Nova Scotia

Familiar faces return to campaign in Cape Breton-Canso

Change is definitely in the works for the Nova Scotia riding of Cape Breton-Canso. The Liberal MP who represented the constituency for 19 years announced his retirement from politics earlier this year, and seven candidates are now vying for the seat in the Oct. 21 election.

Michelle Dockrill, Alfie MacLeod ran against each other in 2000, when the riding was won by Rodger Cuzner

Seven candidates are vying for the large and geographically diverse riding of Cape Breton-Canso, including two who faced off against each other 19 years ago. (Elections Canada)

Change is definitely in the works for the Nova Scotia riding of Cape Breton-Canso.

The Liberal MP, Rodger Cuzner, represented the constituency for 19 years, but announced his retirement from politics earlier this year.

Seven candidates are now vying for the seat in the Oct. 21 election, and a change in parties is not unheard of in the area.

Michelle Dockrill is running as an Independent candidate, but the health-care worker pulled off a major upset in 1997 when she got elected under the New Democratic Party banner.

Angry miners and their families voted against David Dingwall, who had held the riding since 1980 and was a cabinet member in the Liberal government that was getting ready to close Cape Breton's underground coal mines.

She only lasted one term, but Dockrill is convinced voters are ready for change again.

Independent candidate Michelle Dockrill says voter anger this time is over health care, not the coal mines, but she says the federal government can play a part in provincial health care. (Gary Mansfield/CBC)

"Well, it's not about me," she said.

"I'm just the vehicle. Can the people do it again? Absolutely. Cape Bretoners can make magic when they come together for a common cause and I think that they could do it again."

Dockrill said the anger this time is over health care, not the coal mines, but she said the federal government can force the provinces to do better.

"The Canada Health Act is the law of the land and it's being violated," she said.

"It is very specific about accessibility. It's very specific in terms of the role the federal government plays in monitoring whether or not provinces are adhering to standards that they've set, and if the provinces aren't adhering to those standards, the federal government has the ability to withdraw transfer payments."

The last time he ran federally, in 2000, Alfie MacLeod, who was running for the Progressive Conservatives, came second behind Rodger Cuzner, but finished ahead of Dockrill.

A visit from Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer early in the campaign shows the party has high hopes for Cape Breton.

Conservative Alfie MacLeod says he knows how legislation is crafted and how the parliamentary system works, so he can hit the ground running if elected. (Gary Mansfield/CBC)

MacLeod is hoping his record as a provincial MLA for 13 of the last 24 years will help this time around.

"I have a lot of experience working in government," he said.

"Different level, but in government. I have been the speaker of the House of Assembly. I have an understanding of how legislation works, how the processes of the House work and those are all assets so that if I am fortunate enough to get elected as the MP of the area, I will be able to start running right off the bat."

The Liberal candidate in Cape Breton-Canso, Mike Kelloway, has been self-employed, but now works for Nova Scotia Community College and has volunteered with a variety of community organizations.

Cape Breton-Canso MP Mike Kelloway says the island's rail line is under provincial jurisdiction. (Gary Mansfield/CBC)

Kelloway has worked on issues from business improvement to doctor recruitment and he said voters are looking for change.

"I have 25 years of experience working in education," Kelloway said.

"I've been a dean. I've been an educator. I've been a private business owner. I've started community groups to solve real fundamental problems.

"I think that's what the people of this area want. They want less of the same old government rhetoric, no matter what party, and somebody that's going to get things done."

The NDP candidate, Laurie Suitor, is a psychotherapist who has also worked on climate change and economic sustainability in communities throughout the riding.

She said voters are hungry for change and the area voted NDP once before.

Laurie Suitor says the NDP platform offers a real alternative to the Liberals, who have held Cape Breton-Canso for 19 years, and she says voters are hungry for change. (Gary Mansfield/CBC)

"I do think it can happen again," said Suitor.

"People know what they've had. I think that they will think carefully about what they want in the future. I do believe that our platform is offering a solid alternative, so I certainly think it can happen again."

Suitor said jobs and balancing the economy and the environment are also on the minds of voters.

The Green Party candidate, Clive Doucet, is an author and former Ottawa city councillor with roots in Grand Étang on Cape Breton's western coast.

He said Cape Breton-Canso is as large and geographically diverse as the issues.

Green Party candidate Clive Doucet says he's especially concerned about the possible impact on the local fisheries if an American boycott starts over the death of right whales in Canadian waters. (Gary Mansfield/CBC)

Doucet said health care is top of mind with voters, but so are climate change and the environment.

The death of North Atlantic right whales off Cape Breton's coast could be a looming tragedy for the crab and lobster fishery, if American interests force a boycott of Canadian seafood products, he said, and rising sea levels are increasingly affecting homes and businesses.

Doucet said voters are afraid the economy will take a hit if environmental concerns are tackled, but that doesn't have to be the case.

Alternatives offered in vote

"It's not about expenses, but changing the way we do business," he said.

Voting against the traditional political parties would be a good start, Doucet said.

"You're not voting for prime minister with [Green Leader] Elizabeth May," he said.

"You're not voting for the leader of the Opposition. You're voting for a strong caucus that can force the government to make the changes we need to make our life better here."

Also running in Cape Breton-Canso are Billy Joyce for the People's Party of Canada and Darlene Lynn LeBlanc for the National Citizens Alliance.



Tom Ayers


Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for 36 years. He has spent half of them covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?