One to hold — or win
Stephen Harper’s hopes for a Conservative majority will be tested in ridings like Simcoe North, a sprawling seat north of Lake Simcoe that switched to the Tories in 2006, but by fewer than 1,200 out of nearly 60,000 votes.
I’ll be tracking the campaign in this pivotal central Ontario riding, likely to be a bellweather of the dozens of potential swing seats across the province.
It’s a very traditional riding — 93 per cent white and 90 per cent English, nudged against the Muskoka resort country, its small towns dependent largely on public service jobs plus whatever the tourist industry can bring in during the summers. This past summer was not a good one for the riding’s resort keepers.
No one knows that better than the Conservative incumbent, Bruce Stanton, who runs The Cottages at Port Stanton. It’s been in his family for five generations.
Stanton took the seat away from the Liberals in 2006, defeating a feisty woman opponent, Karen Graham. By local measures, Stanton’s done well as a “constituency man” in his first, truncated term.
This time, the Liberals have nominated Steve Clarke, who’s also tourism-related as the owner of the Brewery Bay Food Company, a popular restaurant on Orillia’s main street. He’s well known in the largest town in the riding, and looks to be running a strong campaign.
A sidelight to Clarke’s campaign is that he’s a big advocate of preferential voting, which he calls “instant run-off.” Rather than plumping with an X, voters would mark their ballots in order of their preference. It’s not new — B.C. tried it back in 1951.
When I dropped into the Clarke campaign office, I was told they’re getting a great response to Clarke, but that Stephane Dion is arousing mixed feelings. A couple of hundred people turned out last Thursday midday for a visit by Michael Ignatieff, the deputy Liberal leader.
The NDP’s not a factor in this riding, nor are the Greens likely to be. They’ve put up a credible candidate, Valerie Powell, a gerontologist. She could pick up votes on the coattails of Elizabeth May if her leader does well in the TV debates.
I’ll be doing some mainstreeting and will pass on what I hear