Election too close to call

First published: February 11, 2006

This election, both nationally and locally, is too tough to call. It is so close that the polls are useless. The steady stream of numbers mean little, if you take into account the margin of error. When that is done, there is absolutely no difference between the Conservatives or the Liberals.

The CPAC-SES poll done for Osprey Media (owners of this newspaper) for Jan. 8 have the Liberals one percentage point ahead of the Conservatives with 35 per cent for the Grits and 34 per cent for the Tories nationwide. Notably, the Conservatives have risen steadily over the past few weeks. The margin of error is 2.9 per cent, so you can see that the difference means nothing. Compared to the Saturday Toronto Star, which has the Tories leading with 36 per cent over the Liberals at 31 per cent or the Saturday Globe and Mail with Conservatives at 33 per cent and the Liberals at 31, the picture is the same. It is a tight race.

The Ontario figures are the same, neck and neck, reported in all the media. But, it was the Osprey poll that provided a small clue for Eastern Ontario that may shed some light as to what may be going on.

In their regional polling, the number of undecided voters dropped significantly. For our region (Northern and Eastern Ontario) the number of undecided voters went down six percentage points, from 19 on Dec. 22 to 13 on Jan. 5. Okay, okay, that is really picking through the entrails to find something. But, it is significant because it shows people are starting to make up their minds. The Conservatives are gaining momentum and it appears these people are going with the Tories.

There will be several factors that will affect Northumberland. On a national level, any further missteps by the Liberals will kill them. With the income trust investigation, the Gomery Inquiry, the popcorn and beer comments by the communications director and the blog attack on Olivia Chow, the Grits cannot take another body blow. A poor showing by Paul Martin at the next leaders debate could be the death knell.

Voting day will be absolutely critical, if it stays this tight. Weather could be a major factor. A snowstorm could keep voters away and this would seriously affect the results, depending on where it occurs. In fact, a low voter turnout could skew the results, giving us something nobody could predict.

Since Northumberland-Quinte West is considered a swing riding, meaning it can go either way, voters are left with either marking the ballot based on national trends or voting based on the local candidate. Conservative Rick Norlock would like nothing more than to ride the wave of national success to victory. That has happened before in Northumberland when MPP Lou (Who?) Rinaldi caught the provincial Liberal wave, defeating Progressive Conservative Doug Galt. This trend must have Liberal Paul Macklin’s strategists worried. Galt was a solid MPP and did a lot for the riding, including getting a new hospital built. Macklin, likewise, has done lots for the area. But it may not mean much come Election Day.

For Russ Christianson, the NDP candidate, the biggest fear, must be the possibility of strategic voting. The Liberals will push hard to have soft New Democrats jump ship to join an Anybody But Harper movement. Macklin’s people might try a version of that.

Green Party candidate Pat Lawson also has her work cut out for her, despite not having a hope in hell of winning. For her party, the Greens must maintain five per cent of the total vote across Canada in order to qualify for national campaign funds. This is a crucial amount of money to sustain this fledgling party. So, she has a huge task in front of her.

The final factor in Northumberland is the changing demographics. A growing number of families with teenagers are migrating from Toronto to our community, according to recent studies. With the increasing levels of gun violence in Toronto, many people will be listening closely as to how our area will be safe from this level of crime.

And, there is the endless stream of seniors coming to our area. For seniors, who live on fixed income, any message around lower taxes will strike a cord. Also, traditional values, like marriage, gun ownership, and immigration will garner their attention.

But these are still issues dealt with by the national campaigns. Local candidates will need to convince voters that agriculture, municipal infrastructure, rural issues, tourism and employment are critical. With so many families with teenagers, post-secondary funding of education will be important. And, health care is vital. While the province is in charge, expanding services, access to doctors and local control of health systems will resonate here.

Finally, the leaders’ events have kept to the east end of the riding. It will be interesting to see if there is an influx of visits as the race comes down to the wire. It will be a good indication one side or the other feels they can pull the riding out of the hat.

As for saying who will win, rather than reading the leaves, it may be better to drink the tea.

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