COVER

SWINGING THE VOTE

THE PARTIES COURT THE BELLWETHER RIDINGS

PAUL KAIHLA November 14 1988
COVER

SWINGING THE VOTE

THE PARTIES COURT THE BELLWETHER RIDINGS

PAUL KAIHLA November 14 1988

SWINGING THE VOTE

THE PARTIES COURT THE BELLWETHER RIDINGS

The gaudy campaign caravan seemed to reflect the candidate’s cocky optimism. Tex Enemark, the Liberal contender in the Vancouver riding of Vancouver Centre, drove through the city’s Kitsilano district on the back of a flatbed truck decorated with streamers and posters of Liberal Leader John Turner. As Dixieland music blared from the truck’s sound system, Enemark, 48, waved to enthusiastic onlookers and then stepped down to greet voters with the statement: “We are going to win.” That prediction may have seemed unrealistic in light of the Liberals’ 1984 performance in the riding: the party candidate finished third—fully 10,420 votes behind Tory Patricia Carney. But Vancouver Centre is one of Canada’s volatile swing ridings, so called because historically they tend to follow the national political trend. And with the Liberal surge following Turner’s successful performance in the televised leaders’ debates on Oct. 24 and 25, Enemark was no longer saddled with an underdog image. Almost over-

night, he became a serious contender in the fight with New Democratic Party candidate Johanna den Hertog and Tory Kim Campbell, who won her nomination after cabinet minister Carney decided not to run again.

Indeed, as the campaign enters its final two

weeks, election strategists for all three parties are closely monitoring voter support in 25 or more swing ridings across Canada to see which way the political winds are blowing. Mostly in urban areas, those ridings contain substantial numbers of uncommitted voters whose support has tended in previous elections to drift toward the winning party. As a result, those ridings usually witness fiercely contested election campaigns. Last week, as Turner and his party continued to gain ground, some experts predicted that the fight was swinging in favor of the Liberals. Said Lorae Bozinoff, vice-president of Gallup Canada, Inc.: “If this trend continues, you would expect 90 per cent of the swing ridings to go Liberal—if they are true swing ridings—and Turner to win the election.” But history has also shown that they could just as easily flow back to the Conservatives if the Tory campaign regains its earlier momentum.2

Among the most closely watched bellwether ridings are Vancouver Centre, St. Boniface in suburban Winnipeg, Scarborough Centre and Scarborough West in Metropolitan Toronto,

COVER

COVER

St. Paul’s in downtown Toronto, suburban Ottawa West, Moncton, N.B., and the downtown riding of Halifax. Senator Alasdair Graham, the Liberals’ national campaign co-chairman, acknowledged that at the start of the seven-week campaign his party was trailing the Tories—and in some cases the NDP as well—in many swing ridings. But he claimed last week that since Turner’s attack on the Canada-U.S. free trade deal during the TV debates, the party has vaulted into first place in most swing ridings—including Vancouver Centre, St. Paul’s and Halifax. “You can smell it,” he said, “the kind of support that keeps growing.”

Most of the swing ridings are in cities and they differ significantly from many rural ridings, where large numbers of constituen2ts are longtime residents who are influenced by local issues and who often vote for the same party that their parents supported. Most of the swing ridings contain high concentrations of nonpartisan and transient voters primarily interested in national issues. And incumbents in swing ridings often are not as well-known as their rural counterparts. One reason: big-city newspapers and TV stations pay more attention to national issues than to local MPs. Said Thomas Long, campaign chairman for Tory incumbent Pauline Browes in the Toronto swing riding of Scarborough Centre: “In Scarborough, you cannot get into the local paper because the local paper is The Globe and Mail. It is more difficult to make your candidate a genuine figure in the riding.”

In St. Paul’s—a riding that includes lowerincome areas as well as the wealthy neighborhood of Forest Hill—voters have elected the candidate from the party that formed the government in five of the past six elections. But in those 20 years, not one of the winners has been an incumbent. This time, the Tory incumbent, Employment and Immigration Minister Barbara McDougall, 51, faces her biggest challenge from another MP, Liberal finance critic Aideen Nicholson, 61, whose riding of Trinity disappeared this year under electoral redistribution. The NDP, represented by party researcher Diane Bull, 34, has traditionally fared poorly in St. Paul’s.

The upper-middle-class executives and professionals who live on the north and east sides of St. Paul’s have traditionally supported the Tories, while the largely Italian neighborhoods to the west have voted Liberal. Meanwhile, many of the riding’s more than 10,000 Jewish voters have swung between the parties—and usually determined the winner. As McDougall canvassed her riding last week, the overriding topic of discussion was free trade. Some partisan Tories expressed disappointment with Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s performance during the first four weeks of the race. “Tell that leader of yours to get off his butt,” one steel company executive told McDougall. “He’s doing nothing to defend free trade.”

For her part, Nicholson said that Turner’s strong showing during the TV debates brought scores of new volunteers to her campaign. And some of her campaign workers said that voters are now more receptive to the Liberal mes-

COVER A

sage—in contrast to the hostility they claim to have encountered before the debates. Still, the riding clearly remains volatile. Last week, several St. Paul’s voters interviewed by Maclean ’s said that they were switching their vote from the Liberals to the Tories because they support the free trade agreement. Among them was Daphne Fitzgerald, 41, an insurance company vice-president, who said, “I think Canada can compete.”

But the fights in St. Paul’s and in the other swing ridings clearly consume more of a party’s resources than campaigns for supposedly safe seats. Because no single party has a dominant core of committed voters in a swing riding, they all need more campaign workers to identify and influence the undecided. In Halifax, Conservative Public Works Minister Stewart Mclnnes, 51, is defending his seat against Liberal Mary Clancy, 40, and the NDP’s Ray Larkin, 39. There, the Tories have almost 800 volunteers campaigning for Mclnnes—compared with fewer than 400 in neighboring Tory-held Dartmouth, which is not a swing riding. In the past three elections, Halifax has switched between the Liberals and the Conservatives—twice by narrow margins. Mclnnes’s campaign chairman, Ross Stinson, said that the instability comes from the presence of about 40 swing polls, out of a total of 211, that are often decided by a few votes.

As a result, both the Tories and the Liberals are concentrating on residents of those areas. The Conservatives are courting students enrolled at the riding’s three universities—Dalhousie, St. Mary’s and King’s College. The Liberals, who say they have 1,000 campaign volunteers, are also focusing on students, as well as the highly mobile downtown highrise apartment dwellers. For his part, one senior Tory acknowledged that Conservative polls have shown that Turner’s performance in the debates improved Clancy’s candidacy. Said the strategist: “The debates have definitely had an impact. We’re in a tough fight in Halifax.”

In Vancouver Centre, the Tories are trying to consolidate their hold on middle-class homeowners in the southern half of the riding, which includes the neighborhoods of Kitsilano and Point Grey. The Liberals and New Democrats are both concentrating on winning votes in two west end communities: senior citizens and homosexuals. Some observers in the riding place the Conservatives’ Campbell as the frontrunner. But last week, Gallup’s Bozinoff said that the fight was shaping up as a contest between the NDP’s den Hertog, who came second in the 1984 election, and Enemark. With the campaign entering its final two weeks, Bozinoff noted that Vancouver Centre is still “too close to call.” But that is precisely what sets the swing ridings apart and makes them such an irresistible target for the parties. In those volatile areas, anything can happen in two weeks.

PAUL KAIHLA

DEBORRA SCHUG

GLEN ALLEN