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Federal election 2015: Too close to call in three ridings

marc garneau

Among closely watched local races, the outcome in newly-delineated Notre Dame de Grâce-Westmount and two other West End ridings could be considered too close to call.

Marc Garneau, the Liberal incumbent and Canada’s first astronaut, was in his Monkland Ave. election offices recently when we asked him to define the key issues in the campaign.

“In this riding, they are infrastructure related – and not just potholes and water systems,” he said.

If the Liberals form the next government, they promise to invest $60 billion over 10 years: one-third for public transit, one-third for social infrastructure — social, affordable and senior housing, recreational and sporting facilities, daycare centres, and one third for green infrastructure — unspecified measures to protect the environment. To pay for these investments, the Liberals would run “modest deficits of $10 billion” before balancing the budget in 2019.

“This is the time to stimulate the economy by modernizing infrastructure, and it makes sense when interest rates are low and the debt-to-GDP ratio is low,” he argues.

According to some pundits, this plank has given the Liberals an opening to left-of-centre voters, who would normally associate this Keynesian tack with the NDP.

As for leadership, Garneau says Justin Trudeau “would be a great prime minister. Not only has he come up with good policies, he takes advice.”

Garneau noted he co-chairs, with retired General Andrew Leslie, Liberal candidate in the Ottawa riding of Orléans, an advisory council on international affairs, which has crafted policy.

When it comes to Liberal support for Bill C-51, the anti-terrorist legislation criticized as a threat to individual liberties, Garneau regretted that amendments to allow for Parliamentary oversight of security services have not been accepted. The NDP voted against the bill, the Liberals for it. “We will change the bill if we become the government. We believe we took the balanced approach.”

His main opponent is NDP candidate James Hughes, a lawyer, former executive director of the Old Brewery Mission, and former deputy minister of social development in New Brunswick. Hughes says the NDP has “the best leader in Tom Mulcair, core values that Canadians can identify with, a very progressive program on social, economic, and environmental issues, and the team to govern responsibly.”

The downtown section of the old Westmount riding is now part of the new Ville Marie-le Sud-ouest-Île des Soeurs, which includes working-class Saint-Henri, Point St. Charles, Little Burgundy, and prosperous Nuns’ Island. They were part of Jeanne Le Ber riding, represented since 2011 by the NDP’s Tyrone Benskin. The formerly self-employed actor is not running again following disclosure that he owed $58,000 in back taxes to the Quebec Revenue Department.

alison turner

The new NDP candidate is Allison Turner, a human rights and criminal defence lawyer with degrees from McGill and Université de Montréal. She is active in various not-for-profit groups, including Lawyers Without Borders, which defends victims of human-rights abuses. She deems “kick starting” the economy to increase jobs is the main challenge, which the NDP will address by reducing the tax rate to nine from 11 percent for small and medium-sized enterprises, and providing tax incentives and credits for innovation, research and development, with a focus on renewable energy industry, and to purchase equipment.

Turner argues that the NDP is not being outflanked on the left by the Liberal infrastructure investment plan, saying its plan to invest $1.5 billion a year in infrastructure and $1.3 billion a year in transit development over 20 years is more effective.

“We have a longer view perspective of things, compared to knee-jerk reacting to the polls,” she argues.

She added that the NDP wants to govern responsibly and not saddle future generations with deficits. She rates Tom Mulcair as being “by far the strongest leader, the one with the most integrity and experience, with 35 years working for the public service. Mr. Mulcair is about transparency in government, while the Conservative government has been extremely secretive. Mr. Trudeau has relatively no public experience, except for his last few years as an MP.”

Turner is proud of Mulcair, “standing up to Mr. Harper in Parliament for the last four years, and take a strong and solid stand to protect Canadian rights especially when it comes to Bill C-51.”

As for the Liberal candidate, Marc Miller, Turner contrasts her upbringing as part of a large family growing up in Montreal North with his roots in Westmount, his work as a corporate lawyer while her time with the United Nations in Africa helped define her as “a fighter for human rights.

“That experience in Africa persuaded me to run for public office, to try to make a difference,” she says.

Miller, a mergers and acquisitions specialist at Stikeman, Elliott, has been a close friend of Justin Trudeau ever since high school at Collège Jean de Brébeuf and worked on his leadership campaign. In a recent interview, he emphasized that increasing the childcare benefit for those who need it and a tax cut for the middle class “will allow some Canadians to have a fair shot.”

In neighbouring Mount Royal riding, the battle is between Liberal Andrew Housefather, mayor of Côte St. Luc, and Conservative Robert Libman, its former mayor. The riding is considered the Conservative’s best chance for a breakthrough on the island of Montreal. An opinion poll mid-way through the campaign, however, indicated that Housefather had a comfortable lead.

Libman, an architect by training who broke into politics by winning the provincial d’Arcy McGee riding with the Equality Party in 1989, has been pitching his party’s unwavering support for Israel to continue to attract Jewish voters, who form about 35 per cent of the electorate in the riding. He defines himself as a fiscal conservative.

Housefather, a lawyer and business executive, is banking on the riding having been Liberal for 75 years, his lifelong political commitments and electoral success. His supporters include many area municipal leaders and Stephen Bronfman, the most politically active among local members of the billionaire philanthropic family.

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