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Province in play? 5 MPs retired and made Nova Scotia's federal election races more interesting

This Phil Vogler photo capturing the picturesque view of the Annapolis Valley from the Avonport Mountain area of Highway 101 minutes before sunset hit home for a lot of social media users after it was posted on the Kings County Advertiser and Register Facebook page Feb. 28.
With long-time member of Parliament Scott Brison's departure from politics, the riding of Kings-Hants - which includes parts of Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley - is one of many Nova Scotia ridings to watch on election night. - Phil Vogler

Pundits watching to see if high-profile candidates can win

With nearly half the province’s Liberal incumbents throwing in the towel and an offering of experienced candidates across the board, nearly all Nova Scotia’s ridings are worth watching on election day.

For starters, long-serving MPs in two Cape Breton ridings, Rodger Cuzner and Mark Eyking are not reoffering. Neither is high-profile MP and former cabinet minister Scott Brison in Kings-Hants, Bill Casey in Cumberland-Colchester, or one-time MP Colin Fraser in West Nova.

“In Nova Scotia, the candidate factor matters. This is why we do have to pay attention to the retirement of incumbents because there is a loyalty to the sitting representative of any party if that person has demonstrated real attention to constituents,” said Cape Breton University politics professor Tom Urbaniak.

With few incumbents on the ballot in Nova Scotia, several of the province's 11 ridings could see a change in party come Oct. 21. - Elections Canada
With few incumbents on the ballot in Nova Scotia, several of the province's 11 ridings could see a change in party come Oct. 21. - Elections Canada

The two Cape Breton ridings, Cape Breton-Canso and Sydney-Victoria, considered some of the province’s safest Liberal seats in recent years, will now have Grit candidates Mike Kelloway and Jaime Battiste up against two former provincial Progressive Conservative MLAs, Alfie MacLeod and Eddie Orrell. They are running for the federal Conservatives.

“All of a sudden, the safe Liberal seats are in play, especially with the Conservatives nominating high-profile, experienced politicians,” Urbaniak said.

Chris d'Entremont, another well-known former PC MLA-turned federal Conservative candidate, is taking on Colin Fraser’s former executive assistant Jason Deveau, who will be attempting to keep the former Tory stronghold of West Nova red.

A tight race is expected in Bill Casey's former riding of Cumberland-Colchester, which includes the Town of Truro - Lynn Curwin
A tight race is expected in Bill Casey's former riding of Cumberland-Colchester, which includes the Town of Truro - Lynn Curwin

And in the absence of Bill Casey, a local hero with a reputation of winning elections regardless of who he is running for, the Liberals in Cumberland-Colchester are offering former NDP MLA Lenore Zann, while the Conservatives will be trying to grab back the one consistently blue district with former Harper-era MP Scott Armstrong.

“There are high-profile people running all over the place in Nova Scotia, and that's going to make this election interesting,” said Urbaniak.

Other former Conservative strongholds that were caught up in 2015’s Liberal sweep were Central Nova and South Shore-St. Margarets. Both have fairly high-profile Liberal incumbents: Sean Fraser, who served as parliamentary secretary to environment minister Catherine McKenna, and rural economic development minister Bernadette Jordan. In Central Nova, the Tories nabbed Juno-winning country singer George Canyon to take on Fraser, and in South Shore-St. Margarets, businessman Rick Perkins is on the ballot for the Conservatives.

“In my own riding, Central Nova, when you don't have a sweep like in ‘93 and 2015, it's Conservative,” said St. FX political science professor Jim Bickerton.

“It’s not a sweep (this year), so does that mean that it goes back to its traditional voting pattern or has something changed here?”

Bickerton also wonders how much of the Conservative vote over the years was a loyalty to the MacKay family — most recently former cabinet minister Peter MacKay — who stepped away from politics just before the 2015 election.

And with Brison, a consistently popular choice among voters in Kings-Hants both as a Conservative and a Liberal, no longer in the running, it’s hard to predict which way that riding will go.

While the New Democrats don’t see widespread popularity in Nova Scotia, they have enjoyed success in the Metro ridings of Halifax, Dartmouth-Cole Harbour, and Sackville-Preston-Chezzetcook in the past.

Can the NDP win back the riding of Halifax?  - The Chronicle Herald
Can the NDP win back the riding of Halifax? - The Chronicle Herald

The NDP is aware of their heightened chances in these areas and has offered up some heavy-hitters. In Halifax, the former riding of high-profile NDP MPs Megan Leslie and Alexa McDonough, the New Democrats have Christine Saulnier, who has served as the Nova Scotia Director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives for the last decade. In Dartmouth, they have climate activist Emma Norton. They are both up against incumbent Liberals, Andy Fillmore in Halifax and Darren Fisher in Dartmouth, as well as some high profile Green candidates including Halifax restauranteur Lil MacPherson and Jo-Ann Roberts, deputy leader of the Green Party of Canada.

“It was shocking to see those NDP seats in Halifax go down (in 2015),” Bickerton said. “The NDP is on the rise in this last week ... it will be worth watching to see if (they) can win back one of them.”

As for the Green Party, while it has enjoyed popularity in other Atlantic provinces, Urbaniak thinks their chances of nabbing a seat in Nova Scotia are slim.

“Even though the Greens are running high-profile and respectable candidates in most of the ridings, I think it’s a tough battle out there,” Urbaniak said.

“One of the disadvantages for the Greens is that they have such a weak provincial party in Nova Scotia ... even the strong candidates are having to build teams from the ground up."


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