Harper may be dominant topic in Macleod byelection

By: By Ian Tennant

  |  Posted: Wednesday, May 14, 2014 12:18 pm

Macleod Conservative candidate John Barlow served up burgers at the grand opening of his High River campaign office on May 4.
Macleod Conservative candidate John Barlow served up burgers at the grand opening of his High River campaign office on May 4.
Jordan Verlage/OWW

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The popularity, or unpopularity, of Prime Minister Stephen Harper may be the dominant issue among voters heading into the Macleod byelection, now set for June 30.

Voters will go to the polls to replace Conservative MP Ted Menzies, who retired to become president and CEO of CropLife Canada.

So far Macleod voters have three candidates to choose from: Conservative John Barlow, Liberal Dustin Fuller, and the Green party’s Larry Ashmore. The New Democratic Party could not be reached for information on whether it has a candidate.

Barlow and Fuller, both Okotoks residents, report hearing opposite opinions regarding the primer minister’s performance.

Barlow said people he has talked to “are really happy with Prime Minister Harper,” particularly his handling of the economic crisis a couple years ago. The Conservative candidate was scheduled to meet Harper in Edmonton on May 12 to discuss campaign strategy.

Fuller, on the other hand, said the majority of voters he has been talking to “aren’t happy with the prime minister.”

Fuller, who has logged more than 6,500 km campaigning in the Macleod riding, estimated two-thirds of the individuals he has talked to say they are undecided or will not vote Conservative again because of Harper.

This apparent ambivalence toward the prime minister’s record “is giving me lots of optimism, so I’m working my ass off,” said Fuller, 28, who had knocked on about 80 doors by 10 a.m. on May 12.

Ashmore said it should be no surprise that the prime minister’s track record is a topic of debate considering Harper has had a majority government since the May 2011 election.

“They have to stand on their record,” said Ashmore. “People are unhappy.”

Ashmore, 65, suspects “there is a whole lot of dynamics” at play in this byelection because a general election is expected in 2015, leaving the winning candidate only a year or more to serve in Ottawa. This may be an opportunity, he suggested, for disgruntled voters to express their displeasure at the federal government by voting against the Conservatives’ Barlow.

Barlow, 42, noted that voters he has talked to are also concerned about local issues, such as the ongoing flood mitigation, diversifying the rural economy, affordable housing and the status of the temporary foreign workers program, which affects large agriculture businesses in the area like the Cargill beef processing facility in High River.

As for the June 30 byelection falling on the busy Canada Day weekend, when scores of people travel, Barlow noted “it’s kind of an awkward day” but all candidates have to deal with it.

Fuller was more critical, saying the June 30 date is another indication the Harper government doesn’t “want to listen to Canadians.”

The byelection date is further proof Prime Minister Harper wants the electoral process “tilted in the government’s favour,” said Fuller. The Liberal was also referring to the Fair Elections Act, or Bill C-23, which has been criticized for being too severe in its attempt to tighten voting restrictions.

Ashmore, who lives in the Turner Valley-Black Diamond area, also sees this byelection as an opportunity to talk about electoral reform. He would like to see Canada move away from the first-past-the-post voting method whereby the candidate with the most votes wins, to a proportional representation system so that “every vote actually counts.”

This will be Ashmore’s fourth election. He represented the Green party in the 2006 federal election, receiving 3,075 votes or 6.18 per cent of the total vote, and provincially in 2008 and 2012.

“Am I going to win?” he asked May 12. “No.”

Nevertheless, Ashmore added, it’s important to send a message, spark debates and help coalesce voters of all political stripes who are concerned about the environment.

This is the first federal campaign for Barlow and Fuller as candidates.

Barlow worked for the Okotoks Western Wheel for 17 years, but relinquished his duties as associate publisher and editor to concentrate on freelance projects after winning the Conservative nomination on March 8.

Fuller has held political posts in the past, including vice-president of fundraising for the local Liberal party, and in 2011 he was the campaign manager for Lethbridge Liberal candidate Michael Cormican.

For a candidate to run in the byelection, nomination papers must be filed with returning officer by 2 p.m., June 9, or 21 days before June 30. A deposit of $1,000 is also required.

Prime Minister Harper over the weekend also dropped the writ for three other byelections: Fort McMurray-Athabasca, and two in Toronto, Trinity-Spadina and Scarborough-Agincourt.


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