Political Horseraces Shaping up in Thunder Bay Ridings

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Canadian PoliticsTHUNDER BAY – Looking back at the political scene over 2010 may offer a glimpse forward into the future for our region in terms of the next federal election. 

There are three federal ridings in our region. Thunder Bay Superior North (TBSN), Thunder Bay Rainy River (TBRR), and Kenora. 

Looking at TBSN ridings at the end of 2009, on the financial side, the federal Conservative Riding Association had $51,281.53 sitting in the bank. The New Democrats had 36,570.38. The Liberal Riding Association had $33,116.88. 

In TBRR, the Conservatives had $45,598.61 in the warchest. The Liberals have $ 35,031.92, which is somewhat deceptive as they raised most of that money in 2009. The New Democrats have $ 30,391.28 in the war chest. 

Those figures should have all three major parties ready to fight an election.

Having funds available to fight an election campaign are critical. Elections Canada allows the riding association to transfer the money in their accounts to the candidate in order to contest the election. 

The Green Party in Thunder Bay Superior North had no local donors to the party coffers in 2009. Transfers of $ 1,783.54 from the federal party were the only financial assets the local Greens reported. The same holds true for the Green Party in Thunder Bay Rainy River where the only money in the bank was the $1498.31 transferred from the federal party. For the Green Party, it is only the federal voter subsidy that is generating money locally. It does not bode well for a party seeking to make a difference that between elections it appears the associations simply fold up the tent. 

There were under 100 local donors for all three major parties in the Thunder Bay Superior North riding. This is a contrast to the Kenora riding where Conservative MP Greg Rickford had 241 donors who put over $42,842.95 into the party bank account. Kenora Liberals appear less flush with cash, as there were 51 donors who put $2855.15 into the coffers of the riding association. 

In Kenora, the Conservatives had amassed just over $90,000 in the warchest by the end of 2009. That figure means that their incumbent MP is freed up to work on re-election without the worry of fundraising. By contrast the Liberal Riding Association in Kenora, reported just over $20,000 in their campaign warchest. 

The TBRR Conservatives had 212 donors who contributed $6935 to the party in 2009. By way of contrast the Liberals in TBRR had 200 donors in 2009 who contributed $ 34,251.92. Perhaps those wondering why the two Thunder Bay seats have not elected a Conservative since the early 1930s simply should look at the dollars donated and the numbers of people donating. 

It likely means that for Richard Harvey and Maureen Comuzzi-Stehmann, their task is to start engaging people in their ridings who are not currently Conservative supporters. 

It could also mean that while the federal Conservative fund-raising machine is very successful that similar local efforts are not making the serious inroads that they could. Part of that could be a result of the campaign of quiet that both local Conservatives are deploying. 

There should be simple lessons out there for both Harvey and Comuzzi-Stehmann. In the last federal election, both Bruce Hyer and John Rafferty spend untold hours campaigning before the election. 

Rafferty was literally wearing out shoes with all of his door-knocking.  In the civic election, it was a combination of social networking, email, and door-knocking which led to Mayor Keith Hobbs knocking off two-term Mayor Lynn Peterson. 

Is door-knocking important? 

Talking to several Councillors over the summer, their feeling was that Mayor Peterson was a sure bet. Once they got on the doors of voters, that myth was erased. Hobbs was able to tap into the mood for change that appears to be strong here in Thunder Bay. In many ways, Hobbs was able to focus the public’s apparent frustration directly on the Mayor. His door knocking efforts also effectively immunized his campaign from any possible attacks later in the campaign. 

Ken Boshcoff took his active Facebook presence and strong community engagement for a ride during the civic election. The results were obvious. Boshcoff led the polls in the Councillor at Large category. 

Liberal Yves Fricot appears to have observed the continued changes in the riding and has started to engage voters. On his Facebook profile, Fricot shares, “I was canvassing today and saw the following on the front door of a house:

’GREEK PROVERB: ‘A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit’.

”I thought that it was a great reminder to all of us in politics that, when making decisions, the long term view is often the most important (but the most easily forgotten).” 

Fricot had been busy working to get the pulp mill in Terrace Bay up and running. Now the Liberal candidate is out talking at the doorstops, talking and listening to local business owners. Fricot stated, “Getting Terrace Bay Pulp up and running was a task that many thought impossible. That effort took never giving up, and making sure to keep working”. 

The Fricot campaign is now transferring that effort to the campaign. “We are finding people at the doors are positive,” stated Fricot. “People are asking positive questions, and are engaged in the important issues”. 

The Liberals in TBSN are putting down the framework for a more solid ground game, which will likely assist the party in the next election.  

When it comes to local political engagement, the Liberals hosted leader Michael Ignatieff for one of the “Open Mike” sessions. The Conservatives hosted an event at the Victoria Inn with Prime Minister Harper. The fact is however those engagements were likely mostly means of bringing the local Liberals and Conservatives together.

Undecided voters may not choose to head out to what they might see as completely partisan political events. These kinds of events are great to fire up the party base and make sure that potential campaign volunteers are fired up too. 

The New Democrats have hosted public meetings, with both MPs enjoying the townhalls and public engagement. 

One might suspect that if there will be a three-way hard fought race in Thunder Bay it will be in TBSN. The New Democrats have an advantage with sitting MP Bruce Hyer. That advantage includes the office budget for the MP that allows regular mailings, public meetings and other constituency work.

The Conservatives changed candidates this past summer, as their candidate had stepped down due to health reasons. Richard Harvey, the Mayor of Nipigon is now the Conservative candidate. 

Since winning the nomination, however Harvey’s ground campaign has not shown much in obvious political intensity. Perhaps the Conservative candidate is on a solid campaign to educate local voters on what the Conservatives stand for, but isn’t making a big deal about his efforts? Or Harvey is waiting for the 37-day federal campaign instead of getting a head start?

In this region of Ontario, there are increasing economic and social links to the building powers in Western Canada. There are many people from our region who are making the two-week on, two-week off commute to Alberta and Saskatchewan for work. 

Those people are seeing how those provinces work under different leadership than Ontario. It is also likely impacting their vote preferences. 

However for the Conservatives, the uphill climb to elect the first Member of Parliament in seventy years is going to take a lot of work. Right now, it does not appear either Thunder Bay riding is gearing up to fall to the Conservatives. 

If Yves Fricot can connect with voters in TBSN he will likely give Bruce Hyer a worthy challenge. If Harvey starts the process of engaging undecided voters, or voters who are frustrated with the status quo, he can easily make the campaign a three way hard fought political battle. 

If Harvey can engage voters, and the federal Conservatives look like they would be likely to form a majority government, then the Nipigon Mayor could be riding into Ottawa – but it will take a combination of a hard fought ground game with a solid federal campaign. Without that ground game however, political history could repeat for the Conservatives. 

In TBRR, it is looking like it will be pretty much a two-way race between Liberal Ken Boshcoff and incumbent New Democrat MP John Rafferty. One might hate to doom the Conservatives in TBRR, but the word is that instead of getting out and campaigning, the first-time candidate is telling everyone how to campaign. Comuzzi-Stehmann may have Joe Comuzzi’s name in hers, but will need more than that in the election campaign in order to win, or finish respectfully. 

One wonders who in the Conservative camp will purchase Harvey and Comuzzi-Stehmann running shoes for Christmas? Fricot in TBSN is wearing his, and Boshcoff in TBRR seems to have a campaign system that works.

 James Murray

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