Political Perspectives is produced by the students and faculty of Carleton University's School of Journalism and Communication, Canada's oldest journalism school.


Love’m or hate’m

Posted by padams under Election 2008, Election 2008 Campaign strategy, Election 2008 Student articles

Monique Muise

Ottawa West-Nepean

Whether they love him or hate him, Canadians are likely in for a lot more interesting sound bites from the House of Commons courtesy of outspoken Conservative MP John Baird.

The environment minister and former President of the Treasury Board claimed the hotly-contested riding of Ottawa West-Nepean last night by a significant margin over Liberal candidate David Pratt – a one-time Liberal cabinet minister. With 200 of 254 polls reporting a little before 12:30 a.m., Baird had 17,607 votes to Pratt’s 14,696.

The riding was one of the most closely-watched in the country, with the Liberals hoping to unseat Baird and rob Stephen Harper of one of his most prominent ministers. But as the campaign wore on,  it became clear that it would take a much stronger national campaign to swing the contest in the Grit’s favour.

While the race seemed tight for a time during the evening, the air of cautious optimism at Baird’s campaign headquarters on Carling Avenue quickly turned to one of triumphant jubilation as his victory was confirmed just before 10:30 p.m. A short time later, the newly-elected Baird took to the stage to the deafening cheers of over 100 supporters, who waved signs and toasted their candidate with blue-colored martinis.

“I think this is the first time in three generations that a Conservative has not only been elected, but has been re-elected (in this riding),” the 39-year-old Tory incumbent proclaimed. “I want to say thank you, thank you, thank you.” (In fact, the current riding only dates back a little more than a decade, but it is true that the area has had a long-standing Liberal leam”)

Pratt, 53, watched the results from a community hall on Byron Avenue, and then made a brief appearance at the nearby Conservative headquarters to congratulate his opponent.

“Well, I’m kinda’ sorry I lost,” he said jokingly when asked for his reaction to the Conservative win. “But that’s politics, and I thought that it was closer than most people expected and that’s a reflection of the good campaign that we ran.”


It was the third loss in a row for the former Liberal Defence Minister who, in one of the major upsets of the 2004 election, was ousted from his Nepean-Carleton seat by then-26-year-old Pierre Poilievre.

Throughout the five-week race, Pratt repeatedly took aim at Baird’s record, claiming the Conservative candidate often made promises he could not keep or took credit for things he had little to do with. Among the Liberal’s favorite examples were Baird’s apparent failure to deliver on a promise of federal funding for a new trades centre at Algonquin College — Baird claimed the money was in fact transferred — and his decision to withhold funding for an expansion of Ottawa’s light rail network until after the 2006 municipal election. The new city council subsequently scrapped the plan.

Pratt also criticized Baird’s political style, claiming that his fiercely-partisan approach to debates promoted divisions within the community.

Since making the jump from provincial to federal politics in 2006, Baird has earned a reputation as one of the most boisterous and outspoken members of the House of Commons. But he seemed to shelve his usual combative temperament during this election race, adopting a zen-like campaign persona that showed few cracks even when faced with a direct attack. He repeatedly backed down from confrontations with his opponents, and on numerous occasions, publicly declared that he had nothing negative to say about Pratt, New Democrat candidate Marlene Rivier, or Green candidate Frances Coates.

“Any one who knows him knows he works well with people despite his approach in the House of Commons,” said Chris Froggatt, Baird’s campaign manager. “I think the voters made a decision tonight and agreed with that.”

Froggatt acknowledged that the Tories have their work cut out for them in Ottawa West-Nepean. The riding of 109,000 has the second-highest unemployment rate in Eastern Ontario, and the lowest average family income in Ottawa. Despite these challenges, he maintained that Baird is the right man for the job.

Pratt, who will now be taking some time off from politics and working for the Red Cross, said his team was at a disadvantage from the start because they had to pull together a campaign on short notice when the election was called. He also admitted that the lack of a strong national momentum behind the Liberal party meant that he had to work harder to garner local support.

“I would have appreciated a little bit more wind in the sails from the standpoint of the national campaign,” he said. “But you have to accept that sometimes you don’t have that…I wouldn’t have done anything differently.”

While the riding was largely a battle between the Conservatives and the Liberals, the other two major parties also garnered some support. The NDP and the Green Party earned 5,037 and 2,721 votes, respectively.

Monique Muise is a student in the Master of Journalism program at the School of Journalism and Communication at Carleton University.