People and Places

ELECTION CHATTER (DAY 20): Will John Baird be outraged to discover he may not have a lock on Ottawa West-Nepean?

Day 20: In which Ottawa Magazine contributing editor Mark Bourrie wonders whether John Baird will be outraged to discover he might not have a lock on Ottawa West-Nepean?

According to the Election Prediction Project, there are only two ridings in the greater Ottawa region that are too close to call.

They are both Conservative: Ottawa-Orleans, held by the elegantly-monikered Royal Galipeau, and Glengarry-Prescott-Russell, the old Don Boudria fief now held by Pierre Lemieux.

The Tories have tried hard to keep Galipeau’s seat. It’s a rare local cheque presentation that lacks Galipeau, but Orleans, like GPR, is Franco-Ontario country. The wonder is that these seats ever went Tory at all. They fell out of the Liberal nest mainly because of infighting among the local Grits, and, in PGR’s case, because of voter fatigue with the Boudria family.

Kingston and the Islands, retiring House of Commons Speaker Peter Milliken’s old riding, is also in play. Milliken, who’d seen his pluralities shaved in each of the last three elections, decided to give up the job he loved. The seat, which historically was Tory country, may be a Harper pick-up.

The rest of the local seats – Paul Dewar’s in Ottawa Centre, David McGuinty’s in Ottawa South, Pierre Poilievre’s in Nepean-Carleton, and Gordon O’Connor’s in Carleton-Mississippi Mills — are considered a lock for the incumbents. Mauril Belanger should slip by in Ottawa-Vanier in another non-squeaker, though five weeks of canvassing would do him good.

The one interesting race is Ottawa West-Nepean. That’s John Baird’s riding. Baird is an odd political creature, and I’ve never been sure whether the guy’s schtick is for real or is a put-on.

Baird is the master of on-demand outrage, which is a fine thing for a member of the Opposition but seems strange coming from the Cabinet benches. Yet Baird has been a minister in both the Ontario and national governments, and, by anything resembling an unbiased account, he’s been a fairly good one.

But there are gators lurking in the weeds. People in Ottawa are starting to do a little math, and it turns out that if Q=civil service salaries and A= planned Tory cuts of $11 billion, then Q-A=potential unemployment.

I moved to Ottawa in 1994, just in time for the Great Horror that struck the city when Paul Martin began his program review. House prices tumbled, “for sale” signs were everywhere, and the graying hipsters of the Glebe lapsed into a sulk that, for many, became permanent.

I detect a bit of that fear now. Stephen Harper is right: there are certainly inefficiencies that can be fixed, though to talk of people’s work – even make-work – as “fat” that can be “trimmed” is a cruel thing for a boss to do.

John Baird seems worried that he may end up as one of the unemployed. I don’t think he plans to go out a loser, and I’m fairly sure that when he looks into a mirror, he sees a future prime minister looking back at him. Baird is in the tricky situation of being the house pit-bull who, for the next three weeks, is forced to pretend to love the cat.

The Election Prediction Project recently switched Baird’s seat from “too close to call” to a Tory hold. But they’re getting a bit of flack for that. Some posters have picked up on the fears of big public service layoffs and warned that Baird, the political minister for the city and the former president of the treasury board, could end up wearing them.

A couple of days ago, an anonymous poster, relying on Nanos polls that showed the Liberals slightly ahead in Ontario, said “Baird’s seat is still venerable” and Ottawa West-Nepean might be a Liberal pick-up.

Dr. Bear & Prof Ape, whose analytical skills are quite impressive, also believe the riding might be too close to call. The outcome, the good doctor and his simian colleague say, could swing to the Liberals if Ignatieff can seduce Green and NDP voters, an outcome that seems more unlikely after the TV debates.

Now, of course, these are not scientific comments, and, like almost all political commentary, are bits of fairy dust blown by the winds of hope.

And so many other factors can come into play in a riding: the strength of candidates and their teams, unreported rumors, true or otherwise, voter turnout, national trends. We haven’t seen Stephen Harper paying much attention to Baird’s riding, or most of the rest of Ottawa, and that should be read as a sign, too.

My bet: John Baird will be back, though maybe with a reduced plurality, one that will give him a scare. It won’t be a Scrooge-on-Christmas Eve moment, one that will turn him into a nice guy, but it may inject a little adrenalin into the Liberals for the next go-round.