In 31 years, Egmont the only weak spot in federal Liberal P.E.I. stronghold

In the past 31 years, Prince Edward Islanders have only twice elected someone to represent them in Ottawa who wasn’t a Liberal. Both times, in 2008 and 2011, voters in the westernmost riding of Egmont elected a Conservative.

Liberals look to hold riding, Conservatives re-take it, Greens and NDP to continue upward trends

Lobster fishing boats tied up in Cape Egmont in western P.E.I. Egmont is the only one of P.E.I.'s four federal ridings to have been won by anyone other than a Liberal over the past 31 years. (CBC)

In the past 31 years, Prince Edward Islanders have only twice elected someone to represent them in Ottawa who wasn't a Liberal.

In both cases, in the federal elections in 2008 and 2011, voters in the riding of Egmont elected Conservative Gail Shea as their representative.

Egmont is the westernmost of P.E.I.'s four ridings, stretching from Summerside to North Cape. Up until Shea won the riding in 2008 by just 55 votes, it had been considered one of the safest Liberal ridings in the country.

A young Conservative challenger is hoping to repeat Shea's upset in 2019, while the Greens hope provincial success translates to the federal stage.

Meanwhile the NDP is passing the torch after its best-ever showing in the riding four years ago.

The riding of Egmont in western P.E.I. stretches from the city of Summerside to North Cape. (CBC)

What matters to voters

CBC spoke to some voters from the O'Leary area to find out what issues are important to them this time around.

"It's the same for all small communities, it's more doctors, more jobs," said Dave Richards of St. Louis. "You're living in a seasonal place, anything they can do for the small areas is good."

Egmont voters, from left, Dave Richards, Donna Williams, Harvey MacNevin and Trudy Dyment identified housing, employment and access to doctors as their key issues in this election. (Travis Kingdon/CBC)

"Health care is probably the top thing," said Trudy Dyment. "I'd like to see a big change in the health-care system. More doctors that actually stay a little longer"

"The most important thing I think right at the moment is senior housing, and housing for everyone," said Donna Williams of O'Leary. "It's very hard to find a place to rent."

"It's like the whole Island, it's probably housing," said Harvey MacNevin. "It's the same old story, probably housing and doctors."

There are four candidates in the race, trying to win over voters.

Bobby Morrissey — Liberal

A four-term provincial MLA, Bobby Morrissey first won a seat in Province House in 1982, and like Shea, whom he defeated in Egmont in 2015, is also a former provincial cabinet minister.

But unlike Shea, who became a prominent member of Stephen Harper's cabinet, Morrissey has remained in the Liberal backbench and kept a relatively low profile while in Ottawa.

Just like his leader Justin Trudeau, Morrissey in this campaign is keen to compare the Liberal government's recent track record with the Harper years.

Pointing to past initiatives like the child tax benefit, Morrissey said the Liberals are "more in tune with the constituents of this riding versus the former Conservative government."

Egmont Liberal candidate Bobby Morrissey, standing, speaks to supporters at his campaign headquarters in Summerside. He says Liberal initiatives like increases in child tax benefit payments have helped Egmont residents. (Ken Linton/CBC)

"You compare the Liberal agenda, the Liberal record to the Conservative agenda, the Liberal agenda is always driven as policy targeting those who are disadvantaged and helping them succeed."

Ironically one of the positions taken by Morrissey that could help him win votes in Egmont is likely to hurt other Island Liberal candidates, particularly Sean Casey in Charlottetown.

In the 2015 campaign all four Island Liberal candidates made a pledge to reverse changes to employment insurance made during the Harper years — including a commitment to return P.E.I. to a single zone for determining EI eligibility and benefits. But that still hasn't happened.

After the election Morrissey broke ranks, based on the fact that, while returning to one EI zone would make it easier for people in Charlottetown to qualify, it would make it harder for those outside the capital. Egmont is the only riding that sits entirely outside the Charlottetown EI zone.

Logan McLellan — Conservative

If the name Logan McLellan is familiar to Islanders outside the riding of Egmont, it's probably thanks to a series of videos produced by MN Investments, where McLellan worked as a financial advisor. He's now self-employed in that capacity.

In the videos, unsuspecting Summerside residents receive refunds on their taxi fares and grocery bills as a goodwill gesture at Christmas.

Just like the videos, McLellan said the Conservative platform would leave Egmont residents with more money in their pockets.

"I think that's one of the biggest issues I see at the door," McLellan said. "People just can't afford to really get by at the end of the day."

Logan McLellan, right, speaks to a dairy farmer in Glengarry, P.E.I. McLellan says a Conservative government would make life more affordable for residents of the riding.

McLellan said the first thing the Conservatives would do would be to cancel the carbon tax. In its place, he said a Conservative government would require big polluters pay into a technology innovation fund.

At 26 years old, McLellan wasn't even born when Morrissey won his first provincial election in 1982 (in fact he was born 11 years later).

McLellan said he has to convince voters he's ready for the job of MP, but he also says his youth could be an advantage.

"With my age, it's a fresh approach," he said. "I don't want to get in this and be a [classic] politician. I want to get in this and be a great customer service representative for the riding of Egmont."

Sharon Dunn — NDP

The NDP candidate in Egmont Sharon Dunn is being coached and mentored by Herb Dickieson, the only NDP candidate ever to win election on P.E.I.

That was in a provincial election in 1997. Eighteen years later Dickieson came out of political retirement to run in Egmont in 2015, capturing 19 per cent of the vote — only good for third place, but also the party's best-ever result in the riding.

Dunn is a former building manager for a seniors' housing complex. She's taken on as a key component of her platform, a pitch made by her mentor: to develop a medical faculty at the University of Prince Edward Island.

If Islanders could study medicine at home, Dunn said, "there's more incentive to stay here, and then after they graduate set up a practice, raise their families and stay."

The NDP candidate for Egmont Sharon Dunn, in green, says an NDP government would build 500,000 affordable housing units over the next decade. (Ken Linton/CBC)

And that, she said, could help with one of the two crises which convinced her to run for the first time in her life.

"We were out the other day campaigning and everybody said the same thing. 'I don't have a doctor,'" said Dunn. "For people who have chronic illnesses this is a major crisis."

The other crisis that made her want to run for office: housing.

"[There's] not enough housing and the housing that's available is too expensive," Dunn said, adding that some Egmont residents are paying 60 per cent of their income on housing costs.

She pointed to the NDP commitment to create 500,000 affordable housing units over the next decade.

Alex Clark — Green

The P.E.I. Green party won an unprecedented eight seats in the provincial election in April, going on to form the first Green Official Opposition in Canada.

The federal party's Egmont candidate, 30-year-old Alex Clark, has a message similar to the one that brought success to the provincial Greens.

"We have to look at the tradition of voting for one party or another party," Clark said of P.E.I.'s long-standing two-party system, perhaps gone from provincial politics, but there's still never been a Green or NDP elected federally on P.E.I.

"We're willing to work across party lines, we're willing to work with other people to get things done," Clark said, also echoing P.E.I.'s Progressive Conservative Premier Dennis King, an avowed fan of inter-party collaboration. 

"A good idea is a good idea," Clark said.

Egmont Green candidate Alex Clark speaks to voters during a campaign stop at the Tignish Co-op. Clark says the Green Party is prepared to work with other political parties. (Ken Linton/CBC)

Clark is the owner of Evermoore Brewery, a microbrewery and pub in Summerside.

The Greens developed a solid base in Summerside in the provincial election, winning all three provincial seats there. Those provincial districts all fall within the federal riding of Egmont.

Campaigning in the aftermath of damage from post-tropical storm Dorian, Clark said he thought Egmont voters were more concerned than ever about the environment, and more receptive to the environmental stewardship central to the Green platform.

"That's a conversation that comes up more naturally whenever I come to the door," he said. "Because that's where the roots of the party come from. But it's very apparent that the economy and everything that we do is affected by the environment."

More P.E.I. news

About the Author

Kerry Campbell

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Kerry Campbell is the provincial affairs reporter for CBC P.E.I., covering politics and the provincial legislature.

With files from Travis Kingdon


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