Friday, August 27, 2010

More and Better New Democrats: Sandy Harding for Saint John East

Next month's provincial election in New Brunswick promises to be a watershed moment for that province's NDP. While the party has generally been able to get its leader elected (with a few exceptions including the 2006 election), it has yet to win a second seat in a general election. But that stands to change very soon: Eric at Three Hundred Eight is already projecting a second seat for the NDP, and that's using an extremely conservative popular vote projection that leaves the NDP with a lower share of the vote than it's taken in any of the province's polls since 2008.

What's more, the NDP's influence may go far beyond merely electing additional members, as a razor-thin margin between the Libs and Cons raises the possibility that the NDP could hold the balance of power by this time next month.

With that in mind, this month's More and Better New Democrats feature focuses on one of the candidates with a great chance to join leader Roger Duguay in the Legislature.

The Candidate

The New Brunswick NDP is understandably putting an emphasis on fiscal responsibility in a province which has given the business lobby everything it can think to ask for - and seen that result in massive deficits for the foreseeable future. But it's worth ensuring there are some MLAs pointing out why it matters for the government to get itself back on track.

And Sandy Harding stands out among the party's top candidates in that respect. In addition to extensive involvement in CUPE (both through her local and provincially), her resume features work on child care, pay equity and wage fairness. That in turn meshes nicely with her professional experience in the education sector, giving her ample knowledge as to how to work within public systems to get results. Which means that Harding should make for an ideal choice as the leading voice for the social issues that have far too often been neglected under Libs and Cons alike.

In addition, it only helps matters that in a province where women have been grossly underrepresented in the Legislature, Harding is sending a strong message that she intends to change that.

The Riding

But why target Saint John East? At first glance based on the party's 2006 results it wouldn't seem like an obvious choice, as Maureen Michaud's 7% of the vote wasn't much higher than the party's baseline level of support. But there are a few reasons to be particularly optimistic about the riding.

For one, Saint John East (in its form a couple of distributions ago) is actually the lone constituency that the New Brunswick NDP has won in the past with a non-leader candidate. That took place when Peter Trites won a 1984 by-election only to jump to the Libs in time for Frank McKenna's 1987 sweep. So the NDP has obviously been able to mobilize a winning effort in the area before.

Meanwhile, Saint John East is also adjacent to the riding occupied by what may be the NDP's highest-profile candidate aside from Duguay: Saint John Harbour's Wayne Dryer, who seems to be putting on a strong push himself to take back the seat held by former leader Elizabeth Weir. So rather than simply aiming for a lone beachhead in a community where the NDP lacks a strong presence, Harding should enjoy a highly favourable local climate.

The Opponents

What's more, the lack of an incumbent means that the riding is very much up for grabs. Longtime Lib MLA Roly MacIntyre stepped down from the seat in April, meaning that the competition to win the seat will come from two other rookie candidates in Lib Kevin McCarville and PC Glen Tait. And with Saint John East having been held by all three parties in the past 25 years, there's plenty of reason to think that vote splits could work out in Harding's favour.

The Plan

So what can you do to help? Harding looks to be running a fairly traditional campaign, focusing on lawn signs and volunteers to go with what looks to have been an effective fund-raising effort and Facebook organization. With that in mind, I'll recommend joining her Facebook page and looking for opportunities to help from there - while donating to the provincial party in the absence of a direct donation system.

(Edit: fixed wording.)

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