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As many as 10 expected to vie for federal Liberal nomination in Ottawa-Vanier

By Abbas Rana      

Catherine Bélanger, widow of Mauril Bélanger, had decided not to seek Liberal nomination in Ottawa-Vanier, which creates an open race.

From the left, Ottawa communications consultant Mona Fortier and Nicolas Moyer, executive director of Humanitarian Coalition are running for Liberal nomination in Ottawa-Vanier, while Ottawa Councillor Mathieu Fleury will make a decision before Dec. 1. Photographs courtesy of Mona Fortier, Nicolas Moyer, and Mathieu Fleury

With Catherine Bélanger, widow of late-Liberal MP Mauril Bélanger, deciding not to seek the Liberal nomination in the coveted federal riding of Ottawa-Vanier, Ont., as many as 10 people are expected to run there, with some already in campaign mode.

The Liberal nomination campaign has not officially started and no nomination date has been set, but at least four candidates have already started campaigning in this safe Liberal riding.

The four who have started their campaigns include: Mona Fortier, former riding association president and communications consultant; Francis LeBlanc, a former Nova Scotia Liberal MP and former senior Hill staffer; Nicolas Moyer, executive director of Humanitarian Coalition, a relief efforts agency in international humanitarian crises; and Véronique Soucy, executive director of French-language radio station 94.5 Unique FM.

Liberals in the riding expect as many as 10 candidates to run for nomination in the riding.

Ottawa-Vanier became vacant after the death of Mr. Bélanger. He was first elected to the House in a 1995 byelection and represented this riding for 21 years. Mr. Bélanger died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease, on Aug. 15.

Some local Liberals were expecting Ms. Bélanger, a former public servant, to seek nomination, but she recently informed riding association president Tony Stikeman and other party members in the riding she would not run. If Ms. Bélanger had entered the contest, many feel she would have been the front-runner and most candidates running now would have stayed out of the race.

In the last federal election, Mr. Bélanger, a former cabinet minister in the Paul Martin cabinet, won 57.5 per cent of the vote while the second-place NDP candidate Emilie Taman garnered 19.2 per cent. The third-place Conservative candidate David Piccini won 19.1 per cent, and the fourth place Green Party candidate Nira Dookeran won three per cent.

This riding currently doesn’t have representation at the federal or provincial level. In June, the provincial MPP and attorney general Madeleine Meilleur resigned for family reasons. The provincial byelection is scheduled for Nov. 17.

Ottawa-Vanier is one of the safest Liberal ridings in the country. Since the riding’s creation in the 1930s, only Liberals have been elected federally and provincially. Barring a major surprise, anyone who wins the Liberal nomination will almost certainly win the riding.

This means the Liberal nomination contest is the real election. Ottawa Councillor Mathieu Fleury, who is considering running, said the nomination contest here will be harder to win than the actual election.

“That’s historically been the case. That applies to this federal nomination and election,” said Mr. Fleury, who represents the Rideau-Vanier ward on city council, which is part of Ottawa-Vanier.

Mr. Fleury said he will decide before Dec. 1 if he’s going to run.

This will also be among the first Liberal nomination contests where those who joined the party without paying fees, as per the new rules, will be eligible to elect the candidate. Earlier this summer, the Liberals eliminated the $10 membership fee. The Conservative Party’s membership fee is $15 while the NDP’s membership fees vary from province to province, ranging between no fee and $25.

In the past, only paid card-carrying party members elected Liberal candidates. It remains to be seen how candidates attempt to turn this new dynamic to their advantage.

Mr. LeBlanc, who is now the executive director of the Canadian Association of former Parliamentarians, said securing the support of unpaid party members is a new dynamic for all candidates and will make it an interesting contest. He said all campaigns are trying to come up with new ideas on how to reach out to registered Liberals and ensure that they show up on the day of the nomination election to cast vote for their preferred candidates. Also, Mr. LeBlanc said, with no membership fee, the riding association will likely have a large number of new riding association members.

“We’re all going to have to find new ways of signing up and also keep track of our support because the fact that there’s no $10 membership fee, as in the past, means there’s a capacity for a much larger pool of registered Liberals to be part of the selection process,” said Mr. LeBlanc. “It’s going to make the nomination race more interesting.”

Mr. Moyer said the new dynamic of seeking the support of unpaid Liberals presents a variety of challenges to candidates including, how to sign them up and how to ensure their supporters come out on nomination election day and vote. Mr. Moyer said it’s an opportunity for candidates to include as many new people in the riding association as they can.

“Previously, if someone was paying $10, you knew that they were pretty committed because they were taking an action in support,” said Mr. Moyer. “In this case, it’s going to be easier for people to sign up because they don’t have to pay. We don’t know necessarily if they’re as committed, perhaps, as someone who has paid $10.”

Ms. Fortier, a long-time friend of the Bélanger family, told The Hill Times she’s working with her supporters to come up with a strategy that covers all aspects of this campaign, and is also talking to people at community events in the riding about what issues are important to them. She said she considers this campaign a marathon and is working to reach out to as many people in the riding as possible.

“It’ll be an approach like a marathon because we don’t have a [nomination] date yet. But it’s important to keep Ottawa-Vanier very vibrant and dynamic and I think that campaign will enable that,” said Ms. Fortier.

Ms. Soucy confirmed to The Hill Times that she intends to run for Liberal nomination in the riding but said she will do media interviews only when the contest officially starts.

“I intend to seek the nomination for the Liberal federal riding of Ottawa-Vanier,” said Ms. Soucy in a written statement sent to The Hill Times. “As a journalist, I’ve been covering and commenting on local news and events in the nation’s capital for over 15 years. As a Franco-Ontarian and University of Ottawa graduate, my roots are deeply ingrained in this community. Most significantly, as a mother of two and committed citizen, I share the same concerns as my fellow citizens of Ottawa-Vanier.”

The New Democratic Party and the Conservatives had not set dates for nomination contests in Ottawa-Vanier as of last week.

Ottawa-Vanier is home to a large Franco-Ontarian population. According to Statistics Canada’s 2011 census profile, this riding had a population of just more than 100,000 and about 28,000 considered French their mother tongue.

arana@hilltimes.com

The Hill Times

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