Ontario election 2014: Complacency the enemy in traditional ridings

Call them the "non-battlegrounds" if you want. Just be ready for some candidates to scold you for thinking their race was settled the moment the election was called.

Party strongholds don't mean much if you don't work to keep support, candidates say

Madeleine Meilleur, here with longtime volunteer Jean-Guy Bradette, said she almost feels insulted when people suggest she doesn't have to work hard for a win. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

Call them the "non-battlegrounds" if you want. Just be ready for some candidates to scold you for it.

While some races are being watched for the potential the riding will change hands, the history of parties and candidates in others means they could be chalked up as sure things.

Ottawa-Vanier Liberal candidate Madeleine Meilleur, whose party has won 12 straight elections there, said fighting apathy in her large number of voters is a challenge.

"(People may say) 'oh you can stay home and still get elected?' I don't think so," she said Friday.

"People can vote for you and people can vote against you and I don't want people to vote against me."

Meilleur said she tries to stave off campaign and voter apathy by trying to increase the percentage of her popular vote every campaign.

PC candidate John Yakabuski speaks during a Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke all-candidates meeting June 4, 2014. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

Renfrew-Nipissing Pembroke PC candidate John Yakabuski, who won by 21,363 votes in 2011, said he has to take the lead when it comes to keeping his staff and volunteers focused.

"If they see me not working hard, they're not going to work very hard either," he said earlier this week.

"I can't afford to let people get complacent so I'm out there every day. I campaign the same in this election as I did in 2003 when I was certainly the underdog."

Bruce Anderson, a pollster with Abacus data, said such candidates have to keep up the things that got them to their place of strength.

"If you've been a successful incumbent for a period of time it's at least in part because you tend to that process, you care about the organization you have, you care about community outreach and you're doing it all the time," he said.

Challengers want to change minds and votes

On the other side of the coin are candidates such as Dave Parkhill, representing the NDP in Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington for the second time.

Randy Hillier of the PCs won the riding by 9,967 votes in 2011, an amount representing just over half the ballots.

Parkhill said he heard from people during both campaigns who would listen to and like his ideas at the doorstep, then tell them they're going to vote PC because they always have.

Still, he said opening people's minds is a victory in itself when you're in his situation, a riding that's never elected an NDP MPP.

"They'll agree with you up and down the line and then they'll say 'yep, but I vote conservative' and it kind of takes you out of left field," he said.

"For many of these folks it's just what they've always done."

Parkhill said he sees the PCs moving farther right and the Liberals moving father left than in previous campaigns.

Along with a perception the NDP is moving toward the political centre, he said he can see some longtime supporters changing their votes.

"There's an odd kind of blue-orange shift… (people) who generally feel more conservative, those folks are looking at us saying 'I don't want to see all those public service cuts, that scares me' and the furthest thing from their mind is voting Liberal," he said.

Incumbents can help elsewhere

Jonathan Malloy chairs the political science department at Carleton University and said candidates and teams in situations such as Parkhill have to be incurable optimists who are fine with the idea they very likely won't win.

"People who work in campaigns in ridings where they know they have no chance of winning obviously tend to be real diehards… they want to do their part to fly the party flag, to try to get the best number of votes overall in the province," he said.

"They're not going to win this election, they're not going to win next election, maybe they'll win 10 elections away but it's hard to get enthusiastic about that."

Malloy also said one key difference with incumbents is they often get asked to help candidates in races identified as a bit closer.

"All parties will see an imbalance: some parties they know they're going to win, some ridings they know they're going to lose and some that are in the middle," he said.

"(They send) volunteers to do all the voter identification, knocking on doors and phoning… the other is what we'll call 'celebrity power' like (Nepean-Carleton PC MPP) Lisa MacLeod, parties want to get as much earned media (coverage) as they can rather than buying advertising."

Meilleur and Yakabuski said they have been helping in other ridings when they have time, with Meilleur taking on a mentorship role with a Liberal candidate in Northern Ontario.

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About the Author

Andrew Foote

CBC Reporter

Andrew Foote has been with the CBC since February 2013 after graduating from Carleton University. He can be reached at andrew.foote@cbc.ca or @amkfoote on Twitter.