Nova Scotia

Cumberland-Colchester pits brand loyalty against personal popularity

Voters in the federal riding of Cumberland Colchester have consistently sent Conservatives to Ottawa, but they also supported Bill Casey's jump to the Liberals. In this race he's helping another political defector try to keep the seat red.

Former MP Bill Casey casts long shadow over 2019 campaign

Federal election signs are shown at the Oxford town limits. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

When the people of Cumberland-Colchester choose their federal representative, they tend to stick by them.

That fierce loyalty has meant the northern Nova Scotia riding has been represented by just four people, almost all of them Conservatives, over the last generation.

Bill Casey, the region's last member of Parliament, was elected as a Conservative, an Independent and a Liberal. He announced in 2018 he would not run this year.

Despite having chosen Conservative candidates in 17 of the last 20 general elections, Casey doesn't think of voters in the riding as staunch partisans.

"I'm not saying it isn't there, but it's not as strong as it used to be — the same way as a car loyalty isn't, and church loyalty isn't," he said.

The former car salesman used an analogy to illustrate the point. 

"When I was growing up, if you were a Ford family you'd fight with the family next door who was a General Motors family," he said. "I mean now there could be in an Isuzu and a Mazda and a Volkswagen in the yard."

Lenore Zann and Bill Casey appear together in Cumberland-Colchester. (Dave Laughlin/CBC)

In this election campaign, he has used his personal popularity and sales experience to try to sell voters on another politician who, like him, changed political colours.

Lenore Zann, a former provincial NDP leadership hopeful now with the Liberals, is happy for the help.

"He's loved," Zann said. "I love him. My parents love him. He's an icon."

Zann, who quit her job as the MLA for Truro-Bible Hill-Millbrook-Salmon River to run federally, said she is running as a Liberal for one main reason.

"I cannot win with the NDP here, it's just not an NDP riding," she said. "There would be no way I could ever win."

She was the first New Democrat to represent the Truro area, winning her seat in 2009. She won twice after that.

But she believes those were personal wins and not party wins.

"I won really in spite of being an NDP," she said.

Zann targets the Conservatives

Her goal is to keep the Conservatives from taking back the federal seat.

"I'm very concerned about the right wing rising around the world, in America, here in Canada," she said.

"Everything I'm seeing coming out of the mouths of the Conservatives, and further to the right, are things that I do not believe in, and I don't want to see Canada go down that rabbit hole."

Scott Armstrong, shown campaigning at a restaurant in Oxford, is hoping the Conservative brand will win the day in the riding. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

Scott Armstrong, her Conservative rival, is hoping brand loyalty trumps personal popularity.

"If you look at history we've had some really strong federal MPs — Bob Coates, Robert Stanfield, back as far as Charles Tupper, who was prime minister of Canada," he said.

"I think the Conservative representatives in this riding for generations and generations have done an excellent job promoting the issues that matter to the people most."

Casey casts a shadow

Armstrong is also keen to emerge from Casey's long political shadow.

Armstrong ran Casey's Conservative election campaigns in 2000, 2004 and 2006 and headed fundraising during his run as an Independent in 2008.

Armstrong's loyalty to Casey was rewarded after his mentor and friend left politics in 2009. He won a byelection, taking nearly 46 per cent of the vote.

But that support evaporated when Casey returned to politics as a Liberal in 2015.

"Any time you're up against a strong incumbent that has great name recognition, it's a bigger challenge," said Armstrong.

"In this campaign, people remember I was the member of Parliament here for six years and … without him being there I can kind of portray myself as an incumbent."

Green Party candidate Jason Blanch campaigns with federal Leader Elizabeth May in Truro. (Robert Short/CBC)

Green Party candidate Jason Blanch and NDP candidate Larry Duchesne are veteran campaigners. Blanch, a town councillor in Amherst, is trying for a fourth time to win the seat. 

He is impressed by the early support he has received.

"I'm overwhelmed with the amount of people that are coming to me and telling me they're voting Green," said Blanch

Duchesne has run provincially in Nova Scotia five times, and served three years as the provincial NDP leader in Prince Edward Island.

NDP candidate Larry Duchesne says he's in the race to get the party's message out and not necessarily to win. (Robert Short/CBC)

"Realistically, chances of winning are fairly low," Duchesne said. "We're in it to make sure that there's a real social democrat in the race and to get our message out, and winning is not the most important thing."

Bill Archer, the People's Party of Canada candidate, was the first official candidate in the race. He is having others work on his behalf while he's out of the country.

He's a chief electrician on an oil rig in the Middle East. He works 28 days on and has 28 days off.

"So I am missing the first couple of weeks of the writ being dropped," he said in an email, "but I will be home next week until the election is finished."

Seven candidates in all

There are two other candidates in Cumberland-Colchester.

Stephen Garvey is the leader of the National Citizens Alliance of Canada. Jody O'Blenis is running for the Veterans Coalition Party of Canada.

Garvey faces two criminal accusations under the Canada Elections Act and another two criminal charges in relation to his failed campaign to win a seat in riding of Calgary Skyview in the last federal election.

The charges have to do with circumventing the legal contribution limit for candidates, and for forging documents and providing "false or misleading documents" to elections officials.


About the Author

Jean Laroche


Jean Laroche has been a CBC reporter for 32 years. He's been covering Nova Scotia politics since 1995 and has been at Province House longer than any sitting member.


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