Courting the Swing Vote in Prescott, Ontario

By Cindy Chan
Cindy Chan
Cindy Chan
September 24, 2008 Updated: September 25, 2008

OTTAWA—A Liberal stronghold in eastern Ontario is poised for a tight election battle between a one-term Conservative incumbent and a first-time Liberal challenger with family roots in the riding.

The Glengarry-Prescott-Russell riding is one of the most bilingual in Canada and has historically favoured the Liberals. It is one of many contested ridings where the Liberals and Conservatives both stand a good chance to win.

Liberal cabinet minister Don Boudria, the riding’s former MP, held the seat from 1984 but announced in 2005 that he would not run again. It had been in Liberal hands for 44 years until Conservative Pierre Lemieux took the seat in 2006. He won by a mere 203 votes with 22,990 votes compared to Liberal René Berthiaume’s 22,787.

Now the Liberals want the seat back and they’re hoping Don’s son, Dan Boudria, can get it for them.

Both the Conservative and Liberal party leaders visited the riding last week, Stephen Harper on Friday and Stéphane Dion on Saturday.

Professor Rand Dyck, an expert on Canadian politics at Carleton University, said party leaders seem to think “their mere appearance in these [swing] ridings will be helpful.”

“It’s almost amusing that two or sometimes even three leaders will be making a stop at exactly the same spot during the campaign. They take that very seriously,” he said.

Prof. Dyck said that although the party leaders and issues usually play a more important role than the local candidate, this riding could be different given the popularity of Mr. Boudria’s father.

“Normally we say the local candidate does not have too much impact, it’s more the leaders and issues and platforms. But sometimes the local candidate will have a little bit of an impact. This might be one case,” said Prof. Dyck.

The Conservative candidate is hoping that his success in getting $50 million in infrastructure money for the riding will prove that he represents “change for the better.”

Mr. Lemieux said people have seen real results in his riding since the Conservatives came to power, including more than $8 million to bring fresh drinking water to the riding and $40 million to widen Hwy. 174.

“This file had been open under the Liberals for the last 15 to 20 years with no results, nothing for this project. I was Conservative MP for two years and the federal government announced the money to widen this road,” he said.

Agreeing that the federal government must be “an active partner in infrastructure,” Mr. Boudria said the second biggest issue in the riding is economic development.

He proposed creating “an economic development agency for Eastern Ontario, similar to what we have in the Quebec and Maritimes provinces.”

Other key issues include support for agriculture, in particular regulating the market for eggs, poultry, and dairy products; official bilingualism; and a rapid commuter rail service in Eastern Ontario, said Mr. Boudria.

Meanwhile Jean-Sébastien Caron representing the NDP and Sylvie Lemieux, the Green Party’s candidate, are also contesting the vote.

Ms. Lemieux (no relation to Pierre) said residents have emphasized four priorities: health, youth, language, and the success of the riding’s small and medium enterprises.

There’s a “huge focus on the local economy and sustainable economy.” she said. “We talk about access to local food which would help some of our agricultural residents and shifting taxes that would support the success of our small enterprises.”

Denis Séguin, riding association president for the NDP, said the key issue is the environment and support for farmers to “ensure they can afford to keep their land and water in good, healthy condition.”

Prof. Dyck said in this election the fact that the centre right vote is concentrated in the Conservatives and the centre left vote is split among the Liberals, NDP, and the Greens helps the Conservatives win seats.

Strategic Counsel polls done for CTV during September 21 to 23 show that in 20 Ontario swing ridings the Conservatives are leading at 42 per cent, ahead of the Liberals at 27 per cent.

Additional reporting by Matthew Little

Cindy Chan