Riding spotlight: Why Saint John Harbour is one to watch
Well-known Saint Johners Liberal Gerry Lowe and PC Barry Ogden in a race with NDP Leader Jennifer McKenzie
Saint John is a city of contrasts — and nowhere illustrates that better than the electoral district of Saint John Harbour.
The riding stretches from Mount Pleasant — with residents including billionaires Arthur and John Irving — to the gritty subsidized apartments in the Rifle Range, the working-class lower west side, and the hard-up but slowly gentrifying south end.
Voter engagement is usually low in Saint John Harbour. In the last provincial election, only 5,253 people of the 11,229 on the list of electors cast a ballot — an abysmal turnout of 48 per cent.
It's often a nail-bitingly close race. In 2014, Liberal MLA Ed Doherty won by a scant 71 votes. Before that, Progressive Conservative Carl Killen defeated Doherty by just nine votes.
With outgoing Liberal MLA Ed Doherty retiring this year, the contenders for the two leading parties are PC Barry Ogden, a community activist and retired teacher, and Liberal Gerry Lowe, a city councillor and longtime businessman.
While similar in some ways — both are lifelong Saint Johners, both newcomers to the parties they hope to represent, both immensely connected to the city — their campaigns reveal radically different approaches.
Hoping to recapture the riding for the NDP is the party's leader, Jennifer McKenzie. The Greens are fielding small business-owner and Green Party candidate Wayne Dryer.
With less than three weeks before the Sept. 24 election, the campaign is heating up — and the neighbourhoods around Saint John's freezing-cold harbour are ones to watch.
Man of many projects
Barry Ogden proudly points out the scuffs on his brown dress shoes.
"People want to see the candidate," he said. "I can tell you that doing 8,000 homes is quite a rigorous chore … I've worn my shoes out. I actually have no tread left."
Ogden has been a relentless promoter of the Marigold Project, University of New Brunswick Saint John football, and his multi-decade attempt to have a full-scale model of the Marco Polo built in Saint John. With succession plans in place for his volunteer efforts, he said, he's focusing 100 per cent on his political ambitions.
Ogden's platform echoes causes he's championed over his volunteer career.
"We need to solve that problem of having the oldest schools, the highest child poverty rate, the most slums and the most illiteracy," Ogden said.
Excessive taxation, he said, is also "a big issue."
"We're sending far too much tax to Fredericton under Gallant, and it's just increasing," he said, adding that "with the carbon tax it will be far worse."
Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs has promised, if elected, to refund any carbon-tax revenue to New Brunswickers if Ottawa imposes its own pricing regime on the province.
"I taught political science and I know how the rules and laws were written against Saint John, and that's something I want to change," Ogden said.
Tough, behind-the-scenes approach
Gerry Lowe might be a politician. But politicking isn't his style.
"I don't like cold-knocking on doors," he said.
"It's not my piece of cake."
At 76, with a Grade 11 education, he's made his name as a cab company owner, firefighter, a union rep for Canada Post, and as the owner of dozens of bars, restaurants and billiard halls.
While he's reluctantly joined Facebook, he's not into "techie stuff." When asked about Twitter or Instagram, he demurs.
"I don't know what those are," he said.
But his phone rarely stops ringing, and he's constantly talking to voters on the street, at Tim Hortons, or at community barbecues.
"You have to run the campaign based on yourself," he said.
A city councillor for five years, he played a key role in successfully persuading council to ask the province to repeal the city's longstanding tax deal with Irving Oil on the Canaport LNG terminal.
He decided to run provincially for the Liberals at the request of Brian Gallant and former premier Frank McKenna.
"There are so many things that have to be changed and they all exist in Fredericton," Lowe said.
His major concerns include affordable housing and fair taxation — especially greater control for the municipality over taxes and assessments and phasing out double taxation.
"I'm sure Barry wants a school [for the south end] — but I think I know how to get a school," Lowe said.
"Where I have an advantage is I've been a councillor for five years, I know the workings of the province, and I know the workings of the city.
"I don't have a great education or nothing, but I'm pretty street smart when it comes to that, and I can do good for the city."
NDP hoping for a comeback
The New Democrats also have a foothold in Saint John Harbour.
NDP Leader Jennifer McKenzie is seeking to recapture the success of former party leader and MLA Elizabeth Weir, who represented the riding from 1991 to 2005.
Fredericton-born McKenzie became party leader in the summer of 2017 after four terms as chair of the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board. She lived until recently in St. Martins, where she ran for the federal NDP in Fundy Royal in 2015.
She recently bought a house at the base of Mount Pleasant, and has been campaigning in the riding for "eight or nine months."
She has called for Lowe to withdraw from the race because of a conflict of interest with his position as a city councillor. (Under the elections Act, Lowe would only have to resign from council if he wins a seat in the legislature.)
McKenzie has campaigned on a promise to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
"It's a beautiful riding with beautiful people," said McKenzie, an engineer by training.
"But I've encountered some poverty that is just heart-wrenching … I think it's imperative that we address that.
"The NDP has always fought for the everyday person, for the worker, for people living in poverty. There's a lot of need, and a lot of diversity in this riding."
Evolving Green Party
They say the third time's a charm — and Wayne Dryer is hoping to prove the adage true.
Dryer ran for the New Democrats in 2010, and the Greens in 2014, but the Green Party candidate says this year's race in Saint John Harbour is different.
"I've watched the way the party has grown from a party that had really good ideas, to a party that has really good plans and really competent people," he said.
Acknowledging injustices against First Nations people and standing up against the "larger economic forces" that control New Brunswick, he said, are top of mind.
"The economic factors will be a part of that decision-making process, but we will make the decisions and take the responsibility," he said.
"We don't owe anybody any favours and we're not going to be controlled by any other entities."
While he acknowledges the Green Party likely won't form a government, "it is very likely that we could hold the balance of responsibility in a coalition government if neither the Liberals or the Conservatives form a majority," he said.
"If that happens, we'll start to see a real democratic process taking place. One part or the other will not be able to totally control the agenda."