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Feature

thursday, april 7, 2011

A speck of Orange in a Sea of Blue Managing Editor Justin Bell follows the campaign trail of federal election candidates in Edmonton-Strathcona

I

t’s a warm day in late March when Linda Duncan starts knocking on doors just south of the university. Slush covers the ground, making life difficult for the four volunteers who have decided to join the NDP candidate in an election ritual — walking door to door to talk to voters where they live. And while typical political wisdom would say Duncan, as the incumbent, would have an easy time trying to win back her Edmonton seat, she knows it will be a difficult slog. She won the 2008 federal election by a mere 463 votes, a little more than half a per cent of the total votes cast in the riding. Duncan is running again for her seat in Edmonton-Strathcona, the federal riding that encompasses the University of Alberta, and is home to many students. The west end of the riding has a history of electing NDP members; Edmonton-Strathcona is also the name of a provincial riding held by NDP member Rachel Notley. But it also spans east to the city limits, taking in working-class neighbourhoods such as Bonnie Doon, Ottewell, and Holyrood. Gene Zwozdesky, the current Minister of Health and Wellness for the Progressive Conservatives, holds down Edmonton-Mill Creek, the provincial riding that encompasses the east end of the federal constituency. It’s this mix of voting patterns that Duncan stepped into in the last federal election. Prior to her victory, Edmonton-Strathcona had been held for 11 years by Rahim Jaffer, who had followed the progression of conservative parties on the prairies, from Reform to Canadian Alliance, and finally the Conservative Party of Canada in 2003. In 2008, it would come down to the wire on election night. But at the end of it, Duncan would become the only non-Conservative MP in Alberta, and one of only two who aren’t Tories between Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Duncan is back on the campaign trail this year, trying to boost support for her campaign and give herself a bit more breathing room. “Most important is I hope I win again. But it would be nice to get a bigger margin so I could catch my breath a bit more,” says Duncan as she walks between houses. “It’s just trying to turn the corner and make people care about the substantive issues. I’m seeing a turn already. I think people are tired of talking about the scandals.” Duncan is focusing on a number of issues this year, from health care to affordability of education. She wants to see more money to train nurses and doctors at institutions such as the U of A, as well as more money for pharmaceutical drugs to be covered under health care. “[Edmonton-Strathcona] had the highest voter turnout in Alberta. We have no lack of enthusiasm here. The biggest issue for people in Alberta is health care. After that, affordability. Big time for the students.” As the incumbent, Duncan has come under attack by a number of other candidates. But she refuses to hit back directly, instead lambasting Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservative Government for their actions in Parliament. It’s been candidates such as Ryan Hastman who are taking their shot at Duncan, trying to bring down the incumbent. Hastman is taking up the Conservative banner this year. He was nominated as the Tory candidate in April 2009 and has been working since then to increase his presence in the riding.

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The Gateway

Feature

volume ci number 46

11

“I think a lot of students are just going to not bother voting because they’re not sure which riding they should vote in, whether it’s in Edmonton where they live, or their home, wherever that may be.” — Andrew Fehr Green Party Candidate

“It’s just trying to turn the corner and make people care about the substantive issues. I’m seeing a turn already. I think people are tired of talking about the scandals.” — Linda Duncan NDP Candidate (Incumbent)

For him, the election has one major issue: the economy. “Here in Strathcona, and across the country, one of the biggest drivers of our economy is small business, but also technology innovation. So, we’re the heart of the digital economy here. I think it’s important to nurture that,” he said. That would mean continued support for the U of A through programs like the Knowledge Infrastructure Program, which has put $2 billion into postsecondary infrastructure in the country. Hastman also highlighted the government’s decision to fund more Canada Research Chair positions, another 10 of which were included in the 2011 federal budget that didn't pass. With such a close outcome in the 2008 election, Hastman is prepared for a long fight this election season. He said he's already knocked on 16,000 doors in the riding since his nomination, trying to reach as many people as possible. He’s predicting another close race this year — when asked, he knows the exact number of votes that Duncan won by in the last election. “I think it will be close. I think it will come down to [an] excruciating hundred votes, or something like that. Both sides are mobilized, both sides are running good campaigns.” With a close election, there isn’t much room for error. But Hastman stumbled in the first few days of his campaign. Sebastien Togneri caused a stir just days into the campaign when the Canadian Press found out he was volunteering for Hastman. Togneri is a former aid to Public Works Minister Christian Paradis who is being investigated by the RCMP over claims that he interfered in Access to Information requests put forward by the Canadian Press. The story broke nationally and was huge for a few days at the end of March. “I think there’s been a couple bumps in the road for the Conservative campaign,” said Steve Patten, an associate professor in the department

of Political Science at the U of A. “As much as the ethics of a single volunteer really isn’t a big deal and we shouldn’t let it reflect on the candidate, the fact that it was in the news — it’s something that is a bump in the road.” For his part, Hastman said Togneri was a friend who volunteered to put together a few signs and had left the campaign. But the news coverage of the event, from the national press to a scathing article by Edmonton Journal columnist Graham Thomson, all adds up to a potential problem for Hastman. “An article like that makes a difference in the margins. And it’s only in the margins, but in a close race, the things happening in the margins are really important,” Patten said. But even then, Patten admits that the Thomson article will be “history” by the time voters head to the polls at the beginning of May. By then, Hastman and his campaign could have time to overcome the negative press. A bigger indicator of this year’s results could be the efforts by both campaigns to get their voters to the polls. With more experience in getting their constituents out on election day, Duncan could hold the upper hand. But the last federal election's results, where Jaffer’s total number of votes dropped by more than 2,000, the Conservative campaign may push harder to mobilize their supporters. The attention being paid to the region by the national leaders could be an indication of the importance being placed on the riding. NDP Leader Jack Layton made Edmonton his first campaign stop, while Stephen Harper was in the region to promote Hastman a few days later. And Patten said that likely won’t be the last time the leader of a major political party makes a stop in Edmonton. But Hastman and Duncan aren’t the only two politicians running in Edmonton-Strathcona. The two other candidates, both students at postsecondary institutions in the city, offer some

hope that students are starting to pay attention to politics. With a late nomination and a campaign run out of a communal office downtown, Patten doesn’t think the Liberal candidate Matthew Sinclair has much of a shot. And the Liberals for Linda campaign, which started in the 2008 election, could draw enough votes away from Sinclair to seriously hurt his chances of being elected. Patten said he’s heard the campaign will be back this year. But Sinclair, a 21-year-old political science student from MacEwan, isn't giving up. He identified transparency, the economy, and good governance as the major issues in this election. “The whole reason this election was called [was due to] the contempt of Parliament. A Liberal government would respect the voters and be honest with them,” Sinclair said. “I want to show people that I’m here. I’m prepared to represent Edmonton-Strathcona with progressivism. I have tremendous respect for the other candidates. But I feel the Liberal Party of Canada has more to offer to EdmontonStrathcona.” Sinclair said he was disappointed by the Liberals for Linda campaign, a group pulling Liberal support towards the NDP candidate. He said he hopes people see the Liberals as a strong alternative to the Conservative government. And he dismissed the idea that the Liberals weren’t serious about the riding. “We’re running a full, head-on campaign here,” Sinclair said. “We’re here because we want to show people we are the balanced alternative.” Rounding out the four major candidates in Edmonton-Strathcona is Green candidate Andrew Fehr, an environmental economics and policy student at the University of Alberta. While he recognizes he doesn’t have much of a chance to win the riding — Green support in 2008 was at only 6.4 per cent in the riding — he wants to use the election to push issues he

considers important. “I want to raise the profile of certain issues in this riding, such as climate change and the need to produce a renewable energy economy, and make sure federal funding comes through for the LRT system that so many Edmonton-Strathcona residents would benefit from,” Fehr said. His campaign is running on a shoestring budget with few volunteers. He’s having to set up and handle all the media requests himself, as well as knock on doors and hand out lawn signs, everything normally handled by a crew of volunteers. Fehr admits his marks have slipped as a result of the election’s timing, with campaigning coinciding with finals season. And with a May 2 vote, it could mean more students aren’t in Edmonton-Strathcona when it comes time to mark their ballot. “I think a lot of students are just going to not bother voting because they’re not sure which riding they should vote in, whether it’s in Edmonton where they live, or their home, wherever that may be,” Fehr said. Who will come out on top in the May 2 vote is still far from sure. With almost four weeks before voting day, anything could happen, and there’s more than enough time for any candidate to pull themselves up in the polls. Fehr, Sinclair, Hastman, and Duncan were the only candidates running in their riding as of press time. The final nominations for candidates is due April 11, and a confirmed list of candidates will be released April 13. Check the Elections Canada website (www.elections.ca) for updated candidate information, as well as other information about the voting process. The Students’ Union will be running an all-candidates forum on Tuesday, April 12 at noon at Dinwoodie Lounge in SUB. The final details haven’t been confirmed, so check the SU website (www.su.ualberta.ca) for updated information.

“I think it will be close. I think it will come down to [an] excruciating hundred votes, or something like that. Both sides are mobilized, both sides are running good campaigns.” — Ryan Hastman Conservative Party Candidate

“We’re running a full, head-on campaign here. We’re here because we want to show people we are the balanced alternative.” — Matthew Sinclair Liberal Party Candidate


A speck of orange in a sea of blue