Early Political Career
Volpe first became involved with the Liberal Party in the 1968 federal election, when he worked on Charles Caccia's campaign in Davenport. He ran for the North York Board of Education in the 1974 municipal election as a separate school representative, but was defeated. He later ran for the Ontario legislature in the 1981 provincial election and narrowly lost to New Democratic Party incumbent Odoardo Di Santo in Downsview. The following year, he supported David Peterson for the Ontario Liberal Party leadership.
Volpe subsequently chaired the sponsoring group of an immigrant counseling agency called Alliance Community Services, which received a controversial $500,000 grant from the federal government in January 1984. Local municipal politicians Howard Moscoe and Maria Rizzo charged that the ACS was a partisan organization and that the grant was political patronage; Volpe and others rejected this charge. Maria Minna, the president of COSTI-IIAS Immigrant Services, opposed the grant on the grounds that the new organization would duplicate the work of her organization. Employment and Immigration Minister John Roberts retracted the grant following criticism, but later reversed himself and allowed it to proceed. The ACS dissolved in early 1985.
Volpe increased his profile in the mid-1980s by recruiting many new Liberal Party members from Toronto's Italian community. He helped influence several party nomination contests, including John Nunziata's 1984 victory over Paul Hellyer in York South—Weston. Some questioned Volpe's methods and suggested that he was manipulating the system by signing up "instant party members", a charge that he denied. He endorsed John Roberts in the 1984 federal Liberal leadership convention, and threw his support to Jean Chrétien on the second ballot after Roberts withdrew from the contest. The winning candidate was John Turner, who led the Liberal Party to defeat in the 1984 federal election.
Volpe unsuccessfully campaigned for the presidency of the Ontario Liberal Party in 1985 and 1986, against media speculation that leading figures in the party opposed his candidacy. Despite Volpe's earlier support for Chrétien, he organized a pro-Turner slate for the Liberal Party's 1986 leadership review. Turner, who was faced with public and backroom challenges since 1984, received the necessary support to consolidate his leadership. Volpe spoke out against the Meech Lake Accord the following year, while most of the Liberal leadership supported it.
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