BY JANICE TIBBETTS
OTTAWA — Some of the most well-known faces in Canadian politics are believed to be in tight electoral battles that could dramatically change the makeup of the next Parliament.
Imagine a House of Commons without the vocal chords of Liberal MPs Mark Holland and Ujjal Dosanjh, the star power of fellow Liberals Ken Dryden and Marc Garneau, the experience of longtimer Liberal Joe Volpe, the theatrics of former Conservative Helena Guergis and the je ne sais quoi of Liberal Justin Trudeau.
The seven renowned candidates are among the 60 or so incumbents — a sizable portion of them longtime Liberals — who are widely considered to be in tight races across the country.
With the election campaign at its end and voters on their way to the polls, iPolitics has compiled a list of 15 well-known incumbents who are considered to be in fierce fights to the finish.
“About 60 seats usually change hands,” said Eric Grenier, a political pundit who compiles threehundredeight.com, one of several election prediction websites.
This election is expected to be no different. Some of the high-profile candidates who risk defeat are:
Conservative Lawrence Cannon: In the Quebec riding of Pontiac riding just across the river from Ottawa, the rising NDP fortunes in Quebec could claim Canada’s foreign affairs minister, who is believed to be in a close contest with come-lately New Democrat Mathieu Ravignat, a social science researcher who was nominated just two weeks ago to take on the Conservative heavyweight. Cannon, who took a mid-campaign break to attend Libya talks oversees, has held this largely rural riding since 2006. However, NDP support in the neighbouring Quebec ridings of Hull-Aylmer and Gatineau could have a spillover effect. Seat projectors list this one as too close to call.
Conservative Leona Aglukkaq: The minister of health won a tight three-way race in the Arctic riding of Nunavut in 2008 and this time she has faced off against a strong Liberal challenge from Paul Okalik, the former premier of the expansive territory. Before Aglukkaq’s victory, the riding had been Liberal for two decades. The New Democrats also are running a strong contender in Jack Hicks, a well-known social activist in the area. A minus for Aglukkaq is that Conservative changes to a food mail program resulted in higher food prices and a more limited selection in the territory. On the plus side, she has the incumbency advantage and the distinction of being the first Inuit cabinet minister. Also, she could reclaim the seat if there is Liberal and New Democrat vote splitting.
Liberal Mark Holland: The Liberal critic on public safety, there’s probably nobody whom the Conservatives would rather destroy more, other than Michael Ignatieff. Dubbed the Liberal “attack dog” on all things law and order, this scrappy 36-year-old has taken on the Harper government on everything from prison building to G8 security spending. In an effort to topple the vocal and relentless critic in his Toronto-area riding of Ajax-Pickering, the Conservatives are running star candidate Chris Alexander, a former Canadian ambassador to Afghanistan. Political analysts consistently describe this as one of the most interesting races in the country. Alice Funke, an Ottawa pundit who operates punditsguide.ca, speculated that Alexander may have been “oversold” by the Conservatives, and that he has made a few notorious campaign gaffes that will help Holland reclaim the constituency.
Liberal Ken Dryden: The former NHL star is considered one of the most vulnerable Grits in Toronto. Dryden’s riding, York Centre, has been solidly Liberal for almost 50 years, but Dryden has seen his vote share diminish in the past three elections, winning by only 2,000 votes in 2008. A cabinet minister in the Paul Martin government, Dryden has been attacked by his opponents for being absent in the riding between elections and skipping too many votes in the House of Commons in recent years. The constituency has a large Jewish population, and the Harper government’s strong support of Israel could hurt the Liberals. A Dryden defeat would bring the Conservatives their first seat in the 416 area code since 1988.
Liberal Joe Volpe: The former immigration minister in the Paul Martin government, Volpe has held the Liberal stronghold of Eglinton-Lawrence since 1988. Along with York Centre, this riding it is one of the Conservatives’ best hopes of winning a Toronto seat.
Volpe is squaring off against Joe Oliver, a lawyer and businessman whom Volpe beat by a barely comfortable 2,000 votes in 2008. The north Toronto riding is Canada’s third richest, with an average family income of $162,855. Volpe is battling a defection of traditional Liberal voters, mainly Jewish and Italian. Funke speculates that Volpe’s work ethic might save him.
Liberal Justin Trudeau: This ambitious son of a famous former prime minister needs no introduction. He barely won his Montreal constituency of Papineau in 2008, in a knock-’em-down fight with the Bloc Quebecois. In fact, the race has been one of the closest in the country for the past three elections, and although Trudeau has the advantage this time around of being the incumbent, it is expected to be another tight contest. Election predictors consider him safe — barely — but Funke noted it’s a crap shoot trying to determine the outcome in tight Quebec races these days because it is difficult to see how the rise of the NDP in the province will play out on a riding-by-riding basis. In mid-campaign, Trudeau flew to the Toronto area and Vancouver to help other Liberals candidates, perhaps a sign that things weren’t going too badly for him on the home front. “All eyes are on this seat because it could have a potential long-term affect if Justin Trudeau loses because he’s been targeted as a potential Liberal leader,” said analyst David Coletto, of Ottawa-based Abacus Data.