With the country marching toward an anticipated fall federal election, a number of interesting contests are shaping up in some of the almost two dozen ridings where sitting MPs have announced their retirement from politics.
Eight Liberal MPs have said they will not be running again. The Conservatives are losing seven incumbents to retirement, three NDP MPs are bowing out and the Bloc is losing two. Independent MP Jody Wilson-Raybould announced a month ago she won’t be running again.
Some of these ridings are considered safe seats for their incumbents’ parties. Others promise tight races between two or more parties.
“When a prominent long-time incumbent has held a seat and then retires, a party would have a little bit of natural nervousness because they would always look at that seat as a lock,” said Conservative strategist Tim Powers.
Case in point: the Newfoundland riding of St. John’s East, currently held by the NDP’s Jack Harris.
Harris won three of the last four races in that riding; he lost by a margin of just 1.4 per cent in 2015 before coming back to win in 2019 by 13.7 per cent.
The seat was the first to see a Liberal nomination contest for the coming election. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited St. John’s the week of July 26 — part of what a Liberal official told CBC News was an effort to shore up support in the area.
Anne McGrath, the NDP’s national director, said the party regrets losing a strong candidate and colleague like Harris.
“It is a loss for sure. But it also opens up opportunities for other folks who have been active in their community or active in the party to step up and to potentially become candidates,” she said. “You have to fight hard for every inch of support for every riding.’
Another competitive seat losing its incumbent is Ottawa Centre, where cabinet minister Catherine McKenna has announced she will not be running again. While she won the seat by a comfortable margin of 19.6 per cent in 2019, she squeaked by on a 4.1 per cent margin in 2015.
McGrath said that, with no incumbent and with the NDP representing the area at the provincial level, the party likes its chances in Ottawa Centre.
Ottawa Centre has a history of flipping between the two parties. The Liberals held the seat from 1988 to 2003; the NDP had it from 2004 to 2015.
“If somebody has been an MP for two or three terms and they do well and they get resoundingly supported, you’ve gotten used to putting that in your win column,” Powers said. “So when you make a change and that MP steps down, then there’s a little bit of uncertainty about it.”
The New Brunswick riding of Miramichi—Grand Lake and the Quebec riding of Trois-Rivières are two more districts that promise tight races.
The Liberals won Miramichi—Grand Lake by a margin of just 1.1 per cent of the vote in 2019, a steep decline from its 13 per cent margin in 2015. The riding has been held by the Conservatives (2008 to 2015) and the Liberals (1993 to 2008 and from 2015 on).
The 2019 election saw a very tight race in Miramichi—Grand Lake between the Liberals and the Conservatives, who split the vote there with 36.6 per cent and 35.7 per cent, respectively. The Greens came a distant third at 11.3 per cent. Liberal MP Pat Finnigan’s coming retirement puts a question mark over this riding.
Trois-Rivières is currently held by the Bloc Québécois; it won the riding back from the NDP in 2019 by a margin of just 2.4 per cent over the second-place Liberal candidate. It’s also shaping up to be a close three-way race. The NDP won the riding from the Bloc in 2011 and barely held it in 2015 by a margin of just 1.6 per cent.
The riding has been held in the past by both the Conservatives and the Liberals. In 2019, the race was a three-way contest between the Bloc (with 28.5 per cent of the vote), the Liberals (26.1 per cent) and the Conservatives (25.2 per cent).
Another interesting three-way race could take place in B.C.’s Vancouver Granville riding, now that Wilson-Raybould has announced she plans to retire.
Wilson-Raybould won the seat as a Liberal in 2015 by a margin of 17.1 per cent. After Trudeau removed her from caucus in 2019, she ran as an Independent and took the riding again by a much tighter 6 per cent margin.
The 2015 election also saw strong performances in Vancouver Granville from the NDP (26.6 per cent of the vote) and the Conservatives (26.1 per cent of the vote).
Not every retiring MP is leaving a battle behind.
Halifax West — currently held by former Speaker and Liberal MP Geoff Regan — and Moose Jaw Lake Centre Lanigan, currently held by the Conservatives’ Tom Lukiwski, are shaping to deliver much the same results they did in years past after their incumbents retire with the coming election.
Regan has served uninterrupted as the MP for Halifax West since 2000. He won the seat in 2019 by a margin of 30.2 per cent, down from his margin of 53 per cent in 2015. Moose Jaw Lake Centre Lanigan has remained in Conservative hands since its creation in 2015; Lukiwski won it by a 54.1 per cent margin in 2019.
Liberal and Conservative party officials say they don’t expect those ridings to change hands this time. And while it’s likely that the P.E.I. riding of Malpeque — a riding represented by Liberal MP Wayne Easter that’s been in the Liberal column since 1988 — will stay Liberal this year, it’s not a certainty.
In 2019, Easter won the riding with a margin of 14.9 per cent, taking 41.4 per cent of the vote to the Greens’ 26.5 per cent and the Conservatives’ 25.6 per cent. With Green Party Leader Annamie Paul now engaging in open conflict with party brass, the Greens’ poll numbers have sagged and it’s not clear where disgruntled Green supporters in the riding might send their votes.
“Historically, it probably has a better chance of being a Liberal seat than not, given Prince Edward Island’s, not unlike Newfoundland and Labrador’s, more established tendency to vote Liberal,” said Powers, adding that “… an individual candidate’s personality can also be an important factor in influencing outcomes, particularly in Atlantic Canada.”
Powers said that the Greens are well established in P.E.I. now, having formed the Official Opposition in the province’s legislature, and the Greens’ troubles at the national level might not affect their prospects in P.E.I.
Anna Keenan, the Green candidate in Malpeque, said Easter’s departure changes things on the ground in the riding.
“It was quite exciting for a lot of Green supporters when they heard that Wayne was not going to be running again,” Keenan told CBC News. “My response is a little bit more cautious. I think this definitely makes the race more exciting and higher stakes, but it doesn’t make our work easier.”
The current list of retiring MPs:
Larry Bagnell — Yukon
Navdeep Bains — Mississauga Malton
Bob Bratina — Hamilton East Stoney Creek
Wayne Easter — Malpeque
Pat Finnigan — Miramichi-Grand Lake
Paul Lefebvre — Sudbury
Geoff Regan — Halifax West
Catharine McKenna — Ottawa Centre
Kate Young — London West
Peter Kent — Thornhill
Tom Lukiwski — Moose Jaw Lake Centre Lanigan
Phil McColeman — Brantford-Brant
Cathy McLeod — Kamloops Thompson Cariboo
Bruce Stanton — Simcoe North
David Sweet — Flamborough Glanbrook
Diane Finley — Haldimand Norfolk [has already stepped down]
Louise Charbonneau — Trois Rivières
Simon Marcil — Mirabel
Scott Duvall — Hamilton Mountain
Jack Harris — St. John’s East
Mumilaaq Qaqqaq — Nunavut
Jody Wilson-Raybould — Vancouver Granville