April 9, 2003
Speculating when the provincial election is going to take place is quickly becoming an obsession with political junkies.
EKOS Research Associates released a damning poll Saturday showing the Liberals would crush the Progressive Conservatives, if the election were held right now. Of those surveyed 53 per cent said they would support Liberals, while Conservatives were far behind at 34 per cent and New Democrats were still further behind at 11 per cent. Ouch.
There were rumours flying around fast and furious that an election would be called for mid-May with a start date of this week. Pundits are musing aloud that this will not happen. The Tories did not get the lift in public opinion they were looking for with the recent budget, normally a document that brings around some goodwill from taxpayers. However, the debacle over the venue has seriously hurt.
But all the news is not bad. Polls show the Conservative voters continue to be strong supporters. The property tax credit for seniors is winning over the hearts and minds of that demographic. And Premier Ernie Eves’ support for the Americans in the Iraq war has also struck a positive chord in some.
But the columnists are predicting Eves will wait until after the April 30 throne speech before making any election call. Some speculate a call would come for an election on June 3, the fourth anniversary of the 1999 election, the last one held. But if polls don’t show any better result, there is some schools of thought predicting a fall election. (Municipal politicians would be apoplectic for fear it would draw attention away from their races toward November elections).
Not to be outdone, local pundits are also getting in on the action. Local political activist Ben Burd, on his web site the Burd Report, was wildly posturing that and election was imminent when Northumberland MPP Doug Galt’s office in Cobourg began taping signs to the front windows of the King Street location.
Of course, you say. How could we all have missed that one?
Another indication of a looming election was an announcement by the NDP riding association about its nomination meeting. This was carefully preceded by the declaration of Murray Weppler’s intention to seek the nod. He represented the party in 1995 and in 1999. The local riding association is normally so quite, one can only assume the sleeping dragon is raising its head to blow smoke because the threat of an election is quite serious and they must make a showing.
That ranks right up there with the scotch tape theory.
But what is more serious and not so public is a noticeable shift in the political epicentre of an election. With the recent announcement of the new electoral boundaries staying fairly close to the previous lines, a big sigh of relief was audible from all involved.
It should not be assumed that the election campaign would unfold as usual. In fact, there might be a distinctive shift to the east.
Liberal candidate Lou Rinaldi is a big presence in the eastern portion of the county and has a high profile in Brighton as a member of council. Voters will easily recognize him from the press coverage he receives within the region. But he is not as well known in the west end of the county and has yet to establish many credentials this side of Colborne.
Galt is also very well known in the Brighton area. As the retired head of the veterinary lab, a former school board trustee, past Colborne councillor, and a homeowner in the area, he has deep roots. Unlike Rinaldi, Galt has a long and stronger bond to the west. He is a former warden of Northumberland County; a major factor in getting a new hospital for West Northumberland; and remembered for all the other things he has done for various organizations and municipalities in this portion of the county.
The questions becomes whether or not Rinaldi needs West Northumberland to carry the day. In the past, this area has delivered votes for Liberals. The Tories often carry the more rural areas to the east.
Rinaldi may also be getting some help. Quinte West is a well-known fiefdom of former MPP Hugh O’Neil, a staunch Liberal. No doubt he or some of his associates will be giving a hand to ensure that areas turns out the Liberal vote.
Strategists may be looking to hit the Conservatives where it might hurt them. Yet, you can bet your bottom dollar Galt will not roll over.
If Liberals in the west go soft on Rinaldi, this may be the break Weppler and the NDP are hoping for to improve their lot. Weppler is smart and savvy with a long history in the backrooms of provincial and federal politics. That alone makes him full of surprises.
To make it all even less predictable, the fate of the provincial campaign and the leaders will also play into the mix.
Political campaigns in Northumberland are tough battles. While the candidates often appear smiles and chuckles when on the hustings, this election fight might rival three raging cocks in a cage.