Stories

Atlantic Canada, Trudeau’s new Liberal base

Marco Navarro-Genie
September 17, 2015
For over two years the Conservative government has been taking a pounding in Atlantic Canada over its modest reforms to Employment Insurance. Meanwhile, it got almost no political credit for awarding a $25 billion shipbuilding contract to Halifax that will produce thousands of jobs. Whatever that says about the regional appetite for work vs pogey, it spells disaster for Conservative candidates, and big election gains in the region for the Liberals under Justin Trudeau. He has promised to roll back some of the Tory EI changes, and reduce impending cuts to premiums, which are disproportionately paid by workers and employers in high-employment regions of Canada. In a place where a quarter of the workforce collects EI every year, write Marco Navarro-Genie and Michael Kydd, that’s good politics.
Stories

Atlantic Canada, Trudeau’s new Liberal base

Marco Navarro-Genie
September 17, 2015
For over two years the Conservative government has been taking a pounding in Atlantic Canada over its modest reforms to Employment Insurance. Meanwhile, it got almost no political credit for awarding a $25 billion shipbuilding contract to Halifax that will produce thousands of jobs. Whatever that says about the regional appetite for work vs pogey, it spells disaster for Conservative candidates, and big election gains in the region for the Liberals under Justin Trudeau. He has promised to roll back some of the Tory EI changes, and reduce impending cuts to premiums, which are disproportionately paid by workers and employers in high-employment regions of Canada. In a place where a quarter of the workforce collects EI every year, write Marco Navarro-Genie and Michael Kydd, that’s good politics.
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Liberal leader Justin Trudeau addresses a group during an event in Bouctouche, N.B., Tuesday, September 8, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan HaywardThe electoral influence of Atlantic Canada has been diluted with the addition of 30 seats to the House of Commons because none of them will be in the Atlantic region. But the region’s 32 seats still matter in a close three-way, country-wide race between the Conservatives, New Democrats and Liberals. In this part of Canada, however, the race appears anything but close.

At mid-campaign, and for many months leading up to it, the resurgent Liberal party under Justin Trudeau has been putting up polling numbers around 50 percent, up 20 points from the 2011 election. These gains come almost entirely at the expense of the Conservatives, whose 2011 support has been halved to around 20 percent. That puts them in third place, 10 points back of the New Democrats, who are pretty much exactly where they were four years ago. According to poll aggregator ThreeHundredEight.com, the Liberals are currently projected to win 22 seats in the region, the NDP 6 and the Conservatives 4. In 2011, the score was LPC 12, NDP 6 and CPC 14.

Numerous factors have contributed to the Tory collapse, but perhaps the single most damaging issue has been their relatively minor reforms to employment insurance qualification criteria. In a region where seasonal work is woven into the fabric of the economy and EI income dependence rates are higher than anywhere else in Canada, those 2013 reforms have sparked sustained public protests and fierce criticism by local politicians and other stakeholders.

New Brunswick

The Conservatives currently hold eight of New Brunswick’s 10 ridings – their highest total since Brian Mulroney’s 1984 landslide. If current levels of support hold to election day, the Tories may salvage three seats: Rob Moore in Fundy Royal, Keith Ashfield in Fredericton, and John Williamson in New Brunswick Southwest.

All three MPs are highly respected in their ridings, especially Ashfield, a long-time cabinet minister who has been battling cancer for two years but is currently in remission. Williamson’s seat is in the province’s Anglophone conservative heartland that was formerly the base of the provincial Confederation of Regions Party, once the Official Opposition to Frank McKenna’s Liberals. Williamson’s cause was not helped by a clumsy comment he made last March about “whities” and “brown people” – in an apparent criticism of the Temporary Foreign Workers Program – but he apologized profusely and seems to have put the controversy behind him.

Other prominent Conservative candidates, including Indian Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt, Robert Goguen, Rodney Weston, Mike Allen, and Tilly O’Neill-Gordon, are hoping to get a boost from a recent backlash against the provincial Liberal government over nursing home fees and a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing. The provincial Grits are also saddled with a growing deficit, 11 percent unemployment and negative economic growth. If some of that rubs off on the Trudeau Liberals, the Conservatives may do better in New Brunswick than anywhere else in the region – which isn’t saying much.

Nova Scotia

With three of Nova Scotia’s four incumbent Conservative MPs not seeking re-election this year – including former Defence Minister and regional chieftain Peter MacKay – party insiders are fearing the worst, a complete shut-out in the 11-seat province. Here too the Liberals are benefitting from the exaggerated complaints about the Employment Insurance reforms, particularly in rural ridings like Cape Breton-Canso and Sydney-Victoria. The whopping $25 billion contract awarded to Irving Shipbuilding in Halifax to rebuild Canada’s navy has apparently procured few votes in Nova Scotia, or anywhere in Atlantic Canada.

Likely gains for the Liberals and NDP will be in West Nova, South Shore-St. Margaret’s, Cumberland-Colchester, and Central Nova. The NDP is competitive in all those ridings, particularly Central Nova, where former provincial NDP Justice Minister Ross Landry is running against former Conservative Party staffer Fred DeLorey. The Tories takes some hope from the fact that three seats in the region turned blue in the 2013 provincial election, which saw the end of a one-term NDP government that had rung up a $4 billion debt on a $9 billion-a-year budget (and thus became a prominent exception to NDP leader Thomas Mulcair’s claim that NDP governments are invariably models of fiscal prudence). The Liberals, meanwhile, suffered a setback in Central Nova when their candidate David MacLeod resigned over Justin Trudeau’s support for the Harper government’s anti-terrorism law, Bill C-51.

Scarcely two years removed from the disastrous provincial campaign that saw the party reduced from a majority government to a paltry five seats, the NDP will be hard pressed to make large gains in the province. But they should hold on to at least two of the three they’ve got. Six months ago, even star incumbents like Megan Leslie and Robert Chisholm looked to be in trouble. They are still facing strong Liberal challenges, but the durability of NDP support nationally (including last spring’s provincial conquest of Alberta), may keep them afloat in their ridings.

Conservatives believe their best shot is Central Nova, but they are also hoping for a miracle in Cumberland-Colchester, where former Conservative-turned-Independent-turned Liberal Bill Casey is trying to unseat Tory incumbent Scott Armstrong. The mercurial Casey actually helped Armstrong win the seat in 2009, before he soured completely on Stephen Harper and took up with Justin Trudeau. But Armstrong, a constant campaigner and vigorous local advocate who has delivered plenty for his riding, may not be easy to beat.

Prince Edward Island

The four seats in the smallest province in confederation will likely be as red as Anne Shirley’s pigtails by night’s end on October 19, but not if popular Conservative cabinet minister Gail Shea has anything to say about it. A quirk of the Conservative EI reforms saw five more weeks of additional benefits provided to rural and seasonal workers outside of Charlottetown. As it happens, Shea represents a rural riding. The scandal over Senator Mike Duffy’s ephemeral residency on the island doesn’t seem to provoke the same level of outrage locally it does elsewhere, but Liberals are still hoping for a clean sweep. Whatever happens to Shea, PEI seems destined to become the only orange-free province in the country, a distinction once held by Alberta.

Newfoundland & Labrador

The Conservatives have nothing to lose in Newfoundland and Labrador, and if they had any chance of winning any of its seven seats, it vanished the second they denied the nomination in the riding of Avalon to Ches Crosbie, son of iconic NL Progressive Conservative John Crosbie. As Tory volunteers and donors sit at home and on their wallets, the Crosbie affair has driven a deep divide between Newfoundlanders and the Harper Conservatives. While Crosbie was not blessed with his father’s political genius and wasn’t expected to win Avalon, the snub may poison the well on the Rock for Conservatives through this election and beyond.

With the Conservatives out of the picture in Avalon, it’s a two-horse race between the Liberal candidate and the former Liberal MP Scott Andrews, whom Trudeau busted out of the party after a female NDP MP anonymously accused Andrews of sexual misconduct. As with those unsubstantiated charges, Andrews hasn’t got a chance.

Outside of Avalon, the Liberal surge threatens the two St. John’s ridings currently held by the NDP. The incumbent in St. John’s East, Jack Harris, is the NDP’s best bet to maintain a toehold in the province. In St. John’s South-Mount Pearl, New Democrat MP Ryan Cleary is thought to be running a close second to the Liberal candidate, former CTV broadcaster Seamus O’Regan.

Summary

With just under five weeks to go until Election Day, the outcome of the national election is still entirely up in the air. The campaign may yet be buffeted by unexpected developments that could change or determine its course, but in Atlantic Canada, barring a monumental reversal of Liberal fortunes, it seems clear a red tide is going to engulf the region. Expect modest gains for the NDP, significant losses for the Conservatives including the possibility of a shutout in three of the four provinces, and up to two-thirds of the region’s seats going to the Liberals.

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