Stephen Harper was asset and liability for Conservatives: Laurie Hawn

The long-time battleground riding of Edmonton Centre changed hands again last night, as it has many times over the years.

Niqab debate alienated soft supporters and hardened anti-Harper voter, Laurie Hawn says

The long-time battleground riding of Edmonton Centre changed hands again last night, as it has many times over the years.

The man who held the seat for the past decade thinks his party made some fundamental mistakes during this campaign.

One was putting so much of the focus on Stephen Harper.

"The prime minister was our greatest asset, for many people, but he was also our greatest liability with many people," said outgoing Conservative MP Laurie Hawn.

"Perhaps party central misjudged that, I don't know. But, certainly, he became the issue, and it became about Stephen Harper, not about policies and the future."

The Conservatives have long had a rock-solid base of support, but Hawn thinks the party spent too much time during the campaign trying to cater to that base.

Outgoing Edmonton Centre MP Laurie Hawn says his party shouldn't have focused so much of the campaign on the leader. (CBC)
"I think we probably went too far in a couple of areas," said Hawn, who held the seat since 2006 and announced last spring he would not seek re-election.

"Things like the niqab, which became a sideshow. I think all we did with that was we alienated some of our softer support and we steeled the resolves of the Harper-haters out there."

Hawn thinks the turning point came a week ago, when voters whose first priority was to defeat Harper began taking a hard look at which main party had the best chance to beat him.

"What I heard at the door a lot was, Thomas Mulcair scares me," Hawn said. "And frankly, he scared me too.

"I'm not happy with the result. But it could have been worse from a Canadian point of view."

Liberals make inroads with 'positive campaign'

On Monday night, Randy Boissonnault won the seat back for the Liberals, defeating Conservative James Cumming and New Democrat Gil McGowan.

Boissonnault told CBC News this morning he's pleased his party will send two Edmonton MPs to Ottawa after former city councillor Amarjeet Sohi won a narrow victory in Edmonton-Mill Woods.

"I think Canadians are a hopeful people," Boissonnault said. "And we ran a positive campaign across the country, we ran a positive campaign here in Edmonton Centre. And I think that's really what resonated with people when I was talking with them at the doors."

The newly-minted MP said he's looking forward to representing Edmonton's interests in Parliament.

"I want to go to bat for our city," said Boissonnault, who vowed to work to get more infrastructure money to help build the west line of the LRT, and other key projects in the city.

History of change

The riding has changed hands, names and boundaries several times over the past 40 years. Steve Paproski held it for the Conservatives from the late-1960s and all through the 1970s. The riding was then dissolved and sections of it were amalgamated into three others ridings.

Edmonton Centre reappeared on the electoral map in 2004.

That year, Liberal Anne McLellan won it for the Liberals. Two years later, during the first election with Stephen Harper as leader, Laurie Hawn took the seat for the Conservatives.

He was re-elected in 2008 and 2011 but announced last spring he would step down.

Hawn said he was surprised by the magnitude of the Liberal victory on Monday night. He thinks the narrative that this election was a "time for change" built over the past few weeks and eventually became unstoppable.


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