Politics·Analysis

Where the federal leaders have been travelling this summer — and why it matters

Notwithstanding the niceties of the governor general dissolving Parliament, the business of pursuing power never really ends, it only becomes more intense the nearer an election gets. This summer has, as a result, been rather busy.

Why Jagmeet Singh and Andrew Scheer are showing up in places like Kenora, Ont.

Clockwise from top left: Elizabeth May, Andrew Scheer, Jagmeet Singh and Justin Trudeau.

The outcome of this fall's federal election is unlikely to hinge entirely on the Liberal-held riding of Kenora, the sizable chunk of territory in northern Ontario that runs along the province's border with Manitoba.

But in the heady days of summer it is possible for three parties to imagine a victory there, and so Kenora has been a destination. 

On July 12, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer attended a community barbecue alongside his party's candidate, Eric Melillo, a 21-year-old university student who worked as an assistant to Greg Rickford, the former Conservative MP for the riding (and the current Ontario MPP for a neighbouring riding). 

Three weeks later, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh visited Kenora to support his candidate, Chief Rudy Turtle of the Grassy Narrows First Nation, the community that has been seeking federal assistance to deal with the effects of mercury contamination.

The federal election campaign will officially begin sometime in September. It has also already begun.

Notwithstanding the niceties of the governor general dissolving Parliament and ordering the issuing of writs, the business of pursuing power never really ends, it only becomes more intense the nearer an election gets. 

This summer has, as a result, been rather busy, with party leaders travelling hither and yon, turning up in places like Kenora. 

Riding return

When the itineraries of the major party leaders are put together, an electoral map — a lay of the land where this fall's election might be decided — begins to take shape.

Consider Kenora. 

Liberal Bob Nault won the riding in 2015 with 35.5 per cent of the vote. Howard Hampton, the former leader of the Ontario NDP, finished second with 33.9 per cent. Rickford, the incumbent, finished third with 28.5 per cent.

With the NDP polling at just around 13 per cent nationally, the party's chances in Kenora might seem somewhat diminished. But if the NDP does, as currently projected, suffer losses in Quebec, it will need to make gains in places like Kenora or, to use another example, Welland.

On the same day Scheer was in Kenora, Singh was in Welland, a southern Ontario town in the riding of Niagara Centre. The riding is currently held by Liberal MP Vince Badawey, who narrowly defeated the previous NDP MP, Malcom Allen. Allen, who won the riding in 2008 and 2011, is running for the New Democrats again.

In addition to a four-day tour of Quebec and a few trips to British Columbia, Singh has visited a handful of similar Ontario ridings that once belonged to the NDP: Ottawa Centre, Parkdale-High Park, Toronto Danforth. He has also made two stops in Brampton, Ont., which Singh represented as an MPP in Ontario.

While Singh searches for traction, Scheer seems to be in search of the 75 more ridings the Conservatives need to win to secure a majority, often turning up in ridings where the Conservatives either won in 2011 or finished second in 2015.

On Canada Day, for instance, he started in the riding of Tobique-Mactaquac in New Brunswick, travelled to Etobicoke Centre in Toronto and then finished his day in Kelowna-Lake Country in British Columbia. In B.C., he's also visited North-Vancouver, Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon and Delta. On another visit to the Toronto area, he attended events in Mississauga Centre and Mississauga-Streetsville. 

Perhaps most interesting were Scheer's stops in two Nova Scotia ridings last week: Cape Breton-Canso and Sydney-Victoria. The Liberals won both ridings by huge margins in 2015, with 74 per cent and 73 per cent of the vote, respectively. But the two longtime Liberal incumbents — Rodger Cuzner and Mark Eyking — aren't running again, and the Conservatives will see whether they can benefit from those departures.

Urban centres

Of course, the Conservative and NDP leaders necessarily have more places to choose from when they go looking for ridings to pick up. The Liberals, consequently, have more ridings to defend.

The Liberal Leader — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — hasn't been idle. 

Though some of his schedule this summer has been dictated by official business, Trudeau has visited almost all of the major urban centres, including Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto, Montreal and St. John's — all of which are home to Liberal MPs. He has also been to London, Ont., Surrey, B.C., and Iqaluit. 

In those travels, he has visited at least one non-Liberal riding: Hochelaga in Montreal, which is currently held by the NDP. Scheer too has appeared in a few NDP-held ridings: Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River in northern Saskatchewan, South Okanagan in B.C. and Saint Hyacinthe-Bagot in Quebec.

Not every visit is necessarily indicative of a close race. Some trips — like Elizabeth May's travels in Atlantic Canada —may cover ridings that a leader won't have as much time for during the official campaign. Priority areas may also shift or change over the next two months. 

But voters can assume none of this travel is random (or taken for the sake of the local scenery). 

On Monday afternoon, Trudeau appeared in Toronto — the riding of Parkdale-High Park, specifically — to announce new funding meant to offset a cut made by Premier Doug Ford's provincial government. On Monday evening, he was scheduled to appear at a fundraiser in Richmond Hill, a riding the Liberals won by fewer than 2,000 votes in 2015.

That probably won't be Trudeau's last visit to Richmond Hill this year. And Andrew Scheer will presumably be by soon enough.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of the graphic in this story erroneously included a stop for the Conservatives in Yellowknife. It has been corrected.
    Aug 13, 2019 4:53 PM ET

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