BY IAN PATTISON
Name brands count for a lot in election campaigns but they don’t always guarantee success. With less than three months until the next federal election there’ve been a few surprises among local party nominations.
In Thunder Bay it was pretty much a given that Patty Hajdu would secure the Liberal nomination in the Superior North riding. Already a familiar name as head of Shelter House when she first sought the ruling party’s spot in 2015, she caught Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s attention and secured the status of women’s ministry. Then it was on to labour, a post that, should she win in October and keep the job, will prove challenging. Lately the federal civil service is carping at the Liberals and here at home the Bombardier plant debacle will see 450 layoffs occur around election time.
Meanwhile, Hajdu is watching another familiar name in contention for the Conservatives. Like her, businessman Frank Pullia was acclaimed in the riding. And like her, his background would seem to suit the Tory brand. But his candidacy drew criticism from some who said the party’s current hard-right stance doesn’t fit Pullia’s positions on city council where he’s been a member for nearly 25 years. Pullia must be hoping Conservative leader Andrew Scheer tones down the rhetoric over the summer and is able to maintain the momentum that saw him take the Tory brand ahead of the Liberals in early national polling.
Currently, the website 338canada.com, which makes projections based on opinion polls, electoral history and demographic data, puts the Conservatives two points up nationally on the Liberals in the popular vote but two points behind in the seat projection. It’s a statistical tie and Ontario is seen as the make-or-break province.
In the riding itself, long a Liberal stronghold with two brief NDP interruptions, the website’s mixed data projection puts the Liberals ahead at 33.8 per cent and “likely” to win followed – surprise! – by the Green Party at 26 per cent, the NDP at 21.6 and the Conservatives at 16.5. The Greens haven’t even named a candidate yet and won’t until after an Aug. 6 meeting hosted by riding president Bruce Hyer to discuss tactics. Hyer is the riding’s former NDP MP who bolted to the Greens after a dispute with party leadership.
With indigenous issues claiming much attention these days the NDP acclaimed Anna Betty Achneepineskum, the former deputy grand chief of Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN), as their candidate. Her priority is youth while party leader Jagmeet Singh’s visit to the city this week was aimed squarely at jobs, particularly those at Bombardier which he said could have been protected with a higher Canadian content rule for rail car parts, a position long advanced by Thunder Bay Mayor Bill Mauro.
Mauro was widely rumoured to be after the Liberal nomination in neighbouring Thunder Bay-Rainy River but just days before the nomination meeting announced he’d decided against it. That left four in contention. City councillor Shelby Ch’ng was thought to be the favourite, cybersecurity expert and bake shop family member Dave Bruno mounted an intensive online campaign, and Christy Radbourne brought more name recognition as a former repeat Green Party candidate. But in the end it was local emergency room doctor Marcus Powlowski who pulled out a surprise win after a mere 10-day campaign.
Liberal riding president Murray Munro said there were two other potential candidates in the wings suggesting a lot of Liberal confidence in the riding currently held by Don Rusnak who oddly decided not to run again after surprising even himself when he won in 2015.
Powlowski says the “big competition” this year is “obviously” the Conservatives and the “great global movement to the right.” In the riding itself, though, 338canada.com currently puts the Tories in third place at 18.5 per cent, just ahead of the Greens at 18 (also without a candidate) and well behind the NDP at 29 per cent. Polling puts the Liberals on top at 32 per cent and says the riding is “leaning” that way.
Name recognition also will have factored into the Conservatives’ decision to nominate former longtime city councillor Linda Rydholm in Thunder Bay-Rainy River while the NDP went with a political unknown, teacher and labour activist Yuk-Sem Won, who beat NAN police officer Jason Storkson for the nomination.
Recent history has seen the riding shared by the Liberals and then the NDP before Rusnak took it back. No Conservative has held the area since Robert Manion in 1930.
Although much attention is focused on the national party leaders, local candidates must not count entirely on scripts sent from headquarters. Voters this year will be especially interested to hear what candidates say they and their parties will do to address people’s nagging frustration at falling farther behind their own best efforts to pay a cost of living in their own communities, costs that seem to know no limit -- except for those wealthy few who dwell in another realm. In between, says Ekos Research, fewer than half of all Canadians now identify as middle class — a sharp drop from 70 per cent in 2002.
Nationally, of course, there is no more important issue than climate change which is all around us in more intense weather. It is melting Arctic ice and permafrost at alarming rates, stressing polar bears and killing reindeer herds, baking Europe and India with record heat waves and causing dangerous flooding.
Here in the Northwest an unusual number of brief, violent, localized storms are occurring that don’t allow for prolonged soaking rains. Last year there were 914 forest fires in Ontario compared with the 10-year average of 587. So far this year we’ve had 309 fires and we’re only just into August.
Prolonged warm spells such as those in our area recently extend the periods in which plants release pollen. Have you noticed how many people are talking about their allergies lately?
More ticks are here meaning more danger of debilitating Lyme disease.
No national or provincial government leader is taking this matter seriously enough. Our brightest minds should be devoted to mitigating the climate crisis quickly while developing ways to begin to reverse it much sooner than later. That will require a fundamental shift in the way we live. There’s no avoiding it and no time to waste. Which party, and which of its candidates, will put this matter front and centre as we decide who’ll get our votes this fall?
Ian Pattison is retired as editorial page editor of The Chronicle-Journal, but still shares his thoughts on current affairs.