This morning, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau officially signalled the start of the federal election campaign that will culminate Oct. 21 with a national vote.
In Simcoe North, Conservative incumbent Bruce Stanton is seeking a fifth straight term as the region’s MP.
He’s facing first-time Liberal candidate Gerry Hawes, who is no stranger to politics; he has worked behind the scenes for the party for decades.
So far, the NDP has not declared a candidate, while Erik Schomann will represent the Green party and Stephen Makk will run under the banner of the nation’s newest party, the People’s Party of Canada.
Stanton said he feels “pretty good” about his chances for re-election, but admits every campaign is an “emotional roller-coaster.”
The 61-year-old, four-term MP, who has served the riding for 13 years, said this year’s election feels quite different than the last election.
“From what I hear at doors, it’s quite a change from 2015,” said Stanton, noting at that time voters “wanted a change of government” and ousted Stephen Harper in favour of Trudeau.
This election is a “bit of a report card on Justin Trudeau and the Liberals,” said Stanton, who noted many are disappointed with the PM over “reckless” spending and controversy around his trip to India or his handling of the SNC/Lavalin scandal.
Hawes conceded that those concerns are being expressed by some voters.
“Honestly, we are hearing some of that. I’m not going to pretend we’re not,” said Hawes. “However, in most cases, people are saying they will, ultimately, vote for me. When the choice is between Justin Trudeau or Andrew Scheer for Prime Minister, they don’t want to vote” for Scheer.
Hawes, a policy adviser for the province’s Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport who is taking an unpaid, 15-week leave of absence for the campaign, also noted there is “well-earned cynicism” among voters of all stripes and all parties are at fault.
“That’s why I’m just being who I am. It’s about being authentic - not contrived,” said Hawes, who invites people to visit his website for a more in-depth look into his views on important issues. “I want to be transparent.”
Hawes said he and his campaign team “have been working quietly behind the scenes getting ready” for the campaign since mid-July. He believes he has assembled a “strong” leadership group and team of volunteers to help stickhandle the six-week campaign.
He has said from Day 1 that he faces “long odds” in unseating Stanton. However, he said he feels those “odds have shortened” in recent weeks.
He’s hoping people will vote FOR something as opposed to making a strategic decision.
“For me, success, is earning the support of progressive voters,” said Hawes, who wants people to vote for him based on his beliefs and character rather than because of a strategy to topple the Conservatives in this riding.
Schomann is also hoping people vote based on their values - not as a strategy for or against a party or a candidate.
“People seem to be rather tired of bouncing between the Conservatives and Liberals,” said Schomann, adding whoever wins “comes in with a mandate of not being the other guy and spends a significant amount of their administration undoing what was done before.
“This is quintessentially dysfunctional,” said the Seneca College teacher who lives in Lafonataine. “Canandians are looking for something new ... some status quo relief, I guess you could call it.”
He said too many voters feel forced to vote “against what they are most afraid of.” He encourages people to “vote your values.”
Schomann is realistic; he does not believe he will be the winning candidate. But that doesn’t equate to a lack of success, he said.
“Our goal is to be able to have a minority government with our party having the balance of power,” said Schomann, noting his party is sitting at about 15% in national polls - 5% higher than 2015.
That number could climb because of what appears to be a weaker NDP. Due to widespread candidate vetting issues across the country, many ridings, like Simcoe North, do not yet have an NDP candidate.
Janet Lynne-Durnford withdrew from the Simcoe North race earlier this month due to the vetting issues. The party has said it expects to have a candidate in the riding.
That “dynamic” could play a role in the results, said Hawes.
“Paul DeVillers would not have won in 1993 if the NDP vote had stayed strong,” said Hawes, who worked to get DeVillers elected.
Stanton said each campaign has a unique “complexion” and the NDP’s status will be part of it this time around.
However, as is always the case in federal elections, the party’s leaders will play a key role, Stanton predicted.
“People are quite content with my record of service in the riding,” said Stanton. “But I also recognize, in our electoral system, calculations go into the ballot choice and I sense there is some indifference to the national leaders at this stage.”
Stanton says many voters have been “unimpressed” with Trudeau, but he concedes many also have doubts about Scheer.
“Our leader, Andrew Scheer, is less known. He’s not a household name,” said Stanton, who says some voters “are just not too sure yet. I wouldn’t say they are dismissive of him, but there is an appetite to learn more. I see that as healthy.”
He said he hopes voters see through Liberal tactics that, he says, are trying to paint Scheer as a leader not in favour of women’s rights.
Stanton called the tactics a strategy to “deflect” from the Liberal record. He said the Conservatives’ nine-year reign under Harper “laid to rest” any of those issues.
Ultimately, the voters will decide. Like all candidates, Hawes encourages people to become educated - and vote.
“When people don’t vote, Conservatives win,” said Hawes. “That’s a fact.”
For more information about Hawes, visit his website.
For more information about Stanton, visit his website.
For more information about Schomann, visit his website.
For more information about Makk, visit his website.