The marathon’s local legs

Some of the candidates in the federal riding of Central Nova attended a debate on October 3 at StFX.

Okay. One more election column. Bear with me, we can do this.

Just as a marathon race often boils down to the individual legs of the event as opposed to the overall track, a federal election in Canada is made up of the 338 individual elections that result in our national Parliament.

Sure, it’s tempting to generalize when Atlantic Canada and wide chunks of Quebec and Ontario elect enough Liberals to form a minority government, the west abandons Justin Trudeau in droves and becomes one of the last solid Conservative bastions, and the Bloc suddenly reappears in Quebec after being dormant for nearly a decade.

But it’s not that simple.

Every riding has a story. Every candidate, and every party, in these ridings has a story. That doesn’t always fit into the national narrative.

Take Cape Breton-Canso. Only four months ago, the story here was Cabot Links’ application for federal funding to build a commercial airport in Inverness. Outgoing MP Rodger Cuzner was for it, and opposition politicians were lining up to oppose it. I highly doubt it’s a coincidence that the federal riding’s newly-minted Conservative candidate, Alfie MacLeod, happened to be in the gallery – along with his long-time provincial PC caucus-mate Allan MacMaster – on the June night the issue first came up at Port Hawkesbury Town Council.

And then, just as quickly as the airport debate arose, it was over, largely due to the actions of a Liberal cabinet minister, Bernadette Jordan. The South Shore-St. Margaret’s MP, in her capacity as Minister of Rural Development, declared that Cabot Links didn’t provide proof that their airport proposal would provide adequate employment or economic development possibilities for the region.

Whether any of that impacted the election results is another thing entirely. All I know is that Jordan was re-elected in her seat and is a good bet to return to Trudeau’s cabinet later this month, while the Liberal candidate that replaced Cuzner, Mike Kelloway, defeated MacLeod in a squeaker on October 21.

How close was it? Consider this: If People’s Party of Canada candidate Billy Joyce hadn’t taken nearly a thousand votes away from potential right-leaning voters, MacLeod might be Cape Breton-Canso’s new MP. Let that sink in, on every level you need to let it sink in.

Other issues, of course, arose across Cape Breton and northeastern Nova Scotia. Chief among them: Health care, normally a provincial responsibility but enough of a hot-button issue in our neck of the woods to dominate several of the conversations and campaigns. (MacLeod’s most prominent TV commercial featured several seconds’ worth of doom-and-gloom quotes from doctors and nurses, followed up by Premier Stephen McNeil’s infamous comment that there’s allegedly “no health care crisis in Nova Scotia.” Neither Trudeau nor the federal Liberals were mentioned once.)

It feels like we grudgingly went to the polls this time around. Many of us went with the feeling that the overall party system is broken, including some of the candidates.

Michelle Dockrill, who represented a previous version of Cape Breton-Canso as a New Democrat MP, ran as an independent this time, as did two-time Sydney-Victoria Conservative candidate and one-time “The Island” singer-songwriter Kenzie MacNeil. The Cape Breton ridings had a combined 17 candidates between them, so general disgruntlement with our current party structure could extend much farther than griping over our first-past-the-post electoral system.

Over in Central Nova, Liberal incumbent Sean Fraser ensured that Conservative candidate George Canyon would indeed be able to make his December date at the Port Hawkesbury Civic Centre with Aaron Pritchett; which was right neighbourly of Fraser, when you stop and think about it.

Bizarrely, the Central Nova Conservative that has everybody’s attention these days isn’t Canyon but the former MP who sat out the last two elections, Peter MacKay. Speaking last week at the Canada Institute in Washington, Stephen Harper’s former East Coast lieutenant described Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer’s loss – in the wake of Trudeau’s brownface/blackface scandal and the SNC-Lavalin affair – as “having a breakaway on an open net and then missing the net.”

MacKay repented hours later, insisting on Twitter that he supported Scheer and denying media reports of three different groups organizing leadership bids for him. But, just as John Diefenbaker once chortled that “Canada celebrated the International Year of the Child by electing Joe Clark,” that Tory-blue toothpaste isn’t going to go back into the tube so easily.

And I haven’t even mentioned the Green Party winning a provincial-capital seat (Fredericton) or a one-time provincial NDP leadership candidate, Lenore Zann, giving up the provincial seat she’d held for a decade and barely winning a federal riding after converting to a Liberal.

Our votes, voices and stories mattered in this election, folks, and they’ll continue to matter, regardless of the winners, also-rans and voting trends, locally or nationally. Never forget that.