Friday, April 22, 2011

London Calling

The notion of life inside the Ottawa-bubble and outside of it has been discussed from time to time during this campaign. What captures the attention of people in Ottawa, or those who tend to follow politics, is often different than what seizes most Canadians.

With that in mind, your intrepid blogger has decided to temporarily pack-up and burst out of the bubble. Good-bye Ottawa and its "corridors of power"; hello London, Ontario and its suburbs, schools, farms and factories.

To borrow from the the Clash (who borrowed from the BBC), "This is London Calling."

There are three ridings in London (West, North-Centre and Fanshawe), and a number of others in the areas of southwestern Ontario that surround the city. Within the city, the three ridings are split evenly among the Conservatives, Liberals and the NDP. Outside, it is more or less a sea of blue.

Over the next couple of days, I am going to do my best to learn what matters most to the people here. Do the main points of the Liberal narrative resonate - do people care about the contempt vote and the democracy questions? Are the priorities in the Liberal platform their priorities?

Conversely, is the Conservative narrative getting traction? Is this seen as an unnecessary election? Are people worried about a coalition? Do they feel that the economy would be jeopardized by a change in government and that we therefore need a Conservative majority?

Finally, is the NDP story that has been filling the political airwaves evident here? Do we see momentum behind Jack Layton and if so is it sustainable over the last week of the campaign? As of now we are not seeing it, but remember London was the home of David Peterson and it went NDP in 1990...

Right now, local polling and the sentiment I have picked up seems to suggest that London and the surrounding areas will vote more or less as they did in 2008. Interestingly, the few ridings that are considered too close to call are currently held by the Conservatives and could flip to either the Liberals or the NDP.

Some things to consider:

1. The university and college dynamic. There are lot of students in this area (Western and Fanshawe in London, plus Guelph, Waterloo and Laurier), and we are seeing evidence that the youth vote is more active in 2011. Whether and how this group votes could be very decisive.

2. Local issues. In London, there are issues concerning possible funding for a local aircraft manufacturer (Diamond Jet) which people feel may hinder Ed Holder's re-election as the Conservative candidate. In Simcoe-Grey, we have the Helena Guergis story. How issues like this play out on May 2 may have more impact than views on learning passports, corporate tax cuts and the G20.

3. Turn-out and ground game. I don't have the figures on turn-out in 2008, so I am not certain whether the city and area was above, below or more or less consistent with the national result of 58.8. However, the demographic in the area - London in particular - is interesting. We have a strong mix of seniors and youth, "born and bred" and immigrants, white-collar and blue collar. Which groups are engaged and decide to vote will be decisive, which puts pressure on the local riding associations to know who their voters are and to get them out.

So, with that in mind off I go to talk, listen and get a sense as to what we can expect from a part of Ontario that is conservative by nature, if not always by political affiliation. My sense is that the people of London and southwestern Ontario will throw us few surprises.

We'll see if I am right...

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