GRUMBLING FROM COAST TO COAST
The message from Canadians is clear: this election is about jobs
Nine years ago, Brian Mulroney swept to power on a promise of “jobs, jobs, jobs. ” The issue appears to be just as potent in this year’s election, although voters in 1993 appear far more skeptical about the ability of politicians to deal with unemployment. Last Week, Maclean’s correspondents went knocking on doors in five key ridings across the country where the outcome will be closely watched, interviewing nearly 200people. They will return to the five ridings throughout the campaign. The first report:
Stretching from the shipyards of Burrard Inlet to upscale neighborhoods nestled amid the Coast Mountains, the riding of North Vancouver is a relatively stable and prosperous enclave in the hurly-burly of British Columbia’s burgeoning Lower Mainland. The riding, which was mainly settled in the 1950s during Canada’s postwar suburban boom, remains home to many of its original residents. Among them is Alice Longmore, who still lives in the house that she built with her late husband in 1959. Like many North Vancouver residents, Longmore greets the fall election campaign with undisguised contempt for all of the major parties and their current national leaders. Said Longmore: “I won’t be voting for the best—just the least worst.”
The disillusionment of voters like Longmore is one reason that the riding of North Vancouver, which the Conservatives have held through the last four elections, is now considered up for grabs. Another is that the popular incumbent, Chuck Cook, died in February and the Tories have only recently nominated his replacement, Will McMartin, a 38year-old publisher of a newsletter on provincial politics who is waging his first federal campaign. He is squaring off against Liberal Mobina Jaffer, a lawyer and high-profile women’s activist; the NDP’s Graeme Bowbrick, a 26-year-old recent law school graduate; and Reformer Ted White, who manages an office equipment leasing company.
Despite North Vancouver’s relative affluence—the average household annual income in the riding is $54,500, compared to the provincial average of $46,900—many voters expressed concern that future generations will be forced to accept a lower standard of living. Gail Weimer, a manager with British Columbia’s provincially owned auto insurance agency, complained about rising real estate prices and high taxes that make it impossible for many to contemplate purchasing a home. “I couldn’t afford now to buy the home we bought two years ago, in the community where I’ve lived all my life,” she says. Similarly, 82-year-old Jean McKellar, a mother of three and grandmother of seven, cites unemployment as the country’s most pressing problem, followed closely by what she calls the “punitive” burden of federal and provincial sales taxes, especially on younger consumers.
A large number of North Vancouver residents describe themselves as undecided. Their choice, they say, is made more complicated by the fact that they find none of Canada’s political leaders particularly appealing. Peter Forslund, a 58-year-old retired forestry worker, is typical. Although he voted Liberal in 1988, Forslund said that he is “not overly fond of Chrétien” whom he views as a “political has-been.” He is impressed by Kim Campbell’s forthrightness, but is troubled because “she’s in the same party as Brian Mulroney.” A longtime union supporter, he thinks that “the NDP have screwed things up so badly wherever they’ve been in power, I couldn’t vote for them.” Concludes Forslund: “There is nobody out there for me.”
Not 'voting for the best—just the least worst’
The smoky tang from a rack of lamb chops on André and Sharon Thibodeau’s backyard barbecue announces suppertime along tree-lined Ardiel Drive in Okotoks, a town of 7,500 that is 40 km south of Calgary. Only a few hours after last week’s federal election call, the Thibodeaus were clear about what they see as the most pressing issue of the campaign. “It’s the economy,” says Sharon, a 45-yearold preschool teacher. “There is no money and no jobs.” A mother of four children, two of whom are still in school, she fears for her children’s future. “They will need jobs and there are very few around. I wonder whether there will be any work for them.” A few doors down, Alice Halstead, a 78-year-old widow, expresses similar concern as she works in her kitchen, making jam from local chokeberries. “Most of my family is still working, but some are wondering if they will have a job for long,” she says. “Our nation is really in a chaotic state.”
The Thibodeaus, who voted for the Conservatives in 1988, are now considering a switch to the Reform party. Halstead, who also voted Tory in the last federal election, is an ardent supporter of Preston Manning and his Calgary-based party. That may be bad news for rookie Tory MP Ken Hughes, who in 1988 polled strongly in Okotoks, located near the northern boundary of Macleod riding. Hughes won the riding—a traditional Tory stronghold—with slightly more than 50 per cent of the 33,700 votes cast. In the same election, the fledgling Reform party captured an impressive 31 per cent of the vote, compared to nine per cent for the Liberals and eight per cent for the NDP. With Reform candidate Grant Hill, a popular Okotoksbased physician and surgeon, challenging Hughes, Macleod is again shaping up as an important twoway race. For the Tories, the riding is a clear test of whether they can retain their Alberta base in the face of a right-of-centre challenge. Reformers, meanwhile, know that Macleod is the kind of seat they must win if they hope to send a credible number of MPs to Ottawa.
The riding encompasses a diversity of terrain and interests, stretching south from Calgary’s city limits almost to the Montana border, westward through ranch country to the Rocky Mountains and eastward into prairie grain farms. It also embraces four Indian reserves and 40 separate towns and cities, including Okotoks, a fast-growing bedroom community of Calgary. Like many residents, Sandee Geislinger, a 23-year-old chiropractic assistant, commutes daily into Calgary. Geislinger, who also believes that the main issue is jobs, is unhappy with the Tory government’s record but will likely vote to re-elect it: “I am hoping that Campbell will be different. So far, she is talking up a storm.”
In addition to favoring job creation, Geislinger wants Ottawa to begin paying down the $475-billion national debt. But social programs like education, she says, should not be sacrificed: “Politicians lose sight of the future. I want my kids to have the same quality of health care and education that I had.”
It is a popular sentiment, but in Okotoks most voters appear to have low expectations. “All of the parties seem to make promises,” homemaker Sandy Parhar said as she climbed on the monkey bars with her three-year-old daughter, Jamie, at a neighborhood playground. “But credibility is not a big thing with government. I am a bit of a pessimist about politics.”
Like many of his neighbors, Peter Savage is finding it hard to decide how he will mark his ballot—or even whether to bother going to his polling station in the east-end Toronto riding of Beaches-Woodbine. “I’m very disillusioned with the whole political system,” says the 61-year-old Savage, who lost his job as a production supervisor 18 months ago after working for the same manufacturing company for 42 years. “Politicians have done nothing but lie, steal and cheat.” Savage’s disdain for politicians of all stripes, and Conservatives in particular, stems in large part from their handling of the economy. “It took the government two years to even acknowledge the recession was on,” he fumes. “And now, nobody’s job is secure.”
‘Politicians have done nothing but lie, steal and che’
Jobs, the economy and the perceived need to shake up the political system are rapidly shaping up as major issues for the 60,000 eligible voters in Beaches-Woodbine. The predominantly residential riding stretches from the northern reaches of the city, south to Lake Ontario, where a huge sewage treatment plant and Ontario Hydro’s gas-fired Hearn generating station provide unwelcome reminders of the drawbacks of urban life. In the centre of the rid-
ing is the trendy neighborhood known as The Beach, where affluent professionals retreat each evening from their jobs in downtown office towers. But for the most part, Beaches-Woodbine is comprised of workingand middle-class neighborhoods where giant shade trees carry posters for missing cats, and neighbors watch out for one another’s children.
It is also a key battleground for the federal New Democratic Party, which is now mired at about 10 per cent support in national opinion polls and would lose its status as a party in the House of Commons if it fails to win at least 12 seats. Former labor activist Neil Young has won the riding for the NDP in each of
the last three elections. But his margin of victory has narrowed each time (only 860 votes in 1988), with the Liberals and the Tories trading places for the runnerup position. As one of nine federal ridings in Ontario now held by the NDP, Beaches-Woodbine will be an important test of the party’s strength in a province where Premier Bob Rae’s NDP government casts an unpopular shadow.
In the close-knit, family-oriented neighborhoods of Beaches-Woodbine, many residents are deeply concerned about community issues. Voters who spoke to Maclean’s cited the environment and education as major issues as frequently as they mentioned taxes. Significantly, none of the 30 people questioned said that the performance of the Rae government would influence their decision. But most voters, including those with jobs, said that unemployment was the central issue of the campaign. “Job creation is utmost,” said Kim Lewis, 32, an elementary schoolteacher. “I can tell immediately when one of my student’s parents lose a job. The children come to school hungry, they can’t concentrate, they get left behind.” Lewis added that she has “no idea” how to vote: “I’d rather crawl under a rock.”
Indeed, disillusionment with the political process is widespread. Mike MacRae, who resigned from his job three years ago and has been unable to find work since, and his wife, Lise, who lost her job eight months ago, deliberately spoiled their ballots in protest in the 1988 election. The two now intend to vote for the Reform party—but without apparent enthusiasm. “If ‘none of the above’ were on the ballot,” says Lise, “it would win every time.”
Situated on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River, about 25 km east of Montreal, the federal riding of Verchères has more than 66,000 eligible voters, most of them francophone and strongly nationalist. Verchères encompasses two provincial ridings, both of them currently held by the Parti Québécois. The popular Tory incumbent, Marcel Danis, resigned in early September; the party has yet to nominate a replacement. The Liberals, who last won the riding in 1980, have fielded a 30-year-old political novice, Benoit Chiquette. The NDP are traditionally not a factor in the riding. By all appearances, Verchères should be easy pickings for Bloc Québécois candidate Stephan Bergeron. The Bloc is contesting its first general election in Quebec with a promise to work towards the province’s divorce from the rest of Canada.
But appearances sometimes deceive. Maclean’s interviews last week in a typical neighborhood in Boucherville (population 30,000), one of three main towns in Verchères, suggested that the Bloc enjoys a commanding lead among decided voters. But an even greater percentage remain undecided. One possible explanation: while the Bloc focuses on the issue of Quebec sovereignty, only two of 50 eligible voters cited constitutional issues as their top priority. More frequently, voters specified unemployment, high taxes and the federal deficit as the most important issue.
Over the past decade of urban growth, Boucherville has been transformed from a small rural community into a suburb of Montreal. The residents who talked to Maclean’s live in a quiet, middle-class neighborhood of single-family bungalows and well-manicured lawns. Of the 50 in the informal canvass, 17 said that they intended to vote for the Bloc, compared to seven who supported the Liberals and only four who backed the Tories. Another 21 people said that they were undecided, while one man said that he would destroy his ballot as a protest against his lack of choices. Most of the Bloc supporters were disaffected Tory voters. “The Conservative in our riding promised over and over again that he was going to revitalize the local petrochemical plant,” said André Guilmette, a petrochemical worker who recently lost his job. “Nothing has changed and we’re still out of work. I’ve had it.”
Another former Tory who intends to vote for the Bloc is Collette Vaillaincourt. “It seems that we are worse off than we were 15 years ago,” says the mother of three grown children. “We’ve had it with the politicians in Ottawa taxing us to death.”
Many of the undecided voters in Verchères share that sense of frustration. But they are not yet convinced that the Bloc offers a worthwhile alternative. Another unemployed petrochemical worker, who asked not to be named because, he said, he was embarrassed about not having work, told Maclean’s that he would not vote for the Bloc because “they are not in the position to run the country.” He added: “They’re like a watchdog for Quebec, and that’s good. But we need change, not a protest party.”
SOUTH SHORE With its tree-lined streets and freshly painted wooden houses, the riverside town of New Germany, 100 km southwest of Halifax, exudes a quiet charm that belies the collapse of the local economy. Jobs in the fishery and forestry industry, once the mainstays of the area, are scarce and getting scarcer. The managers of the nearby Michelin Tires (Canada) Ltd. plant announced last month that they plan to eliminate hundreds more jobs. ‘The economy is the big issue in this neck of the woods,” says Roger Carver, 38, a shift worker at Michelin. “The question is whether any of the politicians can really do anything about it.” For the candidates, answering that question will be one of the keys to victory in the South Shore riding, which encompasses New Germany (population 1,000) and dozens of other hamlets along Nova Scotia’s southeast coast.
The largely rural constituency, which is
If \hone of the above’ were on the ballot, it would win every timey home to 60,000 eligible voters, is one of the flash points of the election in Atlantic Canada. When Brian Mulroney’s Conservatives swept into power in 1984, Tory MP Lloyd Crouse took the South Shore seat by almost a 2-to-l margin. Crouse, who had represented the riding since 1957, retired from politics before the 1988 election. Peter McCreath, a former teacher and broadcaster, barely held the seat for the Tories against a strong Liberal challenger. McCreath, appointed minister of veterans affairs in June, enters the current race with the benefits, and burdens, of incumbency. The Liberals, who are counting on a virtual sweep of Atlantic Canada to help them form the next government, insist that their candidate, lawyer Derek Wells, can bring the Tory dynasty in South Shore to an end.
Wells and the Liberals may benefit by what many see as a marked change in the nature of South Shore politics. “People no longer vote a certain way because their father and grandfather before them voted that way,” says Valerie Drennan, 42, a mother of five who supported the Tories federally in 1988. Like more than half of the 50 New Germany residents interviewed by Maclean’s last week, Drennan now describes herself as undecided. How much of that uncertainty will translate into Liberal votes remains to be seen. Although support for the NDP and the Reform party in the riding is minimal, the Tories still appear to enjoy an edge—based in large measure on Campbell’s personal appeal. “We need decisive leadership,” says Brian Haire, 44, co-owner of an eaves-trough company, who intends to vote Tory. “Campbell can make de-
cisions that Chrétien and McLaughlin can’t.”
At this stage, however, most voters say that they want to see what the parties have to offer before making up their minds. Many express opposition to the possible introduction of medicare user fees, and further cuts to health care. Many also want to see a revamped Young Offenders Act in order to deter juvenile criminals. The economy, however, is the top-of-the-mind issue for almost everyone. “I’m skilled in three trades, unemployed in all of them, and I just don’t see things getting any better,” declares 54-year-old Del Trobak, who has spent the last 20 years in the New Germany area. In the end, the battle for South Shore will be won by the party that can offer Trobak and his neighbors a measure of hope for a better future—a message that should not be lost on politicians campaigning across the country.
in North Vancouver,
in Boucherville and
in New Germany