Halifax: street-fighters around the pork barrel

Robert Lewis January 28 1980

Halifax: street-fighters around the pork barrel

Robert Lewis January 28 1980

Halifax: street-fighters around the pork barrel


Robert Lewis

The wayward reporter, far from the tall tales and mollycoddling of leaders' fuselages, could do worse in Campaign Over than a stop down by the sea in Halifax. It was only eight months ago that the ambivalence of urban Canada was recorded there in a skimpy 15-vote victory for Conservative George (Landslide) Cooper. Now Gerald Regan, a prominent local son possessed of royal jelly, has taken up the Liberal banner dropped reluctantly by Brian Flemming who, bruised and in debt from two attempts at the seat, has gone back to practise law. Alexa McDonough, the impressive NDP candidate, is back in the fray after almost tripling her party’s vote last May. That Haligonians can pick only one of the above is a pity.

Since Confederation, however, the electors of Halifax riding have been a choosy lot. Apart from exceptionally lengthy terms for Prime Minister Robert Borden, north-end Liberal power baron Gordon B. Isnor during the Mackenzie King era and Tory leader Robert Stanfield, voters frequently have switched allegiance. In 31 general elections they returned 24 Conservatives, 20 Liberals and, four times before the end

of the two-member constituency in 1966, an MP from both parties, including Regan from 1963-65 (see box). Of the Atlantic region’s 32 federal seats*, Halifax is the one to watch because the outcome there will be determined, largely, by national trends.

Regan, 51, is a new factor in an old equation. As former premier and justresigned provincial Liberal leader he has city-wide visibility, and a poll by Toronto’s Martin Goldfarb puts him 15 points ahead. He is running unabashedly for a senior economic portfolio in a Liberal government and, beyond, harbors national leadership ambitions. But he may carry too much baggage from his government’s defeat in 1978 by the Conservatives, when he clung to his north-end city seat by a mere 137 votes. ZÍ Tory Cooper, 38, a Rhodes scholar, £j lawyer and old friend of Joe Clark, has o to work at displaying the common touch. His pitch at the door is that the Opposition didn’t give the new government a chance and that Ottawa finally delivered on pledges to bail out the troubled shipyards. McDonough, 35, a community activist and labor expert, talks up issues like jobs and energy but fights her roots as the scion of wealthy industrialist Lloyd Shaw (himself a longtime CCF-NDP insider) and her ties with Cooper (she is a good friend of his sister-in-law and her husband, Peter, is a member of the old Cooper firm).

*Current standings in four provinces: PC 18, L 12, NDP 2. Nova Scotia: PC 8, L 2, NDP 1. New Brunswick: PC Í, L 6. Newfoundland: PC 2, L It, NDP 1. P.E.I.: PC It.

In addition to Regan’s seat, two provincial ridings that sit entirely within the federal constituency are held by the Conservatives, who recently pushed through the controversial labor law changes known as the Michelin bill over objections from Regan and McDonough. Parts of two other provincial seats in the federal riding split between Grits and Tories. In a province where all parties use the same organization for federal and provincial jousts, the best street-fighting—and the pork barrelcan tip the balance.

Regan is expected to run well in the traditional Liberal stronghold in the working-class north end. Cooper was strongest in the west and in middleclass Fairview. McDonough runs best around the universities. The key battleground should be the high rise towers housing the swing vote along such streets as like Green, Tobin and Kent in the south end near the harborfront.

Special targets this time are students, nurses, senior citizens and some folks who don’t even live in town— members of the Armed Forces registered to vote in Halifax. Last May, as Flemming accepted victory on the basis of a slim lead from city polls, results of the service vote were counted, giving Cooper his winning margin.

Although most students were away, McDonough proved the favorite of the campus crowd. In Fenwick Towers, the largest student poll, she took 57 votes to 40 each for Flemming and Cooper. This time an estimated 10,000 students will be on campus—the first time since the election of 1968—and campaigners are gearing up special pitches and signing up for all-candidates sessions at Dalhousie, St. Mary’s and King’s College. Turning out the student vote is a perennial problem but this time election officials report heavy registration over the first five days. The mood on campus seems to reflect the snarl in the land. Jane Drew, a fourth-year nursing student at Dal, is voting PC again, but she fears a Liberal minority because “I don’t know anybody who wants to see Joe Clark back in.” Don Freeman, a Dal medical resident, plans to vote NDP but also predicts a Liberal win because of broken Tory promises.

The seniors, who went heavily Tory in 1979, are clustered mostly in a dozen highrise towers—many of them erected on Regan turf while he was premier. At the big Northwood complex on Gottingen Street, Regan notes, “I even managed to have the Queen lay a cornerstone.” That could prove fortuitous since, despite a visit by Pierre Trudeau in 1979, Northwood voted PC 294, L 269, NDP 4. Mrs. Ruth Demone is proof that the Atlantic tradition of family vote patterns lingers on. She will vote PC again, content that if Joe Clark “makes a mistake he isn’t afraid to own up. He’s smart, honest and he tries.” James Birmingham, 71, will vote Grit as “the lesser of two evils.”

A special local concern is the shipyard, abandoned by Britain’s HawkerSiddeley when the market went bust for off-shore oil rigs constructed there. Cooper and Regan are in a bidding war to claim credit for this week’s signing of an agreement between Canada and Nova Scotia for the 80-20 cost-sharing of a $43.5-million floating dry dock (Panamax)—a deal promoted by all three party leaders in the last campaign. Cooper also boasts that the PC government restored the 20-per-cent

Riding Profile: Halifax

Voters: 54,000; all city dwellers; broad mix of students, seniors, working families in north end, swing voters in midtown apartments and townhouses, professionals in the south end. Important civil service and armed forces vote.

Candidates: George Cooper (pc—incumbent by 15 votes in 1979) Gerald Regan (L) Alexa McDonough (NDP)

History: 1974 (Liberal majority): Robert Stanfield by 2,583 votes (PC) 1972 (Liberal minority): Stanfield by 7,927 votes (PC) 1968 (Trudeau sweep): Stanfield by 8,014 votes (PC) 1965 (Pearson minority): dual constituency: two PCS 1963 (Pearson minority): two Liberals, including Regan

Outlook: Toss-up between Tories and Grits, with NDP potential spoiler. Gallup puts negative reaction to Clark government highest in Atlantic Canada. Regan has slight edge.

shipbuilding subsidy last year and will provide $3 million toward yard improvements which will allow Halifax Industries Ltd. to build three fishing trawlers worth $27 million. The work force, which slipped to 50 after the Regan government took over the yards in 1978, is now up to 400 in Halifax and could rise to 1,200 by 1982 if all hopes pan out.

But in the end, as McDonough notes, “the local issues are very much the national issues.” She is bashing the two Tory governments on balancing budgets and cutting spending. “The insensitivity of the Clark government with a majority,” she concludes, “matches that of the Buchanan government with a majority.” As for Clark’s offer to grant offshore oil and gas ownership to provinces, “It’s utter folly to further balkanize the nation.”

Regan, the last to open campaign offices, is conducting a low-key race in the manner of his leader who, he says, “is incredibly on one of his peaks. Joe Clark is the issue.” Privately, he contemplates Indira Gandhi’s return from the political wilderness and publicly he slams the 18-cent-per-gallon gasoline excise tax in the Tory budget and talks up the good works he brought to Halifax as premier.

Cooper has been pleased on doorsteps to hear support for energy conservation and higher prices. But he is hardpressed to defend the excise tax in the face of suspicions by the same voters that it hits little people most. He runs through a whole interview without mentioning his pal Clark but, once prompted on the lapse, allows: “The opinion of Clark has improved. Many people don’t know him well.”

Getting out to see the voters, as Trudeau discovered visiting the seniors of Northwood in 1979, can be a dubious blessing. Given the fractious atmosphere of Election 1980, it may be even wiser this time for candidates to make themselves scarce. So far, it seems to be working for Pierre Trudeau.