On a misty Thursday evening inside the humid Glace Bay Fire Hall, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer pumped up a crowd of energized Cape Breton Conservatives with his pitch for the fall federal election.
"A new Conservative government will live within its means so that the government can put more money in your pocket, so that you can get ahead and not just get by,” he told about 200 people.
Outside in the drizzling cool rain, another 100 residents lined the main drag of this town of about 18,000, not just to protest Mr. Scheer, but to object to the political system itself.
A man with a megaphone encouraged cars to honk as they drove by and most laid on their horns. Residents outside the firehall held signs saying: “Cape Breton is dying,” and “Help us.”
Mr. Scheer spent two days this week campaigning in Cape Breton, in the northeastern corner of Nova Scotia, once well known for its bustling coal industry. The Conservatives see an opening this fall for the first time in decades – two Liberal MPs who have represented the region’s twin ridings since 2000 are retiring this year.
Two provincial MLAs, Alfie MacLeod and Eddie Orrell, are giving up their seats in the Legislature to run for the federal Conservatives.
The region has changed significantly with the closing of coal mines, steel plants and local businesses.
Most of the protesters outside the fire hall said they don’t feel that Cape Breton is receiving its fair share of federal dollars sent to the province.
“There’s no accountability for it, no transparency,” said Charles Sampson, 77, a member of the group Nova Scotians for Equalization Fairness. He said members wanted to talk to Mr. Scheer but they were told his event was only for card-carrying Conservatives. Mr. Sampson added that NSEF is trying to encourage residents to run as Independents.
“We’ve had two MPs who just retired, they did nothing … they’ll get a damn good pension though,” he said. “Political structure as it’s operating now doesn’t answer to the common guy. Oh, people are mad down here, that’s for sure.”
Mr. Scheer spent Thursday night in Glace Bay, which is located in the federal riding of Cape Breton–Canso. The riding was represented for 19 years by Liberal MP Rodger Cuzner. Mr. MacLeod has been named the Conservative candidate. Liberal Party spokesman Parker Lund said “a variety of talented community leaders” have expressed interest in running and the nomination process would begin soon.
Mr. Scheer spent Friday morning at a Sydney Chamber of Commerce event in the neighbouring riding of Sydney–Victoria, where the Liberals have nominated Jaime Battiste, a First Nations writer and activist, to replace the retiring Mark Eyking.
Inside the Glace Bay fire hall, Mr. Scheer and the pair of local candidates spoke to the crowd.
Conservative supporter Ed Rideout, 67, said that Mr. MacLeod “has done well provincially,” and said he believes he would make a good federal representative. As for Mr. Scheer, he said, “I’ve heard him speak a couple times, I haven’t formed an opinion yet.”
And in fairness to Mr. Cuzner, he said, the departing Liberal MP “has done his work, but he’s been here a while and change is coming.” Health care is a major issue in Cape Breton, with hospitals closing and leaving people without help, he said.
Mr. Scheer said health care is the issue he’s been hearing about in Cape Breton. He promised to ensure that federal transfers increase and said the provincial and federal governments could work together to retain medical expertise, such as doctors and nurses, in Nova Scotia.
Mr. Scheer told the crowd that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has “let you down.”
“The Liberals might have gone 32 for 32 in 2015, but the people of Atlantic Canada have gone 0 for 32 under Justin Trudeau,” Mr. Scheer said. The federal Liberals currently represent all 32 seats in Atlantic Canada.