Nova Scotia·RIDING PROFILE

Canada election 2015: Central Nova and what's at stake

Are Peter MacKay's coat tails long enough for the Conservatives to hold onto his former seat? That's the key question in Central Nova, says a political scientist.

Conservatives 'will be knocked down a peg' in the riding, says Jim Bickerton

The candidates for Central Nova include, from left, Fred DeLorey (Conservative), Sean Fraser (Liberal), David Hachey (Green) and Ross Landry (New Democrat). (Twitter, Liberal Party, Green Party, The Canadian Press)

Are Peter MacKay's coat tails long enough for the Conservatives to hold onto his former seat?

"I think that is the key question in Central Nova," said Jim Bickerton, a political science professor at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish.

"I think Central Nova was a safe seat for them as Iong as Peter MacKay was running."

MacKay surprised many by announcing in May that after 18 years in office, he was stepping down from federal politics, saying he wanted to spend more time with his young family. 

MacKay was the man who helped unite the right in Canada back in 2003, merging the Progressive Conservatives with the Canadian Alliance to create the current Conservative Party.

He was seen by many as the unofficial leader of the more centrist wing of the federal caucus and held several key positions in Stephen Harper's cabinet, including justice, defence, foreign affairs and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. In the 2011 election, MacKay won with nearly 57 per cent of the vote.

'The name recognition thing'

But Bickerton is not certain things will be as easy for the man hoping to fill his shoes, senior Conservative Party organizer Fred DeLorey.

"I don't think Peter's endorsement will be enough on its own to ensure a victory for Fred DeLorey," Bickerton said.

"The Conservatives, there's no question in my mind, will be knocked down a peg."

While DeLorey is well-known within Conservative Party circles, Bickerton said he is not necessarily a household name in the riding. Ross Landry, the NDP candidate who served as justice minister under New Democrat Premier Darrell Dexter, is better known.

"That gives them an advantage, the name recognition thing," he said. "It could be a tight race."

The Liberals have tapped Sean Fraser, a lawyer from Pictou County, to run for them and Bickerton said his fortunes are likely tied to how well federal party Leader Justin Trudeau resonates with Central Nova voters. 

MacKay name has deep political roots

Fraser replaced David MacLeod as the candidate for the riding after MacLeod quit in May, saying he disagreed with the Liberals' decision to support Bill C-51, the Conservatives' controversial anti-terrorism legislation.

David Hachey, who operates a small farm in Meadowville, is running for the Green Party.

Central Nova takes in Pictou and Antigonish counties, as well as parts of Guysborough and Halifax counties. It includes St. Francis Xavier University.

Many jobs are found in the retail trades, manufacturing and government services.

The MacKay name has deep political roots in the area. Peter MacKay's father, Elmer, won a byelection in the area in 1971 and then was re-elected four more times.

Elmer MacKay briefly stepped aside in 1983 so Brian Mulroney, who was the new Tory leader at the time, could run. MacKay held several portfolios in the Mulroney cabinet. He did not run in the riding  in the 1993 election, which was won by Liberal Roseanne Skoke.

Peter MacKay ran and won in 1997, his victory partially fuelled by anger throughout the region at the Jean Chretien Liberals over cuts to employment insurance. MacKay held the seat ever since.​​

Central Nova takes in Pictou and Antigonish counties, as well as parts of Guysborough and Halifax counties. It includes St. Francis Xavier University. (Elections Canada)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

After spending more than a decade as a reporter covering the Nova Scotia legislature, Amy Smith joined CBC News in 2009 as host for CBC Nova Scotia News as well as Atlantic Tonight at 11. She can be reached at amy.smith@cbc.ca or on Twitter @amysmithcbc

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