CANADA

Stalking the ‘switchers’

July 30 1984
CANADA

Stalking the ‘switchers’

July 30 1984

Stalking the ‘switchers’

CANADA

The party professionals call them “switchers” and their constituencies “swing ridings.” If recent voting patterns continue when Canadians go to the polls Sept. 4, two in 10 voters—roughly 3.3 million—will support a different party than the one they backed in the 1980 general election. For the next six weeks, the Liberals, Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats will assiduously pursue the switchers—many of whom live in Ontario, where campaign workers believe up to 30 seats could change hands. All parties agree that the swing vote will once again determine the election’s outcome. Aided by polls and detailed votepattern analyses, the organizers have a clear idea of where and who the switchers are. Said William McAleer, Ontario campaign chairman for the Tories: “The pattern changes on a week-to-week basis. This is one election where constituency-level campaigning will be very important.”

Party strategists have divided the country’s 282 ridings into two classes —those that are winnable and those that are beyond hope. A few of the potentially winnable ridings are easy to determine. They are the bellwether constituencies that have swung back and forth between the two main parties for more than a decade. But each election brings new swing ridings, where enough voters can be persuaded to switch their loyalties in the same direction. Said Jon Pammett, a Carleton University political scientist who specializes in election analysis: “These voters want solutions

to national problems right away, and they are quite prepared to desert any party if these are not forthcoming.” The pursuit of specially targetted voters has become increasingly sophisticated. The Conservatives plan to mail personal-

ized, computer-written letters from leader Brian Mulroney asking for support. The letters begin “Dear friend” and will be followed by telephone calls and further mailings.

One of the so-called bellwether constituencies is St. Paul’s, a wealthy, largely residential riding in Toronto with large houses and tree-lined streets. Employment Minister John Roberts won the riding in 1980 with a cushion of 2,262 votes, but when the Tories formed a short-lived government in 1979, Roberts lost to Conservative Employment Minister Ron Atkey. Indeed, since John Diefenbaker’s Tories came to power in 1957, St. Paul’s has voted with the winning side in every general election except 1972, when Canadians elected a minority Liberal government. The Conservatives nominated 46-year-old financial analyst Barbara McDougall to run against Roberts. McDougall, who writes a financial advice column in Chatelaine, also managed former mayor of Toronto David Crombie’s two winning campaigns in the federal riding of Toronto Rosedale in 1979 and 1980. She spent one year campaigning hard for the St. Paul’s nomination, and for months worried that Brian Mulroney wanted to save the riding for a big-name candidate like Ontario attorney-general Roy McMurtry or former PC party president Michael Meighen. But neither man chose to run, and McDougall won the nomination last month. She will battle Roberts and NDP candidate John Webb, a 38-year-old woodworker who lives in the riding and is making his first run for public office.

On the East Coast, early election night indications of a nationwide trend could come from South West Nova, a rural Nova Scotian riding on the Bay of Fundy now held by Liberal lawyer Coline Campbell, 44. She won the riding in 1974, lost it to Tory Charles Haliburton in 1979, then regained it in the 1980 election—all by margins of less than 13 per cent. It is an economically depressed area with the residents dependent on fishing, subsistence farming and forestry—and Campbell noted in May that getting indoor plumbing in many of the homes was the biggest women’s issue among her constituents. The Conservatives have nominated 38-year-old Gerald Comeau, the head of the commerce department at Université Sainte-Anne in Church Point, N.S., making his debut as a federal candidate. The NDP has yet to choose its candidate.

Another key Maritime riding is Cardigan, a Prince Edward Island constituency held by Veterans Affairs Minister Bennett Campbell. Cardigan covers parts of Charlottetown and the picturesque farms of the eastern island, and is divided almost equally in population between town and country. The Liberals

won the seat under former prime minister Pierre Trudeau in 1972, lost it to the Tories in 1979 and regained it the following year. Campbell, a former premier, faces a formidable challenger in Pat Binns, the 35-year-old P.E.I. industry minister who resigned from the provincial cabinet to run federally.

Elsewhere across the country some ridings will command attention simply because they promise close races involving strong candidates. One example is Saskatoon East, which former Trudeau cabinet minister Otto Lang represented for 11 years until 1979. The incumbent, New Democrat Robert Ogle, a popular Roman Catholic priest, is not running again on the orders of the Pope. All three parties believe they can win the pleasant middle-class riding, which contains the University of Saskatchewan. The Conservative candidate, Don Ravis, a wealthy contractor, has been campaigning full time since early summer. The Liberal candidate, Douglas Richardson, a Saskatoon lawyer, was one of Prime Minister John Turner’s key western organizers during the leadership campaign, and would be a prime cabinet candidate in a Liberal government. For their part, the New Democrats have nominated Colin Clay, an Anglican priest and the chaplain at the University of Saskatchewan.

In Manitoba, Winnipeg Fort Garry also promises a dramatic fight as Transport Minister Lloyd Axworthy strives to defend his seat—and his position as western baron in a Turner cabinet. The city riding, which contains Italian, East Indian and Portuguese communities, is one of only two Liberal seats—with St. Boniface—left in the West. But Bud Sherman, the former deputy leader of the provincial Tories and the Conservative candidate, is a strong challenger. He has spent 15 years in the legislature, most recently as deputy provincial leader. During his four-year tenure in the cabinet Axworthy has showered an estimated $780 million worth of largess upon Manitoba. Sherman argues that despite Axworthy’s success in winning federal projects for the riding, Winnipeggers want a change of government.

Another battle involving well-known candidates looms in the Montreal riding of Notre Dame de Grâce-Lachine East. Warren Allmand has held the riding for 19 years, but the former federal solicitor general, whose penchant for controversial stands has earned him the nickname “MP for El Salvador,” has convinced the Tories that he is vulnerable in this election. Nick Auf der Maur, a well-known journalist, municipal politician and man-about-Montreal, will represent the Tories against Allmand. The rivals are old friends, but Allmand vowed to run hard. He told Auf der Maur last week:“Nick, this is not a game of

cards or a high school election.” The Tories have already handed Allmand a club to use. Mulroney chose Auf der Maur to be the candidate without a nomination meeting, even though four other Tories were prepared to compete for the right to run in the riding.

There are a few safe election-night bets. Party professionals expect Alberta (21 seats) to remain wholly Conservative. Similarly, early polls have encouraged Liberal hopes of retaining their stronghold in Quebec, where they won 74 of the 75 seats in 1980. And Newfoundland (Liberals 5, Conservatives 2)

will likely continue as a Liberal fiefdom with its capital, St. John’s, a stubborn oasis of Conservatism. With Turner running in Vancouver Quadra, the Liberals hope to revive party fortunes in British Columbia, where they last elected an MP in 1979. The Tories hold 11 of the province’s 28 seats, but with support reportedly weakening in at least six of the NDP seats, party standings could change quickly in a region noted for dramatic political shifts. But Ontario, with 95 ridings —Liberals 52, Conservatives 38 and NDP 5—and hundreds of thousands of “switchers,” remains volatile and once again will likely determine which party will carry the day.

— With correspondents ’ reports.