If the riding fits

March 27, 2011 7:26 PM

There are a number of reasons why it must be tempting for Bernard Valcourt to finally return to federal politics after an 18-year absence, as he appears poised to do at a Monday news conference.

For one, there's the opportunity for redemption: after a nine-year career in Ottawa marked by a quick rise, a personal mishap, a return to cabinet and a defeat in 1993, Valcourt's tenure as leader of the provincial PC Party was nothing short of a disaster. People may love him, and vote for him, in Madawaska, but in the rest of New Brunswick his appeal fell flat.

Another inducement: with Bernard Lord taking a pass on running this year, Valcourt's got a better shot to return to cabinet.

But most interesting is that Valcourt gets to run in a riding that many believe was created for him. He won handily twice in Madawaska-Victoria, when the riding included Liberal-leaning Grand Falls and the Perth-Andover area, before his 1993 defeat. But the riding created by boundary redistribution after that defeat, and first contested in 1997, was far more suited to the Conservatives.

In fact, many cynics suggested it was deliberately drawn up with Valcourt in mind. For one thing, Grand Falls and its Liberal tradition was moved into the new riding of Tobique-Mactaquac. Then, the western part of Restigouche County was grafted on, including Valcourt's hometown of St-Quentin and the city of Campbellton, which has shown a willingness to vote Tory from time to time. Sure, there are still Liberal bastions such as Dalhousie and Kedgwick, but Madawaska-Restigouche creates opportunities for Conservatives, and particularly for Valcourt, given he has two "hometowns" in the constituency.

The Liberal incumbent, Jean-Claude D'Amours, is no pushover. He has won the riding three times, two of them when the trend was heading Stephen Harper's way -- and yet he overcame the built-in Conservative advantage in large sections of the riding. But Valcourt's return will create a compelling race in Madawaska-Restigouche, a riding that appeared tailor-made for him when it first appeared on the electoral map 14 years ago.
- Jacques Poitras

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