SOUTH DUNDAS — Cornwall city councillor Bernadette Clement’s announcement to run for the Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry Liberal nomination should come as no surprise, to the public, or the other two candidates vying for the nomination. What does surprise this scribe is that anyone would continue to contest the nomination against Clement.
Clement was the nominated candidate in the 2011 General Election, finishing a close second with 8,510 votes. A close second because the NDP candidate Mario Leclerc finished third at 8,313 votes and was second for a good part of the election night. In comparison, Conservative candidate Guy Lauzon won the riding with 29,538 votes.
There were three factors that hindered Clement’s success during the last kick at the can.
First, Michael Ignatieff was a weak, uninspiring, feckless leader that his opponents had successfully rendered unelectable. Ignatieff’s intellectual-style of politics does not play well in the consumer-based electoral process we now live in. It was hard to fit his 30 minute lectures about the evils of Stephen Harper’s “agenda” into the typical 30-second sound bite.
Second, the NDP did surge in many areas across Canada, and that helped steal some of the soft-left vote in the riding towards the NDP. The support for the NDP in SDSG came more from those interested in supporting Jack Layton than the candidate.
Third, Clement had no profile outside of Cornwall. She was an unknown quantity. Yes she did receive Liberal votes from the counties, the traditional “always votes Liberal” supporters. However few knew who she was. Look at the polling numbers from the campaign and it is clear that she received the bulk of her support from inside Cornwall.
Clement faces similar challenges this time around. She was a part of Kathleen Wynne’s transition team when Wynne took office. A great honour for Clement, but Wynne is not so popular in rural-Ontario, just ask anyone who’s opened a hydro bill. Clement also moderated federal leadership debates where Justin Trudeau was eventually elected leader, but does anyone remember who moderates a debate? In order to win the riding, Clement will need to be seen as a viable alternative to Guy Lauzon in the riding, in all of the riding.
These challenges are why it would be wise for the SDSG Liberals to nip this nomination battle in the bud sooner-than-later. The party has a lot of work to do, to have a chance to unseat Lauzon and the Conservatives. Local party members should not rely merely on the persona of Trudeau 2.0 to get them a seat. There will not be an “red-wave” across Canada based on the feeling-based politics of “Hope and Hard Work”. For the local Liberals, it will be a lot of hope and a lot of really hard work to build a candidate profile in the counties that can be seen as a viable replacement for the Conservatives.
Not to say it cannot be done, however the Conservatives have a strong base in the counties. Lauzon has been, by many accounts, a good Member of Parliament, and he is a likable guy. He has a very strong team, led by his right-hand man and perceived heir-apparent Eric Duncan. Duncan knows his stuff and has run a number of successful campaigns. The old adage of “you can paint a post blue in Dundas County and people would vote for it” need not apply here.
If the local Liberals want to take the riding in October 2015, they are going to need a strong candidate for the job, and a lot of hard work. Clement fits the bill as the strongest candidate to date.