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Safe Ridings

Posted on 6 April 2011

*disclaimer: This piece is in no way an endorsement or criticism of any political party. And as always, my opinions are wholly and completely my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employers.*

Jack Layton is in Prince George this morning. I’ve heard this is the first time a federal leader has visited the city since 1993. This despite the fact that the city actually has two ridings up for grabs. Not as many as Montreal or Vancouver, I know, but more than lots of other communities.

I assume the reason leaders don’t visit often is that the Prince George ridings are considered “safe ridings.” Prince George – Peace River was Liberal from 1968 until 1972, and since then it’s gone to the Conservatives or the Consevative forbearers of the Progressive Conservatives, Reform, and Canadian Alliance. Cariboo – Prince George has been Conservative since it was created in 2004, and the riding that preceded it, Prince George – Bulkley Valley had been Conservative, PC or Reform since 1979 aside from one five year stint with the NDP in 1988. In the last two decades, the Conservative candidates have won with over 40% of the popular vote.

As long as I’ve been of voting age, Prince George ridings have largely being ignored by the parties at a national level. Again, I’m guessing it’s because the Conservatives feel assured of victory and focus on ridings that are vulnerable, while the other parties feel assured of their defeat, and so focus on ridings that are vulnerable.

This has been most obvious in the case of parachute candidates– people running to be the representative for a riding they’ve never lived in and may not have even visited. This hasn’t been the case for every candidate in every riding in every election, but it has happened. It’s happening in this election.

Parachute candidates feel like a flash-point for the party vs candidate debate. Is having a candidate who doesn’t live in the riding an admission that local representation plays a small role in the overall political game? Are we really just voting for the party and its leaders? Or are we supposed to be voting for an MP who can bring the issues of their constituents to Ottawa? In one case, a candidate refused to talk with local media– they were just a name on the ballot. If you voted for that candidate, could you feel like you were basing your decision on anything other than the party they were attached to? Does that matter?

I guess the parties do what they have to do. There’s only a limited number of days in a campaign. There’s only so many people willing to stand for office, especially if they don’t think they have a chance of winning. They’re going to focus on places where results aren’t a foregone conclusion. But I sometimes wonder what would happen if they campaigned everywhere with as much vigour as they do in swing ridings.

Further reading:

Jason Morris paints a sympathetic portrait of parachute candidates— and good reasons the party may use them. It’s good balance if you feel angry about parachute candidates. He also lays out an argument as to why BC’s north doesn’t matter.

Filed under: Canada, Prince George

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