Atlantic Canada is shaping up to be an interesting turf war to watch on election night.
Once a mix of blue and red, with a few specks of orange, all 32 seats across the region’s four provinces went to the Liberal Party in the red wave of 2015.
Four years later, that’s unlikely to happen again, according to Howard Ramos, a political sociologist and professor at Dalhousie University.
“It’s a region that’s definitely up for grabs,” Ramos said. “I think that probably in a worst-case scenario, the Liberals could lose as many as half of the seats that they gained and in a best-case scenario, lose just a few.”
“The elections in Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick show that Maritime voters are willing to vote for something different and experiment,” Ramos said. “It’s difficult to tell whether or not that’s going to translate into the federal vote in terms of anybody being elected, but I would expect their vote share to increase.”
While Atlantic Canada doesn’t play kingmaker in the same way the Greater Toronto Area does, the election is so far proving to be a “really tight” race and every seat in the region will matter to the overall outcome, argued Lori Turnbull, director of Dalhousie University’s school of public administration.
“Thirty-two seats are important,” the political science professor said. “I think strategically for the parties, none of them can afford to take a pass on an area or to ignore even the region with the smallest number of seats in it.”
With that said, here are four ridings to watch on the east coast in the weeks ahead:
Cape Breton—Canso, N.S.
Both Turnbull and Ramos said they’re watching this eastern Nova Scotia riding because of the potential for the Conservatives to secure a foothold in an area that has been Liberal territory for the last two decades.
Cape Breton—Canso has gone Liberal since 2000 but longtime MP Rodger Cuzner decided not to run for reelection in 2019.
The Conservative party is running a well-known politician in the riding, former PC MLA Alfie MacLeod. In contrast, the Liberal candidate, Mike Kelloway, doesn’t have as much name recognition, Turnbull noted.
“It’s not out of the ordinary for Cape Breton to vote Liberals, that’s pretty normal,” Turnbull said. “Do they continue with that trend or do they go with one of the other candidates who have a little bit more familiarity to them?”
The same situation is playing out in neighbouring Sydney—Victoria, which Ramos and Turnbull both said they’re monitoring as well.
Ramos said he hasn’t heard too many commentators talking about the race in Halifax but it’s one he’ll be watching very closely because it could turn into a tight, three-way race.
Before going Liberal in 2015, Halifax had been an NDP riding since 1997.
The New Democrats are no doubt hoping to deal a blow to the Liberals and take back the riding with candidate Christine Saulnier. Meanwhile, the Green Party, hungry to lure voters away from the Liberals and NDP, have put their deputy leader, Jo-Ann Roberts, on the ballot.
An upsurge in support for the Greens in Halifax, however, could split the progressive vote and end up helping Liberal incumbent Andy Fillmore in the end, Ramos said.
Turnbull said the Liberals’ roots may not be deep in Halifax but she thinks Fillmore has done his homework over the last six years.
“Andy knocks on doors all weekend, even when it’s not campaign season, even when it’s minus 40,” she said. “He’s very present in the riding. So I assume he’s going to run a very, very tight, very effective, very hard-working campaign.”
Commentators agree that if the Conservatives are going to have a significant comeback anywhere, it’ll be in New Brunswick.
The Conservatives used to hold a number of seats in the province before losing them in 2015. Ramos said he’ll be keeping an eye on ridings like Fredericton, which has in the past see-sawed between the Conservatives and the Liberals.
In Fredericton, the Conservative Party is running an experienced international business and economic development consultant, Andrea Johnson, against Liberal incumbent Matt De Courcey.
WATCH: 5 Ridings to Watch in the Canadian Election
How the Tories perform in New Brunswick — and the rest of Atlantic Canada — could set the tone for the rest of election night, Ramos said.
“This might be one of these elections where rather than turning off the TV after Ontario happens, we wait until the seats in British Columbia get counted, which means that in the early going, what happens in Atlantic Canada will be a forecast on what might happen to the rest of the country,” Ramos said.
“It will be very critical in determining whether or not we have a majority government or a minority government.”