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All but five of the Atlantic region's 31 MPs have confirmed their plans to re-offer their candidacy in the upcoming federal election.
Despite the controversial SNC-Lavalin affair that has been dominating headlines, Atlantic MPs appear to continue to have faith in the Liberal party — an official Liberal party list identified 20 MPs who have been confirmed nominated, and SaltWire has confirmed the candidacy of an additional six who are nominated and have plans to announce soon, or are on the verge of being nominated.
The only MPs who will not have their names on the ballot are longtime Nova Scotia MPs Bill Casey and Mark Eyking, one-term Nova Scotia MP Colin Fraser and one-term New Brunswick MP T.J. Harvey.
Cape Breton MP Rodger Cuzner has stated publicly he is on the fence about his plans to run, and former treasury board president Scott Brison quit cabinet in January and has since resigned his seat in order take a job in the private sector, so the Kings-Hants Liberal nomination is still open.
“It’s important to remember that the Liberals swept all of Atlantic Canada at the last election. So there's certainly an incentive to run again if you've won the previous time,” Dalhousie sociology professor Howard Ramos told SaltWire.
Polling trends indicating a region that that is still open to a Liberal federal government, and the Liberals’ movement on things like the national shipbuilding strategy and infrastructure are all reasons why the Atlantic Liberals are likely feeling confident, Ramos said.
Don Desserud, a political science professor at the University of P.E.I., said in many cases political parties have deep roots in certain ridings in Atlantic Canada, so it’s not a huge surprise to see that the Liberals have a full slate of candidates.
“I see this as basically party loyalty and something that comes with having members of the party that probably have long family roots and other reasons why they're part of that team in the first place,” Desserud said.
In Nova Scotia, however, the Liberals have suffered a major blow to their election lineup, with long-serving MPs like Casey, Brison and Eyking out of the mix. Now Cuzner, who has spoken openly in the media about his disappointment in being left out of cabinet in the shuffle triggered by Brison’s departure, is also considering leaving politics.
Former Trudeau right-hand man and Cape Breton native Gerald Butts even expressed in his testimony to the justice committee on the SNC-Lavalin affair internal concerns about the fate of the Liberals in Nova Scotia.
“I knew if the prime minister chose a minister from the class of 2015 (for cabinet), (longtime Cape Breton MPs Rodger) Cuzner and (Mark) Eyking could interpret that as a signal and perhaps not run again either. In short, in the span of a few months, we would go from holding all 11 seats in Nova Scotia with strong incumbents to having five of them open in the next election,” Butts told the committee.
Cape Breton University politics professor Tom Urbaniak said the current issues facing the Liberal party will likely be part of the considerations for MPs who, like Cuzner, are still on the fence,
“There's no question that there's been an erosion of morale within the Liberal party for the past couple of months,” Urbaniak said.
“There's nowhere to go but down for the Liberal party in Atlantic Canada even though many poll numbers have still been favourable in the region.”
Meanwhile, the Conservative party has nominated 13 candidates so far and the Green party has six candidates — five in Nova Scotia and one in P.E.I.
The NDP has only a single candidate in place, in Brison's former riding of Kings-Hants.
“We have two nomination meetings planned so far in the month of April and several good candidates have expressed their interest in running for the NDP in the Atlantic provinces,” NDP media officer Guillaume Francoeur said in an email. “The approval process is following its course and we are confident we will have strong candidates in every riding across the Atlantic provinces.”
Memorial University political science professor Alex Marland said he is not wholly surprised to see a blank roster, as getting candidates who are willing to run for a party that has historically been in third place isn’t an easy feat.
“If you're a party that's polling third in the polls and has never formed a national government you have fewer tools to be able to invite people to run as a candidate, because you say, ‘Well the chances are you're not going to win, and there's a good likelihood we're not going to form government. So our ability to reward you for your time is limited as opposed to the other parties,’” Marland said.
Politics in Atlantic Canada is still quite neighbourly and door-knocking goes a long way, Urbaniak said, therefore it’s wise for the competition to select candidates early, especially in places that don’t have a strong incumbent.
But the NDP’s lack of candidates at this point isn’t critical, Urbaniak said.
“What's more critical is to clarify the brand. Make sure the leader is sure-footed (and has) established that comfort level between the leader and the population,” he said.
“There are many precedents for late-nominated candidates doing surprisingly well, because votes move and trends happen during the period of a campaign when the public mind is really focused on the competition.”
While there’s still plenty of time before the fixed October election date for the parties to nominate candidates, there have been rumours circulating about the possibility of an early election call, something Ramos says is unlikely.
“I think that if they were to go to the polls now, they wouldn't go with their best foot forward as it seems that there's quite a bit of division within the caucus,” he said. “I'm not holding my breath for an early election. I would expect there to be probably a fall election on course to give the summertime to reset and rebrand the message of the party.”