Gatineau, in the beautiful province of Quebec, is essentially one of the closest ridings in Canada, the closest three-way race (on par with Welland), and the best opportunity for another seat in Quebec for Jack Layton's New Democrats. There's been a lot of attention paid to this riding since 2008, including its own poll by Segma, due to the fact that the Bloc incumbent just hung on to the riding with only 29.1% of the vote, compared to 26.1% for the NDP candidate, a former Liberal MP, and the Liberal candidate, who received 25.4%, with the Conservatives coming in at a respectable 16.8%.
This time around, the race has gotten more interesting thanks to a recent drop in the Bloc's vote, the rise of the NDP in the province, and remaining Liberal strength in the area (not to mention the possibility of their own rising fortunes). While this riding may seem like an easy NDP pick-up, it actually would be an amazing feat - after all, it's a split race, with each party attempting to hold their own in the riding. That remains a large issue for the NDP, who are tied with the Liberals as the non-Bloc option in the riding, meaning that unless vote starts crystalising around the NDP, in Quebec at least, then it will likely stay with the Bloc thanks to another split vote.
But, I digress. There are four main candidates running - five if you include the Greens, which we won't, given that they receive under 3% in the riding - including the Bloc incumbent, Richard Nadeau; NDP challenger and former Liberal MP Francoise Boivin; Liberal scrapper Steve MacKinnon, a national director during the Chretien years; and Conservative candidate Jennifer Gearey. All these candidates have an outside chance of winning, even the Conservative. Let's see how they stack up:
Richard Nadeau is the current incumbent for Gatineau, representing the Bloc. He's not a caucus star, myself never had heard from him in the House, but he's representing the riding since 2006, when he took out then-Liberal MP Francoise Boivin, 39.3% to 31.3%, or just over 4,000 votes, after a close race in 2004 which saw the two battle it out in the 40's with less than 1,000 votes separating them. Nadeau is arguably the Bloc's most endangered incumbent outside of Montreal, given the forces of both the NDP and Liberals arrayed against him. However, he's also likely got a better chance at retaining the seat than, say, Thierry St-Cyr in Jeanne-Le Ber, thanks to the split vote. Will it work to his advantage again? We'll see.
Francoise Boivin was the Liberal MP from 2004 to 2006, taking over after Chretien-era caucus member Mark Assad didn't opt for re-election in 2004. Boivin dropped the Liberals from 51.5% to just over 42%, then lost the riding in 2006 to the Bloc, showcasing her allure as a local politician. That being said, she decided to switch parties for the 2008 election, running instead as the NDP candidate, picking up 16% for the Dippers and coming through to a close second place. However, it wasn't enough in 2008, and the question is whether or not it will be enough now in 2011. Even with the NDP rise in Quebec, a poll put out before the campaign started showed Boivin far behind, and 308.com shows a close race, but no cigar, even at inflated numbers. Boivin's challenge is to defy these expectations, and win the NDP's second seat in the province of Quebec.
Steve MacKinnon is running for the Liberals this time in Gatineau, hoping to pull off an upset against both the Bloc and the NDP. While many people talk about the fight between the other two, the fact is that the Liberals were not very far behind the NDP, holding on to over 25% and less than a three hundred votes behind Boivin. MacKinnon's job in this election is to either gain a moral victory by coming in second, or to win the seat; after all, before 2006, Gatineau was held by the Liberals for all but one term in 1984-88, when the Conservatives took it, so there is a clear tradition in this Ottawa-area riding with lots of public servants for the Liberals to come out ahead. MacKinnon has a big job, however; Boivin is popular enough to hold some weight, and took about 5-6% of the vote from the Liberals in 2008. MacKinnon has to stop that bleed, and then has to get some of it back, otherwise this riding goes orange. However, at the same time he does this, he increases the chances that the riding continues with the Bloc. Whatever MacKinnon does, he'll have a major effect on this race, to be sure.
Jennifer Gearey is our last candidate, and is the clear underdog. The Conservatives don't have a strong history in this riding, but Gearey thinks she's up for the challenge of changing the riding's outlook. While the Opposition parties hold an obvious advantage, Gearey is obviously hoping that the Conservatives can sneak up the right side and take the riding. It's very unlikely to happen, especially given the 20% the Conservatives seem stuck at for the moment in the province. Unless she is personally popular, Gearey remains a spoiler candidate for both the NDP and Liberals, as voters who want to vote against the Bloc have to vote for someone. Some will undoubtedly vote for Gearey and the Conservatives. That's a problem right there - but not for them. Can they pull off a miracle, or at least be a thorn in the side of the other parties? We'll have to wait and find out.