By Robert Washburn
If the results of the 2000 election are any indication, Liberal candidate Paul Macklin and Conservative party candidate Doug Galt are in an extremely tight battle. And the NDP and Green Party could have breakthrough results even though the chances of winning are slim.
For many years, Conservatives in Northumberland split their vote between the old Canadian Alliance/Reform party and the Progressive Conservatives. Macklin won the 2000 election handily with 20,109 votes compared to the Alliance’s 11, 410 and the Progressive Conservatives 8,768.
But combine the right-wing vote and suddenly Macklin would have narrowly lost by 609 votes.
This pattern has existed since former Liberal Christine Stewart won her elections. A similar statistical analysis shows Stewart would have lost under the combined votes of right-wing parties.
When the Reform party was first created in 1987, it had little impact. It was not until Deborah Grey won her seat in 1989, the party had its presence in the House of Commons. It grew in popularity having a major impact on the 1993 election over the Meech lake Accord. It was then it began digging into the Progressive Conservative support with its greatest success in forming the opposition in 1997.
In the last election, Liberals dominated the urban areas in Northumberland. Trenton, Port Hope and Cobourg were strongholds.
Macklin would have lost under a unified conservative vote in places like Alnwick, Bewdley, Brighton, Campbellford, Cramahe, Haldimand, Hastings, Hope, Murray, Percy, and Seymour. In other words, the Conservative party controls much of the rural vote in Northumberland.
This time round, there are some critical polls where candidates will battle over less then a few hundred votes. The balance could easily switch in Alnwick, Bewdley, Cobourg, Colborne, Gores Landing, Hamilton, Harwood, Hastings and Hope. Watch for heavy campaigning in those areas.
While historic data can provide some chilling insight into what might happen on June 28, there are plenty of factors playing into the mix.
Voter participation is critical. About 65 per cent of eligible people voted in 1997, dropping to 60 per cent in 2000. The most important thing on Election Day is getting out supporters. That goes for any party.
It will be most interesting to see if there is an increase in participation.
Elections Canada is being its most aggressive in getting people interested in voting, especially youth. There are several initiatives by the government and other organizations to get young people to cast their ballot. This demographic tends to vote left of centre, benefiting Liberals and NDP. But that does not say the Tories don’t have a strong youth contingent.
As the Fulton Report pointed out recently, the number of teenagers in Northumberland is growing substantially. This could be a factor, but who knows how large it will be.
A more significant factor is the recent reforms around election financing. Unlike any previous election, voting this time around will have a huge benefit, even to the NDP and Green party. Under election reforms recently passed, each party gets $1.75 per vote to help pay for the campaign in the next election. So even if NDP Russ Christianson and Green party’s Steve Haylestrom don’t win, a vote for them will mean big bucks next time. This frees people to vote their conscience rather than be strategic.
While local candidates would like us to believe they are at the centre of the election, party leaders carry a vast amount of the party’s success. Much of the fate of Macklin, Galt, Christianson and Haylestrom rests with Prime Minister Paul Martin, conservative party leader Steven Harper and NDP leader Jack Layton. The televised leaders debates happening this week will have a massive impact on voters in Northumberland making up their minds, despite any protest from local organizers.
National polls will work in the same way. As we have watched the barrage of numbers released over the past few weeks, the support for Liberals has plummeted. This will reverberate locally.
Finally, there will be the migration of voters from party to party. Under a united conservative party, red Tories may shift to the Liberals. However, this could be offset with disillusioned Liberals who may switch to NDP. And NDP could lose support to the Green party.
Who will win? It is anybody’s guess. One thing is certain; it will be tight in Northumberland. And while the numbers may show Macklin won with a clear majority in 2000, the waters of 2004 are far muddier.