TransCanada Corp.'s proposed Energy East pipeline is continuing to be a thorny issue in the Saint John-Rothesay campaign as the three main parties head into the final days of the campaign trying to woo swing voters.
Conservative Rodney Weston is seeking his third term as the MP for Saint John and is quick to point out the verbal shadings from Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau or NDP Leader Tom Mulcair on the pipeline issue.
He said Trudeau and Mulcair are talking about obtaining "social licence" and changing the permitting process.
"These are just code words for wanting to delay and to defeat this project," he said.
"It is a message for other areas that might have some opposition to this project, it is not taking into consideration the needs of Saint John."
- AUDIO: NDP candidate AJ Griffin
- AUDIO: Liberal candidate Wayne Long
- AUDIO: Green candidate Sharon Murphy
- AUDIO: Conservative candidate Rodney Weston
The Conservative campaign received a boost when Arthur Irving, the chairman of Irving Oil, invited Conservative Leader Stephen Harper to the company's Saint John-based oil refinery in mid-September for a rally.
This strategy to drive a wedge between the parties on energy issues may be recognizable to New Brunswick voters.
In the 2014 provincial election, David Alward's Progressive Conservatives campaigned hard on shale gas and using potential revenue from natural resource extraction to address the province's weak financial outlook.
Meanwhile, the Liberals opposed shale gas development, while still trying to walk a fine line in supporting the Energy East project.
The Progressive Conservatives were knocked out of power, but were able to hold onto a sizeable caucus by holding onto many Saint John-area ridings.
Pushing back against pipeline debate
Weston's two main rivals are pushing back on the Conservative's characterization of their parties' position on the pipeline.
Liberal Wayne Long acknowledges that Trudeau has a "more cautious approach" over the pipeline than he does.
Trudeau drew criticism before the campaign started for saying he would not give his complete support to the pipeline.
But Long said he wants to ensure his voice is inside the Liberal caucus articulating support for the project.
"Let me very clear on Energy East, Wayne Long is pro-pipeline and Wayne Long is pro-Energy East," Long said.
"I am going to be an advocate for Saint John, I am going to move forward whatever is best for our riding."
NDP candidate AJ Griffin said her party wants to make sure the proper oversight is given to the pipeline before it is receives permission to move ahead.
"My position is it still hasn't been approved," Griffin said.
'For some reason the politicians are just sticking to the ribbon cutting and they are not getting down to things that will really make a difference to the quality of all of our lives.' - Green candidate Sharon Murphy
"We need those environmental checks and balances and we have to that safety approval process in place and make sure everything is done properly."
J.P. Lewis, a political scientist at the University of New Brunswick in Saint John, said Weston has been making his case for the pipeline at several local candidates' debates and doing his best to sow seeds of doubt in the minds of voters.
Lewis said he does not know how successful it has been in convincing the electorate the Liberals or the NDP are soft on pipeline development. But he said it is clear by the repetition that it is a campaign tactic.
Green candidate Sharon Murphy is the only candidate who is trying to divert the political debate from the pipeline to investing in clean technology.
Murphy said the party does not support developing the oil sands. She said the focus on Energy East means other issues, such as air and water quality, housing and child poverty, are being overlooked.
"For some reason the politicians are just sticking to the ribbon cutting and they are not getting down to things that will really make a difference to the quality of all of our lives," she said.
Saint John may be a barometer
When the votes start coming in on Oct. 19, Lewis said the Saint John-Rothesay race could offer an early signal on the strength of the main parties.
He pointed to Weston's large 2011 victory and he said if that Saint John vote begins slipping that could be an ominous sign for Conservative candidates in other parts of the country.
"Those margins are really big, so if those are tight races, that could indicative of something going on nationwide," Lewis said.
After eking out a close win in 2008, Weston cruised to victory in 2011.
The Conservative campaign in Saint John was one of the many ridings across the country that benefited from the complete disintegration of the Liberal vote.
Weston won with just shy of 50 per cent of the vote, the NDP finished in second place with 30 per cent of the vote, a 14-per-cent increase from 2008, while the Liberals finished a distant third with 16 per cent of the vote, a drop of 22 per cent from the previous election.
The Liberals, NDP and Greens say they are all aware of the possibility that Weston could benefit from a continue fracturing of votes on the left of the political spectrum.
"I do worry about the split," Long said.
"I think that we have great momentum. I think as people look at the NDP and Tom Mulcair and the platform … I'm very confident that people will look at me, my experience, and see that I'm the best candidate to go up against Rodney Weston and move Saint John forward."
The NDP's Griffin said her best argument to prevent a vote split in the riding is to remind voters how similar the Liberals and Conservatives are.
"People have had enough, they are reaching their breaking point," she said.
"They are saying we just can't handle these governments anymore."
Strategic voting is not fazing the Green campaign, Murphy said.
She said her campaign is trying to tap into the pool of non-voters and siphon Conservative voters, who can't fathom voting for any of their traditional rivals.
"We will pick up a fair amount of votes from these disillusioned Conservatives this time," she said.