(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...