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NDP MPs headed to Steel Town to attend caucus, get groove back, take in a Ti-Cats game

By Abbas Rana      

The New Democrats are holding their summer retreat next month in Hamilton, where it held most of the area’s seats before the 2015 election.

The four NDP leadership candidates Jagmeet Singh, Niki Ashton, Charlie Angus, and Guy Caron will make their last pitch to party members to seek their vote on Sunday, Sept. 17, in Hamilton. The NDP caucus will have just finished its two-day summer retreat there, and all NDP MPs are then expected to attend this leadership showcase.
The Hill Times photographs by Jake Wright, Andrew Meade, and Sam Garcia

NDP MPs are gathering in Hamilton next month for their annual summer caucus retreat to plan their fall strategy and to raise the party’s profile in Steel Town, the working-class city where it lost some ground in the last federal election.

“We have some representation already [in Hamilton], and there’s good NDP support, and my understanding is that there are some seats in the area that aren’t NDP and we’d like to change that,” NDP caucus chair Daniel Blaikie (Elmwood-Transcona, Man.) said in an interview with The Hill Times.

“Part of it is trying to raise the profile of the party in the area and being around to hear what members have to say so we can take their good advice and keep it in mind when we’re formulating policy and positions on various issues,” Mr. Blaikie said.

Prior to 2015, the NDP held three of the four federal ridings in the Hamilton area. The region gained an additional riding before the last election, in which the NDP and the Liberals each won two and the Conservatives carried one.

The NDP had won 103 seats across the country in 2011, but in the 2015 election were reduced to 44 seats under NDP Leader Tom Mulcair (Outremont, Que.), who will be replaced as leader in October.

The two NDP MPs in the area are David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre, Ont.), and rookie Scott Duvall (Hamilton Mountain, Ont.). Mr. Christopherson has been representing his riding since 2004 and Mr. Duvall was elected for the first time in the last election. In 2015, Mr. Christohperson won by a margin of 12.2 per cent and Mr. Duval by a 2.4 vote margin.

Liberal MPs in the Hamilton area are Bob Bratina (Hamilton East-Stoney Creek, Ont.) and Filomena Tassi (Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas, Ont.), both rookies and elected in 2015. Mr. Bratina won his riding by a margin of 6.3 per cent and Ms. Tassi by a 15.9 per cent vote margin.

Conservative MP David Sweet represents the other nearby riding of Flamborough-Glanbrook, Ont. He is a four-term MP, first elected in 2006, and won the last election by a margin of 4.3 per cent of the votes.

Former three-term NDP MP Wayne Marston lost the riding of Hamilton East-Stoney Creek in the last election to Mr. Bratina, a former Hamilton mayor and radio broadcaster. Mr. Marston represented the riding for almost 10 years.

The retreat is taking place at the Hamilton Convention Centre on Sept. 16 and 17. The House of Commons is returning for the fall sitting on Monday, Sept. 18, after a three-month summer recess.

All 44 NDP MPs are expected to arrive in Hamilton a day before the retreat to attend a CFL football game between the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Friday evening.

MPs will be getting together for the first time as a group since the House adjourned on June 21 for the summer. In the caucus meetings, MPs will be expected to share with each other and the party leadership what they’ve heard from their constituents about NDP policies and the performance of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s (Papineau, Que.) Liberal government. The caucus will also discuss the House strategy for the fall sitting.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright

The gathering will be NDP Leader Tom Mulcair’s (Outremont, Que.) last summer caucus retreat as party leader, as the party members will start to vote to elect their next leader on Sept. 18. The party will announce the results of the first ballot on Oct. 1. NDP MPs Charlie Angus (Timmins-James Bay, Ont.), Niki Ashton (Churchill-Keewatinook Aski, Man.), and Guy Caron (Rimouski-Neigette -Témiscouata-Les Basques, Que.), as well as Ontario NDP MPP Jagmeet Singh are all seeking the party’s top job.

Following the conclusion of the retreat on Sunday afternoon, NDP caucus members will attend an all-candidates showcase event, happening in the same Hamilton venue, in which the leadership contenders will make their final pitch to party members for support. During this event, each candidate will have 20 to 30 minutes to speak to party members, have someone else speak on their behalf, or play a video in an effort to seek the support of party members. The party is expecting more than 500 members to attend.

“The candidate showcase will be the last chance for the candidates to make their pitch to the members before voting opens on the next day,” wrote NDP spokesman Guillaume Francoeur in an email to The Hill Times. “The event will take place during the afternoon, on Sept. 17, and will be structured similarly to a traditional leadership convention, without the actual voting.”

NDP MP Daniel Blaikie is the chair of the national NDP caucus. Photograph courtesy of Daniel Blaikie’s office

Mr. Blaikie said holding the caucus retreat in Hamilton will not only enable MPs to attend the leadership showcase, but will also be an opportunity to meet with party members from the area and across the country.

“We’re having a leadership showcase event, and a lot of our members are going to be in the area for that,” said Mr. Blaikie. “I thought it would make sense to be able to go out and go where there’re a whole bunch of members so that we can do a little bit of listening.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Duvall, a former city councillor, said the NDP lost the Hamilton East-Stoney Creek riding in 2015 due to the Liberal “tsunami” and are hoping to win it back in 2019. He said the presence of all NDP MPs in Hamilton will help the party get more exposure, which will help local MPs and the candidates who will run there in the next election.

“It’s a great exposure for us, and I know many [NDP MPs] are excited about just meeting the people of Hamilton,” said Mr. Duvall. “The Liberal tsunami came in, we held on to two [seats], and we’re hoping to gain back [the lost riding] for sure.”

However, Mr. Bratina said he’s the favourite to win his riding again in 2019. So far, he said he has not seen anything to be concerned about in his riding. Mr. Bratina said that based on his consultations with constituents, most people in his riding are satisfied with the direction of the Liberal government.

“There’s no showstoppers that I’m aware of in my own riding where people have said, ‘I’m fed up with [the Liberal government],’” said Mr. Bratina. “The election is ours to lose, rather than theirs to win.”

Mr. Bratina said he knows the NDP will target his riding, but during the summer he’s been talking to constituents and focusing on constituency work. He pointed out that the Liberals held almost all Hamilton-area seats between 1993 and 2006. Mr. Bratina said the party lost three seats to the NDP in the 2006, 2008, and 2011 elections as a culmination of years of infighting between the Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin wings of the party. But now the party is united under Mr. Trudeau’s leadership, he said.

“Their sense that Hamilton is a strong NDP city and only needs the refocus to bring it back again is what’s on their mind. I’m not sure. My own feeling is that’s not correct,” Mr. Bratina said.

The riding of Hamilton East-Stoney Creek was created in 2003 by combining the ridings of Hamilton East and Stoney Creek. The new riding came into effect in the 2004 election. Before the creation of this riding, Sheila Copps, former deputy prime minister, represented the riding of Hamilton East, going back to 1984 and won all subsequent elections. Before Ms. Copps, former Liberal MP John Munro represented this riding between 1962 and 1984.

Liberal MP Tony Valeri represented the riding of Stoney Creek starting in 1993 until the riding was merged with Hamilton East before the 2004 election.

The formation of Hamilton East-Stoney Creek pitted Ms. Copps and Mr. Valeri against each other in an epic nomination fight in 2004. The battle, which Ms. Copps lost, dominated national media coverage for weeks. There were allegations that the party leadership of Mr. Martin at the time rigged the nomination process in favour of Mr. Valeri, a supporter of Mr. Martin. Ms. Copps ran unsuccessfully against Mr. Martin for the 2003 party leadership and was a close ally of Mr. Chrétien.

This nomination and others in numerous ridings across the country divided the Liberal base and was one of the key reasons that resulted in its 2006 loss to Stephen Harper’s Conservatives.

Hamilton, Ont. Ridings 2011 Election

Riding Name       MP Name Vote%

Hamilton Centre NDP MP David Christopherson 57%

Hamilton East-Stoney Creek NDP MP Wayne Marston    45.2%

Hamilton Mountain NDP MP Chris Charlton 47.2%

Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale Conservative MP David Sweet 51.3%

Hamilton, Ont. Ridings 2015 Election

Riding Name         MP Name        Vote%

Hamilton Centre NDP MP David Christopherson 45.6%

Hamilton East-Stoney Creek Liberal MP MP Bob Bratina 39%

Hamilton Mountain NDP MP Scott Duvall 35.9%

Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas Liberal MP Filomena Tassi           47.7%

Flamborough-Glanbrook Conservative MP David Sweet 43.5%

arana@hilltimes.com

The Hill Times

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