New Brunswick·Analysis

4 N.B. federal ridings to watch in the 2015 election

New Brunswick voters leaned heavily in favour of Stephen Harper’s Conservatives in 2011 but the Liberals and NDP are hoping to unseat several Tories by capitalizing on unpopular policies and shoring up previous support.

Saint John, Moncton-Riverview-Dieppe, Acadie-Bathurst and Madawaska-Restigouche are offering interesting races

A campaign sign for Liberal candidate Ginette Petitpas Taylor. The Liberals are hoping to win the Moncton-Riverview-Dieppe riding after seeing it flip to the Conservatives in 2011. (Denis Calnan/CBC)

New Brunswick voters leaned heavily in favour of Stephen Harper's Conservatives in 2011 but the Liberals and NDP are hoping to unseat several Tories by capitalizing on unpopular policies and shoring up previous support.

The Conservatives won eight of New Brunswick's 10 seats in the last federal election, at the expense of crumbling Liberal support and a stronger-than-normal NDP vote.

While Harper's Tories can still reap some of the benefits that come with incumbency, the party is also dealing with the fallout from unpopular decisions, such as reforms to the Employment Insurance program, a moribund economy and national polls that are showing a tight three-way race.

With roughly six weeks to go before Canadians head to the polls on Oct. 19, there are several races that could swing in favour of any of the three main political parties.

Moncton-Riverview-Dieppe

A car drives by campaign signs for Conservative Robert Goguen and NDP candidate Luc LeBlanc in the riding of Moncton-Riverview-Dieppe. (Denis Calnan/CBC)
Conservative Robert Goguen unseated Liberal Brian Murphy in the closest race in the province in 2011.

Goguen, who was a virtual political unknown at the time, squeaked out a win, earning 35.7 per cent of the vote. But the story behind Goguen's victory wasn't as much the strength of the Tory vote, which held roughly the same from the 2008 election.

The Liberal vote in the riding evaporated and the NDP saw a surge in support.

Murphy, a former Moncton mayor, earned 31.2 per cent of the vote, a drop of nearly eight per cent from 2008.

The NDP finished closely behind Murphy with 28.8 per cent of the vote, a rise of 12.5 per cent from the previous campaign.

Moncton had been a safe Liberal seat after electing the party reliably for nearly 20 years, starting in 1993.

Goguen kept a relatively low profile after the election but he found himself facing tough questions in the last two years. The Tory MP ducked questions about the Harper government's controversial EI reforms in 2013 and then downplayed their potential impact.

He also sparked a national controversy when he asked an awkward question during a committee hearing that compared a woman's gang rape to the importance of freedom of expression. Goguen also seemed out of step from the Conservative government on the funding for the new downtown sports and entertainment centre when cabinet ministers refused to confirm the federal assistance.

Goguen's re-election campaign will hinge on trying to cling to the 35 per cent of Tory vote the riding has held in the last two elections and hope the Liberals and NDP continue to fracture the vote.

The Liberals are running Ginette Petitpas Taylor, a former chair of the New Brunswick Advisory Council on the Status of Women, in the riding. Petitpas Taylor easily defeated Moncton Mayor George LeBlanc for the Liberal nomination in March.

After her victory, Petitpas Taylor said she wanted to be a "people-oriented" MP, a similar refrain to the riding's former, long-time Liberal MP Claudette Bradshaw.

The NDP is hoping Luc LeBlanc will be able to build on the party's progress and wrestle the seat away from the Conservatives.

LeBlanc is a university professor in Moncton.

The Greens are running Luc Melanson.

Madawaska-Restigouche

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair campaigned with the party's northern New Brunswick candidates prior to the election being called. (Bridget Yard/CBC)
Bernard Valcourt's return to federal politics in 2011 also came at the expense of a disappearing Liberal vote.

Valcourt, who represented the northwestern for Brian Mulroney's Progressive Conservatives between 1984 and 1993, won the riding with 40.6 per cent of the vote, an increase of 7.4 per cent based on the Tory support in 2008.

Jean-Claude D'Amours, the incumbent Liberal, earned 35.1 per cent of the vote, but his share of the plummeted by 12.2 per cent.

The NDP finished a distant third with 18.7 per cent in 2011.

Valcourt has lived up to some of the hype that came with his campaign. He was elevated to cabinet and is the minister of aboriginal affairs.

That high profile in the Harper government could backfire on Valcourt, who may have to answer questions about contentious policies, particularly the changes to the EI program.

Valcourt's re-election campaign will also hinge on whether he can hold onto his support in the face of a strong NDP presence and the potential of a renewed Liberal vote.

In the 2014 provincial election, the Liberals won all but one of the ridings in what constitutes the federal Madawaska-Restigouche riding.

The NDP is hoping its popularity in Quebec could spread across the border in northwestern New Brunswick. The party has also lured Rosaire L'Italien, a former Radio-Canada journalist, to run in the riding as a star candidate.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair made a pre-campaign appearance in northern New Brunswick, lending his support to his candidates and in the hope of seeing NDP inroads in the area.

Acadie-Bathurst

Jason Godin (right) puts up a campaign sign with retiring NDP MP Yvon Godin. (Jason Godin/Twitter)
New Brunswick politics saw one of its giants fade into retirement this year when long-time NDP MP Yvon Godin announced he was not running in this election.

Godin's departure meant the northeastern riding that has been a rock solid NDP seat since 1997, when he knocked off high-profile Liberal cabinet minister Doug Young, was put into play.

The question immediately became: was Acadie-Bathurst a NDP riding or simply an Yvon Godin riding?

The Liberals would be the most obvious beneficiary of Godin's retirement.

Until Godin won the riding in 1997, the Liberals had lost the riding only twice (1952-53 and 1984-1988) since 1900.

The Liberals also hold every provincial seat that the federal Acadie-Bathurst riding touches, including cabinet ministers such as Serge Rousselle, Denis Landry and Brian Kenny.

The Liberals are running Serge Cormier in the riding. Cormier's path to unseating the NDP is steep.

Godin won the riding with 69.6 per cent of the vote in 2008 and roughly 25,000 votes ahead of the second-place finisher, Conservative Louis Robichaud.

Robichaud is running again for the Conservatives.

The NDP, meanwhile, are hoping to replace the experience of Yvon Godin with the youth of Jason Godin.

Godin is the mayor of the small northeastern community of Maisonnette. He won the mayor's job in the 2012 municipal election when he was 19 years old.

Now he has his sights set on a seat in the House of Commons and holding the New Brunswick beachhead for the NDP.

Saint John-Rothesay

Liberal candidate Wayne Long is trying to win back support that the Liberals lost in 2011. (CBC)
An interesting test to the Conservative strength in the region could come in Saint John.

The riding has elected Rodney Weston, a former provincial cabinet minister, in the last two elections but there are signs of NDP strength in the southern New Brunswick riding.

Weston first won the riding since 2008, when he narrowly defeated Liberal Paul Zed by fewer than 500 votes.

Since getting elected, Weston has been involved in negotiating an agreement to have the tolls removed from the Harbour Bridge and, more recently, a $68-million federal investment in the local port.

Despite those major federal investments, Weston has kept a relatively low profile in federal politics.

Weston easily carried the southern New Brunswick riding in 2011 with 49.7 per cent of the vote, as he managed to grow his share of the popular vote by 10 per cent. But the results also exposed a potential liability for the party.

The Liberal vote was decimated. The party only managed to win 16 per cent of the vote and finished a distant third.

NDP candidate Rob Moir, a professor at the University of New Brunswick in Saint John, finished in second place with 30.6 per cent of the vote, an increase of 14.7 per cent of the vote from 2008.

The NDP campaign benefited from an appearance from then federal leader Jack Layton.

This time around, the Liberals have nominated Wayne Long, a well-known businessperson and the president of the Saint John Sea Dogs.

However, the Liberals have continued to struggle in Saint John. The provincial Liberals hold only one seat in the city and another on the city's periphery.

Provincially, the Liberal stance against shale gas did not play well in southern New Brunswick. And federally, Long had to distance himself from comments made by his federal leader, Justin Trudeau, about the proposed Energy East pipeline project, which is very popular in the area.

While the NDP had a strong showing in 2011, the party has been slow out of the gate in 2015.

AJ Griffin was acclaimed as the NDP's candidate in mid-August, months after the Liberals had Long in place. Griffin ran provincially in Quispamsis, placing in third position.

The 2011 results in Saint John show the riding is willing to vote for the NDP and recent national polls have indicated the party is popular.

Saint John will be one of the races to watch on Oct. 19 to see if the party can breakthrough in southern New Brunswick.

About the Author

Daniel McHardie

Digital senior producer

Daniel McHardie is the digital senior producer for CBC New Brunswick. He joined CBC.ca in 2008. He also co-hosts the CBC political podcast Spin Reduxit.

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