New Brunswick

Conservatives hope to hold 'bellwether' Fredericton riding

Conservative Keith Ashfield is hoping his track record of delivering on local projects will allow him to hold off his three challengers.

Conservative Keith Ashfield is seeking re-election while Liberals, NDP and Greens all believe they can win

The federal election in Fredericton could shape up to a four-party race. Conservative Keith Ashfield is trying to maintain the seat against challengers Liberal Matt DeCourcey, Green candidate Mary Lou Babineau and the NDP's Sharon Scott-Levesque. (CBC)

Conservative Keith Ashfield is hoping his track record of delivering on local projects will allow him to hold off his three challengers in the riding of Fredericton.

The incumbent Conservative MP's re-election strategy has not been a secret as campaign signs have popped up across the riding with Ashfield's face and how many taxpayer dollars he secured for nearby projects.

"I believe I have been very successful in finding project money for, not only the city of Fredericton, but New Maryland and Oromocto," Ashfield said in an interview with Information Morning Fredericton in September.

Ashfield, a former provincial cabinet minister, served as fisheries minister for Prime Minister Stephen Harper before health issues made him relinquish his post.

He had a heart attack in 2012, was diagnosed with cancer in 2013 and announced the cancer had reoccurred in 2014.

However, Ashfield says his cancer is in remission and he has more projects that he'd like to deliver on.

The Conservative campaign in Fredericton has been putting up signs near federally-funded projects showing how much cash Ashfield has brought to the riding. (Daniel McHardie/CBC)
Ashfield won the riding comfortably in 2011, finishing about 9,000 votes ahead of the NDP's Jesse Travis and Liberal Randy McKeen.

The Conservatives have counted on Fredericton in recent elections, but one political analyst says it is wrong to think of Fredericton as a strong Tory riding.

Jamie Gillies, a political communications professor at St. Thomas University, says Fredericton has become a bellwether riding in federal elections.

"Since 1984, Fredericton has tended to vote for a member of Parliament from the winning party. Only in the 2006 election, when [Liberal] Andy Scott was re-elected for the fourth time as MP but the Conservatives formed a minority government, did Fredericton buck this trend," Gillies said.

Stephen Harper focus of attacks

In this election cycle, the Liberals, NDP and Green parties all believe they have a legitimate shot at knocking off Ashfield.

Liberal Matt DeCourcey has been knocking on doors across the riding since January.

While Ashfield is quick to point to local projects that have received federal funding, DeCourcey is campaigning hard against a lack of federal help and has taken specific aim at Conservative Leader Stephen Harper.

The NDP's Sharon Scott-Levesque said the Harper government has hurt middle-class Canadians. (CBC)
"We certainly do have challenges in our province. One of the big concerns that I have … is that this province does not have a partner in Stephen Harper at the federal level," DeCourcey said.

"The federal government has turned its back on Atlantic Canada, the province and this community."

NDP candidate Sharon Scott-Levesque echoed a similar refrain, fingering Harper for much of the blame for the problems facing many Canadian families.

"You just see so many people getting left behind and the rich get richer and the middle class is shrinking," she said.

"We have to get that back. We have got to get people working …the Harper government has really put us into 10 years of a dark tunnel that is not working."

The 2011 federal election saw the NDP finish in second place thanks to a collapsing Liberal vote. The NDP campaign is trying to hold that support.

Greens hope for breakthrough

The Greens are also hoping a more recent election could foreshadow success for Mary Lou Babineau in the federal election.

Voters in part of the Fredericton riding elected a Green MLA in the 2014 provincial election.

Every party leader, with the exception of the NDP's Tom Mulcair, has visited the riding in the campaign.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May appeared in Fredericton earlier in the campaign with the party's candidate, Babineau. the Greens are hoping to pick up the New Brunswick riding. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)
When Elizabeth May toured the New Brunswick capital, she specifically pointed to Babineau as one Green candidate who had a legitimate shot at breakthrough in the 2015 election.

Babineau said she believes there are two reasons why the Greens have reason for hope on Oct. 19.

When Babineau ran in the riding in 2008 she attracted 10 per cent of the vote, which she believes demonstrates a fertile base of federal support for the party.

Further, David Coon's provincial election and subsequent performance in the New Brunswick legislature has given many voters comfort in placing their federal support with her campaign.

"There is a bit of a green wave that is developing and we are very hopeful that will convert into another Green representative in October," she said.

Group pushes for strategic voting

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau poses for a selfie after a speech at St. Thomas University. Fredericton has hosted each of the national leaders, except the NDP's Tom Mulcair. (Catherine Cullen/CBC)
The Fredericton riding has been targeted by Leadnow, a national organization that promotes strategic voting in order to defeat the Conservatives.

The organization says a poll it sponsored earlier in October showed a tightening race.

The possibility of a four-way race developing could allow any candidate to squeak in if they are able to get out their vote on Oct. 19.

The candidates were forced to address their concerns over a potential vote-split during a public debate in Fredericton on Oct. 6.

Each of the parties tried to reach out to potential voters, but it was DeCourcey who directly said he was the only candidate who could defeat Ashfield, a statement that attracted both cheers and jeers from the audience.

(Ashfield did not attend the all-candidates' debate so he could not rebut the vote-split questions.)

DeCourcey said the Liberal campaign is doing its best to win over undecided voters to avoid losing a closely divided vote.

"I can't speak to what the voters will decide at the end of the day. All I can do is what we've been doing since the start of January, which his knocking on as many doors as possible right across this riding," he said.

New Brunswick has 10 federal ridings. In 2011, the Conservatives won eight seats, while the Liberals and NDP each elected one MP.

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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