried seize upon the opportunity to consider a successor. But in a by-election to fill his legislative seat held on May 13, 2004, Dominic’s brother Ralph Agostino, a Catholic separate school board trustee, failed to retain the Hamilton East seat for the Liberal Party, falling far behind city councillor and NDP candidate Andrea Horwath. During the campaign, Councillor Sam Merulla, was showing signs of abandoning the Liberals for the NDP.
Following a near loss in the June 2004 federal election Valeri was appointed to the sensitive position of Government House Leader in Paul Martin’s minority government. He changed his hair style during this time.
Meanwhile, Stan Keyes who ran as Liberal candidate for the redistributed riding of Hamilton Centre, was defeated by the NDP candidate David Christopherson, a former provincial cabinet minister. The former amateur sports minister would have to watch the summer Athen’s Olympics from his livingroom. (Keyes was later given a patronage appointment by Martin as consul general to Boston. Then, after being demoted by Stephen Harper, went on to become President of The Canadian Payday Loan Association.)
Not much would happen in Hamilton Liberal party politics during the minority government of Paul Martin. Sheila Copps would release her second autobiography, Worth Fighting For, in October 2004, baselessly alleging that Martin had put a pledge in his 1995 budget to rescind the “outdated” Canada Health Act. Beth Phinney would resign her seat.
In the Christmas election of 2006, the Hamilton Spectator reported that Toni Valeri had purchased a property for $225,000 only to later sell it to a Liberal supporter for $500,000 a few months later. While Valeri insisted that the Ethics Commissioner had cleared the transaction, lingering doubts about the sale remained. Valeri was narrowly defeated by a margin of less than 500 votes by the New Democratic Party candidate Wayne Marston. Beth Phinney’s old seat would go to the NDP’s Chris Charlton, Dundas-Ancaster-Etc would become Tory under David Sweet, and Stan Keyes old riding would continue to be represented by David Christopherson of the NDP. No Liberals would be left standing in Hamilton after the 2006 federal election.