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Candidates believe Hants West residents vote for the person, not the party

The Progressive Conservative party has won the last 11 elections in the riding, including the last three with Chuck Porter. Porter is now running for the Liberals.
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Janice-Munroe Dodge campaigning
Hants West Progressive Conservative candidate Janice Munroe-Dodge speaks with Ed Kellner of Brooklyn while campaigning earlier this week. She will be trying to unseat Chuck Porter, who is running for the LIberals but won the last three elections as a Conservative. (IAN FAIRCLOUGH / Local Xpress)

While there is often talk of ridings being “traditionally” supportive of one political party or another, the candidates in Hants West don't see it that way — even with 11 consecutive Progressive Conservative wins behind them.

Chuck Porter, who held the riding before the writ was dropped, has three consecutive victories for the Conservatives, following eight straight by Ron Russell. The PCs have won 16 of 19 times in the riding.

But Porter is running as a Liberal this time, after leaving the Progressive Conservative party three years ago. He said at the time he didn't agree with the way Tory Leader Jamie Baillie was running things, while Baillie countered that Porter wasn't fulfilling his duties.

Porter sat as an Independent until joining the Liberals in February 2016.

He said he thinks voters in the riding vote primarily for the person, not the party.

“I certainly hear an awful lot of that,” Porter said.

“There was a big orange tide in 2009 and we won, and there was a great big red wave in 2013 and we won (by 1,200 votes). People talk about this being Chuck's riding the same way they said it was Ron's riding, but we don't take anything for granted."

ChuckPorterHants West Liberal candidate Chuck Porter says he thinks residents will vote for the candidate they prefer over the party in the upcoming election. A Conservative candidate has won the previous 11 elections in the riding, including the last three by Porter before he left the party.

He said he looks at the election as a campaign for all votes, not just trying to sway one affiliation to his side.

“I think every election is different, but it's the same in a lot of ways,” Porter said while campaigning in Windsor. “Political stripes aside, you're looking for votes from all people, and you're working for all people.”

He said that despite talking to a lot of residents, he hasn’t been encountering people who are upset by the fact he left the Conservative party and later joined the Liberals.

“I've run into one person at all the doors I've gone to, and I've done a lot of doors in the past couple of weeks. That was fine, it was very respectful. I appreciate their comments. I certainly appreciate how people think and feel. But that person didn't say they weren't voting for me.”

Porter said health care is the main issue among the voters he has talked to in the riding, and that has been the case in every election.

“Roads are always up there, but jobs are probably (second) and what we are going to do to keep investing in opportunities.”

He said he has heard a fair bit from people happy with an announcement that Highway 101 will be twinned at Windsor.

Janice Munroe-Dodge is carrying the banner for the Conservatives this time around. The school outreach worker said she's not banking on anything, even with 11 straight victories for the party.

She also doesn't buy into the idea that the riding is a Tory riding.

“I think that people in Hants West are smart, they're hard-working and they'll make their selection based on who they think will best represent them in the legislature, which party they think has the best vision and can implement that for our area, and they're looking for a candidate who speaks to them and listens to them.”

Munroe-Dodge said the responses she's getting on the campaign run the gamut, from people supporting her because of previous experience with her, to those who are believers in the PC party and those who support other parties.

Porter's change of affiliation has come up a couple of times, she said.

“I have had a few people who say they don't support a candidate who crosses the floor, and that leads me to a conversation with them and with the government in general about should you be able to do so.”

Munroe-Dodge said if she is elected, one of the first things she wants to try to have implemented is a practice that if a sitting MLA chooses to leave or change parties, there would be a byelection.

She said she doesn't see herself as campaigning against the Liberal record or against a candidate who left the Conservative party.

“I'm campaigning for a party. I think what we have to offer as Progressive Conservatives is worth promoting more than spending time with negativity.”

One of the issues she's hearing about from some voters is the lack of good high-speed Internet, Munroe-Dodge said.

“I hear from some people ... that our rural Internet is a complete disincentive. To move to some areas is frustrating for small businesses. We have a lot of people working from home, who need the Internet for school access or personal reasons, and it's frustrating to be so close to even our capital and not have Internet access.”

Concerns over lack of family doctors and the condition of roads in the riding are other issues that have come up as she campaigns, she said.

“The rural Nova Scotia population accounts for the majority of the population in Nova Scotia, and I don't think we can retain our youth or have people move back to Nova Scotia if we can't offer a quality of life for them.”

If there is a split of the votes because of Porter's change of parties, NDP candidate Lalia Kerr hopes she can come up the middle and take the riding. But she said it's not easy predicting that.

“It's hard to say. Hants County people keep their cards pretty close to their chest,” the elementary school teacher said. “They don't like to be asked how they're going to vote.”

KERR.SMHants West NDP candidate Lalia Kerr says she hopes residents think that it is time for change in the riding, which has never elected an MLA from her party.

She said she feels like she has an uphill climb because the riding has never elected a woman or an NDP candidate.

“I don't feel that I'm running against Chuck. I'm running for myself and hoping that voters will choose me because of who I am, not because they're voting against him or anyone else.”

Kerr said she hasn't heard anyone talk about Porter's change of parties.

“I think if I did, I would try to deflect that, because I don't want to run a negative campaign. I don't like it when I see those kinds of campaigns run, and I don't think the voters want it. I don't think that running that kind of campaign will endear you to anyone, (so) I run for what our party stands for and hope that appeals to someone.”

She said that she thinks Hants West is a riding that votes for the candidate they want and not the party.

“I certainly voted for Ron Russell every time he ran because he was a very honourable, intelligent man. If I called, he knew what was going on, and he was very responsive to the people in the riding.”

Kerr said Porter is also involved in the constituency.

“I can't say anything bad about him in that way. But I think it's time for a change, and I think a vote for him is a vote for a direction and a government that I don't agree with.”

The party had been getting between 25 and 28 per cent of the ballots and more than 2,000 votes in almost every election since 1998, until they dropped to only 888 votes in 2013.

She said that was just a trend across the province as voters tossed Darrell Dexter's NDP government from power.

“I see a rising trend for Gary Burrill and I hope that carries throughout the province. Whether it will carry me, I don't know, but I am hoping that it carries a lot of our candidates to victory.”

She said she hears about health care, a shortage of doctors and education issues when she's going door to door. She thinks seniors care is also an important issue.

The Green party's Torin Buzek, an instructor at Dalhousie University's theatre department who ran in 2013, is also on the ballot.

Buzek said in a news release that people know his party stands for the environment, “but, in addition to that, we are fiscal conservatives and want to bring a strong economy to all Nova Scotians.”

Edward Boucher of the Atlantica party could not be reached for comment Thursday.



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