Denise Savoie won the federal Victoria riding in 2011 with more than half of all ballots cast – a strong finish for a popular incumbent boosted by the “orange crush” that saw the New Democratic Party rise to Official Opposition status. In the by-election to replace Ms. Savoie, the NDP cannot afford to lose.
The Globe dropped in on the four main campaigns – one defending a stronghold, three seeking an upset that would deflate the opposition 18 months after the NDP nearly tripled its seats in the House of Commons.
In a funky surfboard shop/café in downtown Victoria, Conservative candidate Dale Gann has to speak up to be heard over the Jimi Hendrix song blasting in the background. He looks a little out of place in his suit, but he is keen to talk about the business model adopted by two young entrepreneurs: to meld a hip coffee shop with an upscale subculture shopping franchise on a street marked by vacancies. It’s a backdrop to his message about jobs and the economy. This small urban riding contains parts of four municipalities that frequently compete for infrastructure dollars. His promise is to push for a shared economic development plan, which is a neat segue into the most contentious issue in this campaign: a costly sewage treatment facility for the region. Mr. Gann has flip-flopped on the issue and now opposes it, even though his government has demanded it and offered up a huge chunk of cash for it. Mr. Gann says the region’s crumbling infrastructure needs to be addressed in a more coherent way. “There are going to be a lot more calls for cash in the future.”
Sundia Heurtier is clutching a gift for Justin Trudeau. She wouldn’t otherwise be in the campaign office of Liberal candidate Paul Summerville – she’s not into politics. But for Mr. Trudeau, she has time, and a pencil portrait she has made of him. “Just infatuation, I guess.” In fact, many of the supporters who have crowded into Mr. Summerville’s campaign office are here to shake hands with the federal Liberal leadership contender. Mr. Trudeau sticks to a well-polished stump speech about “reconnecting with Canadians.” He blasts the Harper government for dividing Canadians, but says his party needs to “once again earn the trust of Canadians to stand and speak for them on big issues.” Mr. Summerville’s introduction is dry by comparison to his more dynamic guest speaker. “I think the people of Victoria have warmed up to our message,” he says, which is about evidence-based public policy. That’s his cue to talk about his main campaign issue: fighting “the billion-dollar boondoggle of the secondary sewage treatment plant.”
Half a block from his own home, Donald Galloway is helping install a large campaign sign outside a local bed and breakfast. “It’s bizarre,” he acknowledges as he looks at the large image of himself that dominates the sign. The Green’s only MP, party leader Elizabeth May, gets only an oblique reference. “Send another Green MP to Ottawa,” it says. And that is the essence of his campaign. Ms. May made history last year when she became the first elected Green MP in Canada, in the next-door riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands. She recruited Mr. Galloway, who surprised her by instantly agreeing to run. Their friendship spans three decades, but he had never expressed an interest in becoming a politician. In fact, when he started the campaign, he was hoping for a strong second-place finish. “Now I think we have a strong chance to pull it off and win,” he says. Before this trio of by-elections, Ms. May’s appeal for a co-operative alliance with the opposition parties went nowhere, but for the Greens, another seat could change that dynamic. “It would be a wake-up call to the NDP and the Liberals,” Mr. Galloway says, “ to show them there are no safe seats.”
Olivia Chow is tugging on Murray Rankin’s sleeve – she’s spotted a couple of smokers outside a popular dim sum restaurant. He looks at her quizzically – clearly wondering why they need to cross the street to greet these two men. “A captive audience,” the veteran campaigner explains. Ms. Chow, the NDP MP for Trinity-Spadina, is here from Toronto to boost the NDP campaign, but she is also providing Mr. Rankin with a crash course in mainstreeting. In short order, he will learn not to waste time on chatting up people too young to vote, and not to engage in lengthy discussions about the future of the CBC. Campaign time is precious. Mr. Rankin has been frustrated by the sewage debate, although he is the only one of the four main candidates to support it. “After knocking on thousands of doors, I believe this campaign will turn on the vision that Stephen Harper has for Canada,” he says. In a coffee shop, he boils that message down further: “Harper has got to be stopped.”