Monday, April 1, 2013

A Look at Kent

While everyones in a tizzy over the upcoming Labrador by-election, few outside of New Brunswick have paid attention to another important by-election in Atlantic Canada - that being of the provincial riding of Kent. Caused by the resignation of former Liberal Premier Shawn Graham, the Kent by-election is the first and most important test of the new Liberal leader, Brian Gallant, following his win a few months back. But its not just a political test - its also personal, as Gallant is the Liberal's candidate, facing off against the PC's Jimmy Bourque, the NDP's Susan Levi-Peters, and the People's Alliance candidate, Allison Fanjoy.

Riding History

Kent has been in Liberal hands since the 1917 election, or the past 96 years. Before 1974 it was a multi-member district, and featured such Liberal notables as premiers Allison Dysart, the legendary Louis Robichaud, and Camille Thériault, and almost-Premier Joseph Z. Daigle. The district featured mostly Liberal members, with one PC MLA managed to be elected (Omer Léger, who would be a recurring face in successor ridings). Previous to 1917, it was dominated by Conservative members - yes, I mean Conservative members, as in the "Progressive" portion of the current PCs didn't even exist then.

Following the 1974 election, Kent become three separate districts - Kent North, Kent Centre, and Kent South. Only the latter had any success when electing PC members, including the aforementioned Léger and its current MLA since 2001, Claude Williams. The current district of Kent took in all of Kent Centre and portions of Kent North, making it an easy Liberal hold. Its first representative was Shawn Graham's father Alan Graham, who resigned in 1998 (and still has the record for being the longest-serving consecutive MLA). The by-election held in the same year elected the younger Graham, who has held the riding with over 50% support in every election.

Suffice to say, this isn't exactly a riding favourable to challengers to Liberal rule. I did see some people saying that Graham only won due to patronage, but even in years when the Liberals did not run the government they held Kent quite easily. The main reason for this is Kent County's demographic make-up: 70.4% of the county's residents are francophone, a group has remain fairly loyal to the Liberals for almost a century. If you look at the 2010 election results provide-wide, the Liberals won almost all of their seats in areas with large francophone and Catholic populations. Kent is definitely no exception.

2010 Election

Graham won 55.4% of the votes in Kent in the 2010 election, leagues ahead of his nearest rival, Bruce Hickey of the PCs. Susan Levi-Peters of the NDP, who is running again in this by-election, came in third with 15%, an impressive result in an area not necessarily friendly to the NDP. The only time anyone did better than Levi-Peter's 1,040 votes was during the 1998 by-election, when the NDP candidate came in second with 1,460 votes, though still far, far behind Graham.

Even so, there are some immediately evident areas of resistance in the 2010 election results at the poll level. Levi-Peter's home town of the Elsipogtog First Nation in the north went for the NDP in a big way, while some of the polls surrounding the town of Bouctouche went for PC candidate Hickey. Why this happened, I can't really be sure; those polls featured farms and very small villages, but so does the rest of Kent. I suspect it has something to do with Hickey's local presence - he's the apparent owner of a tractor-trailer business from the area. That, or there are a lot of people there that Graham annoyed, which was a running theme throughout the 2010 election.

However, Graham maintained strong numbers throughout, winning 70%+ in quite a few polls, and beating back a challenge to him in the riding's largest town of Bouctouche. Suffice to say, there is very little room for growth for the other parties.

By-election Outlook

From the outset this is clearly Brian Gallant's race to lose. As leader of the Official Opposition, the party that led in the most recent poll, and representative of the party that had held on to the area for a century, a loss for Gallant and the Liberals would be an absolute disaster. There is no sugar-coating it.

Luckily however, Gallant has a few things going for him. One is that the PC government of David Alward is not exactly popular - according to the most recent CRA poll, 41% of respondents approved of the government while 49% disapproved, yet only 32% said they would re-elect the PCs and only 21% said they saw Alward as the best option for Premier. They've also run a basically no-name candidate in the form of Jimmy Bourque, who's notable background includes being an assistant to the Deputy Premier and owning a business in a town outside of Kent.

On the NDP side of things, they're running Levi-Peters again and while she is a more notable candidate than Bourque (she also ran federally in 2011 against Dominic LeBlanc), she isn't that high profile. I mean, I don't think being named Deputy Leader of a party with no representation is exactly "high profile." Nevertheless, the NDP do have obvious momentum provincially, going from 10% province-wide in the 2010 election to 26% in that recent CRA poll. The key thing is whether or not that momentum is enough to overcome the Liberal's obvious advantage. While she is from the riding, unlike Gallant or Bourque who only have tenuous connections to it, I'm not convinced that Kent voters are going to choose to put in the first NDP MLA from the region simply because she lives there, or because the NDP have momentum in polling. That being said, this is a by-election and if any candidate has a chance to win other than Gallant, I think it'd be Levi-Peters.

The one big caveat for Gallant may be the spectre of Shawn Graham. The former Premier was resoundingly defeated in 2010 due to rather unpopular decisions, and resigned from his seat in the legislature just after some ethics issues came up. Whether or not these will affect Gallant's run remains to be seen, but they can't be discounted.

Voting day is April 15th, just after the federal Liberals elected Justin Trud- er, a new leader. I wonder if that will affect how people vote as well? Chalk that up as another possible advantage for Gallant. While I'm sure the news will be swamped with news about the next Liberal leader, I'll be sure to come back to Kent and see what happened.

1 comment:

  1. This is one of the most Liberal areas in the entire country. Only the area directly to the south and east are more Liberal. That's in all of Canada.