Northumberland is a house divided

First published: July 03, 2004

From the very beginning of the election campaign, the race in Northumberland County was close. And while some media pundits were quick to write off Conservative party candidate Doug Galt early in the evening, it was far tighter than anyone could imagine.
With 225 of 228 polls reported on the Elections Canada web site at 2 a.m. Tuesday morning, it was only 392 votes separating incumbent Liberal Paul Macklin from Galt. At one point just before 1 a.m. Galt was 194 votes away.

Voters should not be surprised if there is a recount. An automatic recount would take place if one one-thousandth of the total votes made up the difference. That is not the case here. But Galt can go before a judge to request a recount, if he wants.

It will be interesting to find out why the returns were so late. Often the lateness is due to large numbers of ballots or, sometimes, controversy. We will have to wait and see. If there is some controversy, then there will be little doubt. Galt is a tough political fighter and rarely backs down.

It will all depend on the final tally.

Clearly Macklin cannot walk away feeling he has a majority. Reviewing the figures, there are some messages to be mulled over.

Northumberland County is a house divided. With such close figures, it only emphasizes the need for the winner to reach out to the other constituents. Macklin will need to hear these voices and not just those who voted for him in the upcoming months. If Macklin is to represent all his riding, he will not be able to ignore the Tories. And, just as his party will need to reach out to the NDP for support, those efforts will need to be echoed at home. Only then will he be able to say he represents all members of his riding.

It is also fascinating to look at how well the NDP did. Grabbing nearly four times the 2141 votes it got in 2000. While the riding is a bit larger, it is a major achievement.

Part of the reason for its success must be attributed to the migration of votes away from Liberals to the NDP. This should concern the Liberals. Liberal leader Paul Martin gave strong warnings about voting NDP. He was clearly concerned that this might affect him. It is clear Liberals must reach out to these disaffected members or else it could be more damaging next time around.

Certainly part of the Northumberland Liberals success was its ability to appeal to red Tories, those disaffected by the neo-conservatives views of the united right-wing party. In the final days of the campaign, many of the social issues raised on the campaign trail might have contributed to this migration to the Liberals.

It will be interesting to watch if the Tories can maintain a centrist position. If they can avoid the labels of neo-conservative and be progressive on the social agenda, then they may pose more of a threat in the future. The united party has not existed for a long time and it will be interesting to see which direction it takes after this defeat.

Reflecting on past elections, the right wing vote in Northumberland is strong. With such close results, it must be hard to imagine what went wrong. Galt is no doubt upset only because he has lost two races within a year. This one was far tighter than the fall when he lost by nearly 3,000 votes. What is amazing is that he garnered the same percentage of the total votes, 39.3 per cent in both. It could be he just had no room to grow.

It was interesting to note during the comments of a political panel on election night when one expert said many people they spoke to said the voters didn’t like the Liberals, but many like Macklin. And so it could have come down to personality, in the final analysis.

In watching the returns, the number of voters who turned out to cast their ballots was very high compared to the last election. About 63 per cent of the total eligible voters were counted, compared to 60 per cent the last time. It is close to the 65 per cent in 1998.

With all the predictions of a high voter turnout due to the number of people voting in advance polls, those did not materialize. Possibly people wanted to cast their ballots before going on holidays, and little else.

Looking at statistics can be no better than gazing into a crystal ball. What will be important are the next few weeks, now that the election is over.

The upcoming days will be interesting ones for Macklin. He will return to Ottawa with his party in a minority government. Martin will be looking to clean house and give a new face to his cabinet. Let’s see if Northumberland gets a prime spot at the table.

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