For someone who is already 67, and who will be over 70 when the next election is called, Guy Lauzon, the Conservative incumbent, has campaigned remarkably well. However, the battle has taken its toll. After the Cornwall all-candidates’ debate he seemed visibly exhausted. While the other candidates answered questions for another half hour or more, Lauzon left the arena as soon as he could. After the Williamstown debate, which was packed with staunch Conservative supporters wearing the party colours, he left immediately. Whether Lauzon is physically capable of carrying out his duties as MP for another four years is a serious question that must be addressed, regardless of any political agenda.
In a world where the cream is supposed to rise to the top, Lauzon has shown that he is no more than 1% milk, and all the riding should expect from him is to remain Conservative lobby-fodder. His two outstanding achievements in Parliament have been as a committee chairman (where he got fired by his own committee), and following in the footsteps of Rahim Jaffer as chairman of Conservative caucus.
As for the all-candidates debates themselves, his performance was disappointingly lacklustre. With seven years of political experience, on top of his previous involvement as a union organiser for the Public Service Alliance of Canada, one would have expected a better performance in front of the audience. As it was, the only times he really got the audience going was when he tried to defend the government’s integrity and honesty – of all the candidates, he was the only one to get booed and heckled.
Being a Conservative MP is difficult at the best of times, in that they are not allowed to depart from the official Prime Minister’s Office script, but despite the handicap, there were times during the debates when he did not seem actually to comprehend the questions he was asked and read off statements that were totally irrelevant. The question for voters to decide is whether or not Lauzon has the courage and conviction to stand up to the Prime Minister’s Office when the interests of the riding demand he do so.
Bernadette Clément is well known in Cornwall, where she sits on the City Council and works as a lawyer at the Legal Clinic on McConnell Street. It says much about her character and beliefs that she took time off from her campaign to help an elderly resident of the city who found himself in an abusive situation. The fact that she works at the legal clinic when she could probably make four or five times the salary in a private law practice is a good indication that she will honestly try to put the needs of her constituents first.
As a politician, she has no trouble capturing the confidence of the citizens of Cornwall, at least at the City Council level. Support at the city level, however, does not automatically mean a majority of votes in the federal election. Judging by the number of lawn signs, she is definitely running third behind incumbent Lauzon and NDP challenger Mario Leclerc.
During the municipal campaign last October, she appeared to be following on the coat tails of former SD&G Liberal MP Bob Kilger. Given the number of Cornwall residents who consider Kilger a part of the establishment and who want nothing to do with him politically, she has to try to persuade voters that she can stand apart and be her own person.
If she succeeds in the election, voters can be confident she will do her best to put this riding on the political map and promote the best interests of its residents. However, the Liberals are a big party, and, like the Conservatives, many believe that they think they have a divine right to govern. Will Clément be able to stand above the crowd in the Liberal caucus to present her agenda, or will she be lost amongst the other rank and file Liberals when it comes to pushing for this riding’s needs?
The Leclerc campaign is optimistically riding on the high created by Jack Layton’s sudden unexpected surge in the polls. The local party has ran an unexpectedly strong and well financed campaign, and in the urban areas of the riding, at least, is showing some strength. Possibly the anti-Kilger sentiment of many Cornwall voters is helping him compete against Liberal Bernadette Clément. However, history is campaigning against the NDP on the local level – even when NDP fortunes are at their highest, such as when Bob Rae defeated the provincial Liberals to become Premier of Ontario, the party has never been able to send a representative to Ottawa or Queen’s Park.
Leclerc has worked hard to win this campaign, and like Clément, he is young and energetic enough to maintain this momentum in Ottawa if elected. He is approachable and willing to take the time to discuss the issues with anyone, and he gives every reason to believe he would also do his best to take care of the residents here.
Although in general he was well received at the all-candidates debates, he tended to lack spontaneity, (although he was certainly better than Lauzon in this respect), and had some problems actually debating the issues. Speaking in public in a second language is difficult for anyone – luckily this will not be an issue if he makes it to the Commons. However, quite often he seemed to be reading from his campaign material and some well-prepared scripts, which showed when he would sometimes refer to himself in the third person, and when he kept referring to NDP leader Jack Layton – the leader you can trust.
Unfortunately for him he would be a rookie MP in a party that has never had to work with a large number of MPs, and one must seriously ask just how much attention the party will give him and the riding.
The Green Party’s Wyatt Walsh is the only candidate who has not held some sort of public or union office. He brands himself as “fiscally conservative, socially liberal, and morally green.”
His business background is impressive, and gives credence to his fiscally conservative philosophy. He has worked in finance and as a successful factory manager – currently he manages his own expanding environmental company. Among other accomplishments, he has cleaned up mercury contamination from the old CIL site in Cornwall, and is currently installing a system to harvest methane (natural gas) from manure on a large dairy farm in the riding.
Being a member of the Green Party of Canada puts him at a disadvantage to the other more established political parties, partly because of media bias (for example, party leader Elizabeth May being excluded from the Leaders’ debates), and partly because the party is relatively new and small. The question format at the South Mountain all-candidates’ debate was designed to effectively exclude him, to the advantage of Guy Lauzon. When the Cornwall Chamber of Commerce tried to use a similar ruse, there was enough of an outcry they had to change their format at the last minute.
Walsh’s biggest challenge is the size of his party, and that realistically he can expect only a handful of colleagues in the House. This can be a serious disadvantage to any member. However, anyone present at any of the debates will know that Walsh is outspoken, knows what he is talking about, fears nobody, and is not a person to back down from what he believes is right.
Darcy Neal Donnelly
Representing the Libertarian Party is Darcy Neal Donnelly. His basic platform is that taxes should be voluntary, and the government should not be expected to do anything for Canadians.
A couple of questioners at the debates did succeed in pinning him down to providing specific answers. For Canadians with health issues, he suggested waiting a long time for public healthcare, going to the private sector, or waiting for Doctors without Borders. To finance his idea of government without taxes, he noted that as 90% of Canada is crown land, it should be put up for sale (possibly through ReMax?).