Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Fredericton Tories to pick banner carrier

(crossposted to CanadaEast)

Federal Conservatives in Fredericton will meet tomorrow night to chose their nominee to stand against Liberal candidate David Innes in the next federal election. The seat has been held since 1993 by Liberal Andy Scott. However, prior to that it was held by the blues, since the 1957 Diefenbaker win, and was considered to be a Conservative stronghold.

Since 1997, Fredericton has been a prime pickup target for the Tories. In that year and in 2000, the Reform and Alliance parties split the vote significantly, taking 22% and 24% respectively. In 2004, with the new Conservative Party on the scene, it was thought to be a sure bet for the Tories. In 1997 the combined PC and Reform vote was 52% to Scott's 34%; in 2000 it was 54% for the right to 39% for the incumbent Grit.

However, in 2004 and 2006, as was the case in the rest of Canada, the merger didn't result in 1 + 1 equaling 2, let alone the 3 that many proponents of the merger hoped. In 2004, Andy Scott was up 5000 votes and the combined forces of the right were down 4000. In 2006, Andy held steady and the Tories picked up 2000. So, with a popular incumbent out of the picture, and an incumbent Conservative government looking a lot better than the lackluster Liberal opposition, this seat should definitely be up for grabs.

So, as I was saying, the Tories choose a candidate tomorrow night. Here are the options:

Keith Ashfield, MLA for New Maryland-Sunbury West. Former Lincoln-area businessman, first elected in 1999 and re-elected in 2003 and 2006. Served during his first term as deputy speaker. He was well regarded by the opposition and observers as being fair and impartial while sitting in the chair, a view not accorded to the speaker or the other deputy speaker during that period. After 2003, he was named to the cabinet as Minister of Natural Resources and got a passing grade from most folks. A likable guy who plays fair and is not too partisan; he is well liked by politicos of all stripes, including yours truly.

Will Forestall, 2006 provincial candidate for Fredericton-Lincoln. A well known artist and activist, this Red Tory would likely fit the mold of Mark Warner, so it is unclear whether or not he would remain the candidate if nominated. He ran between two big names, Greg Byrne, then-former and now-current cabinet minister, and Allison Brewer, then-NDP leader. He placed second, ahead of Brewer, and ran a good campign.

Brian Macdonald, a former military officer and newcomer to politics. I don't know much about this fellow, but have heard from the buzz around both Liberal and Tory organizers that he is putting together an impressive nomination campaign.

Intuitively, one would presume Ashfield would be a shoe-in and Forestall would run second. However, this is the game of nomination meetings and resume, profile, charisma, experience and anything else you would normally draw to mind are irrelevant. All that matters in a nomination contest is warm bodies in a room. The winner will be the candidate who can convince enough existing Tories, and sign up new ones, to support him and show up for a lengthy nomination meeting.

Macdonald is apparently the heavy favourite, which suits the Liberals just fine. This would make the fourth time in a row when the Tories had a far more electable candidate at the ready and chose someone else. In 2006, 2004 and 2000, there were candidates that were widely agreed to be formidable but they were not nominated and Andy Scott was re-elected. History is looking to repeat itself.

Ashfield, as it is told to me, can only win if a second ballot is required and Forestall supporters move to him en masse. In this sort of meeting that is unlikely though because, if Forestall's people know he is going to place third, they will go home rather than wait for the ballots to be counted and the second round of voting to begin.

However, Tories would be well served to vote for Ashfield, who Liberals feel they cannot defeat on a personal level. The Liberal strategy with Macdonald as the nominee will be the same one that has seen them win the last five elections. If Ashfield is the winner, their campaign will focus on an attack on Harper; the resulting contrast between the PM and Dion would likely push the Tories over the top.

Let's see how she goes...


Anonymous said...

Is this the riding where the NDP candidate dropped out to support Dion?

Abdul-Rahim said...

NIce to hear about NB politics! Thanks

Anonymous said...

This is Fredericton and the centre right has swung to the Grits. With UNB and government hacks, centrists such as Ashfield and Forestall have less traction among the CPC grass roots.

Macdonald would suit Harper's Cons just fine. He won't win unless he rides on the PM's coattails which has proved very difficult. But a good campaign means that Grits may have to defend Fredericton harder to the detriment of the rural region.

nbpolitico said...

Anon - yes this is the riding where the nominated NDP candidate switched to the Liberals over dissatisfaction with Layton's position on Afghanistan.

abdul - it is my first passion!

mushroom - You are right about Forestall, however Ashfield is a "true blue" conservative, just a quiet friendly one.

Fredericton Tory said...

Though I respect Ashflied's credentials, I have to disagree with you on this one, NB Politico.

In fact, as a card-carrying Tory (of the Red variety), see the situation in the exact opposite light that you do. Apparently, the people behind Ashfield are the same as those who were behind the last two dismal CPC campaigns, and tend to be more from the ex-Alliance wing of the party. Ashfield is also perceived as too "country-conservative" - his charm would play well in the rural parts of the riding (who will vote Conservative anyway), but count for naught in Fredericton itself. MacDonald is the favourite because he fits the "urbane, charismatic Red Tory" mould that would play well in Fredericton - and the fact that he's well-spoken and highly knowlegeable on the Afghanistan file doesn't hurt, either. Ashfield, as nice as he may be, is Blue Tory in the mould of the previous two failed candidates. Besides, I'm not so sure that nominating a provincial Tory in an area that severely punished the provincial Tories last year would be such a good idea.

As for Forrestall - I've actually met him on a couple of occasions. He was friendly and seemed knowledgeable, but struck me as having "Stephane Dion syndrome" - great guy with great ideas, with the charisma of a cardboard box.

So, while MacDonald doesn't have the instant-name recognition that the other two candidates have (for better or worse), he's no cardboard candidate.

nbpolitico said...

Thanks for that take, I appreciate it. As I mentioned in my comment above, Ashfield is certainly a "blue Tory"; Red Toryism isn't necesarily the answer in my view - the candidate in 2000 was a Red Tory but didn't win, though Brian Harquail would have - the answer is ability to connect with voters.

They may be wrong, but the Liberals I have talked to about this fear a race with Ashfield and relish one with Macdonald.

Fredericton Tory said...

I wonder why that's the case, though. Perhaps they equate "name recognition" to "formidability," a concept I don't buy. Kind of like how Hillary Clinton is viewed as the most formidable Democratic Party candidate in the U.S. primaries, simply because no one recognizes the names of anyone else in the running.

I also don't believe that 19,000 votes is some sort of baseline that the Liberals can rely on. With Scott out of the picture, this is anyone's race (yes, even with the ex-NDP candidate backing the Liberals).

nbpolitico said...

I would agree, I think the 14,000 Scott got in 1997 is a reasonable baseline to assume for the Grits, maybe a bit less.

For your reference, it isn't so much name recognition - I am not sure who outside of his riding and political circles will know him anyway, he is pretty low key - but because he is such a "nice guy" he is hard to run against.

Fredericton Tory said...

Ah, but you know the saying about nice guys, nbpolitico ;)

Spinks said...

Sheesh you beat me to it NB Politico. Good take but I think you and the Liberals are underestimating Brian MacDonald. He's put together a solid campaign to win the nomination and he has the added bonus of Stephane Dion not being his Party's leader. :)

Anonymous said...

It is a hotly contested nomination, but I have to agree with Fredericton Tory. You have Ashfield pegged all wrong. You are confusing nice and quiet with just plain lethargic.
And Macdonald worked for Peter MacKay, hardly a bastion of social conservatives.

Charles LeBlanc said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Charles LeBlanc said...

Brian MacDonald will win this one...His crew have been working overtime on this one....

Anonymous said...

Where do you get the idea Forestall is a Red Tory? Pro-life & charter schools does not a progressive make.

As for Ashfield, tired is the only way to describe him and his backers (the same ones who are 0-4 in federal elections)

MacDonald on the other hand is a young progressive who was recently hand picked by Peter MacKay to come on board as senior policy advisor in the defense portfolio. Rising star anyone?

If Liberals are hoping for MacDonald to win, they have about as much political instinct as their federal leader does.

Anyone else find it interesting the Conservatives are expecting over 1000 at their convention while the Liberals had 300-400?

nbpolitico said...

I don't know why it is that every one things I am saying Macdonald is a social conservative or to the right of the party? Where did I say that? If I did, it was an accident, because I have no idea what side of the party he is from.

Glad to see this has sparked a good debate though, haven't seen one of those on here in a while :)

As for the crowd "who are 0-4 in federal elections", I don't fair it is necessarily to throw that tag on them. They may have been the old guard that came in to run the election campaigns but their candidates of choice haven't been nominated. In 2000, Brian Harquail was their candidate and in 2005 (for the '06 election), Margie Gregg. I think that either of those candidates would have easily won the general election.

Anonymous said...

After the lie by Andy Scott anyone would be a breath of fresh air

Madame Lafarge said...

Can anyone here tell me about David Innes and his position on abortion? I sense this candidate is running for the wrong party. He should be a Harper Conservative.