Economy, outmigration loom large in Madawaska-Restigouche race
Conservative Bernard Valcourt looks to hold northwestern riding
With the federal election just days away, the three main rivals in Madawaska-Restigouche are trying to convince voters they have the best plan to turnaround the stagnant economy and halt the exodus of young people from northwestern New Brunswick.
The large riding spans from the province's borders with Quebec and Maine to the northern communities of Campbellton and Dalhousie.
Communities in this northern riding consistently have among the highest unemployment rates in New Brunswick.
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In September, Statistics Canada reported the jobless rate in the Campbellton-Miramichi area was 12.6 per cent, while it was nine per cent in Edmundston-Woodstock region.
Conservative candidate Bernard Valcourt said he's helped improve the economic outlook in the area.
"Madawaska-Restigouche, just like all of Atlantic Canada, is battling with the impact of a global, fragile economy," he said.
For Valcourt, he said the trick to reinvigorate the northern economy is to find ways to diversify the industries that are already working in the area.
"We've been able to maintain jobs but the challenge really is diversification of our economy by tackling new technologies, information technologies, and trying to get our people with the proper training so they are available for the jobs that are available," he said.
Tory strategy criticized
Valcourt's opponents say the Conservative government's approach to generating jobs in the area is not working.
I want to participate as far as I can to kick start the economy here.- Liberal René Arseneault
Liberal candidate René Arseneault said the massive investments in infrastructure promised by Justin Trudeau in the party's platform would provide a much-needed economic jolt in the region.
"The platform of Trudeau is a platform based on the middle class and specifically based on the massive investments in the next 10 years into the municipalities of Canada," he said.
Those investments in municipal infrastructure projects will provide a stimulus that will keep people back on the job, the Liberal candidate said.
"I want my kids as well as all other kids to come back here. That is my first and main reason," Arseneault said of his reason for running in the election.
"I want to participate as far as I can to kick start the economy here … to turn the northern part of New Brunswick over to create jobs and jobs and make our youth come back here."
NDP seeks to make inroads
Madawaska-Restigouche has alternated between the two traditional parties, but the NDP set their sights on the northwestern riding as a possible addition to their caucus.
The party was hoping its strong polling numbers in the neighbouring province of Quebec would spill over across the border.
In 2011, the NDP attracted nearly 20 per cent of the popular vote in the riding.
For L'Italien, the need to add jobs is important in this election, not only to stem the outmigration of young people, but also to keep older residents in the region.
"The grandparents are leaving the area to go to see their grandchildren," he said.
"Families are trying to be united and they are going to the south [of New Brunswick] or to Alberta to be all together."
Valcourt looms large
For either Arseneault or L'Italien to win, they are going to have to knock off Valcourt, who has had a large presence in New Brunswick politics over the last 30 years.
Valcourt was defeated in 1993 as Progressive Conservatives fell across the country.
The northwestern riding flipped back to the Tories in 1997 for a single term. Madawaska-Restigouche was a Liberal riding between 2000 and 2011.
Valcourt was one of two Conservative gains in the 2011 election, earning 40 per cent of the vote. He benefited from a disappearing Liberal vote.
After the 2011 election, Valcourt was quickly ushered into Harper's cabinet, first with a junior portfolio and then he became aboriginal affairs minister in 2013.
That high profile on the national stage has not always been felt in his riding, according to one of his opponents.
The NDP's L'Italien said Valcourt has been "invisible" during the longest election campaign in Canadian history.
"I didn't see Bernard Valcourt during this electoral campaign, I don't know if he is truly running as a member of the Conservative Party," he said.
Green Party candidate Françoise Aubin was not available for comment.
New Brunswick has 10 seats in the House of Commons. After the 2011 election was over, the Conservatives held eight seats while the Liberals and NDP each had a single seat.