Nickel Belt riding looks to be up for grabs on Monday

The federal election race in the riding of Nickel Belt is imminent.

Outgoing MP Marc G. Serré and NDP candidate Andréane Chenier are face to face in national opinion polls, and experts predict the New Democrat has a serious chance of overthrowing the Liberal candidate.

Newly released NDP platform for northern Ontario gives the party an edge over the competition, and many constituents in the riding are unhappy with the Liberal government’s decision to call an election during the fourth wave of the pandemic .

But the Liberal Party’s nationwide chances of victory remain strong as voters prepare to go to the polls on Monday, experts said.

“It’s a surprisingly close election. When the elections were called, I would have thought that Marc Serré, who is quite well-liked and who has a good organization on the ground, would be a good shot, ”said Nipissing University political scientist David Tabachnick.

“But it looks like the NDP candidate has one hell of a chance. Depending on where you are looking, it might even be in the lead.

The electoral district of Nickel Belt is one of two federal electoral districts serving the City of Greater Sudbury.

Covering 30,490 square kilometers, the constituency includes parts of Greater Sudbury and the District of Sudbury in addition to small portions of Timiskaming, Manitoulin Island, West Nipissing and Parry Sound.

Census subdivisions in the constituency include Cartier, Gogama, Killarney, St. Charles, Markstay-Warren and Whitefish Lake.

Nickel Belt has been represented in the House of Commons since 1953. According to Statistics Canada, it has 90,962 inhabitants and 72,134 people registered on the electoral roll.

The riding has historically flip-flopped between the Liberal Party of Canada and the NDP.

The incumbent defeated NDP candidate Stéphane Paquette in the 2019 election by 3,390 votes. Serré has been the Liberal MP for Nickel Belt since 2015.

The latest projections on predict that the riding of Nickel Belt will see one of the closest races to northern Ontario and is considered a failure.

Serré and Chenier are in the lead against Green Party candidate Craig Gravelle, Conservative Party candidate Charles Humphrey and People’s Party candidate David Hobbs.

Tabachnick said the NDP’s chances of securing a pickup in the riding of Nickel Belt were bolstered, in part, by its platform targeting northern Ontario.

“I think the NDP leadership has done a good job, which is why the seemingly safe riding of the Nickel Belt has become very competitive,” he said.

“The Northern Ontario Platform, which I think is fairly well written for a regional platform, recognizes that the North has specific needs that are different from other regions. The NDP is the only party that mentions, for example, the return of the Northlander rail service to our region.

The platform also addresses emigration and the Laurentian University insolvency crisis.

“We want people born here to get their education here at universities, then find gainful employment and raise their families here, and also bring new people to the area,” Tabachnick said.

“There are various programs mentioned in the northern platform as well as a specific mention around some of the issues around LU. Of course, it’s provincial jurisdiction, but there are things they can do.

Preserving post-secondary education in French – whether at the University of Sudbury or elsewhere – will be of particular concern in the riding of Nickel Belt, he added.

According to Statistics Canada, 38% of the population of the riding has French as their main language.

In addition, just over half of households in Nickel Belt speak both French and English at home, compared to 11.2% of households in Ontario.

“There are also very specific concerns about things like infrastructure, roads, services and broadband internet access that are important to the more rural and northern areas of the constituency,” Tabachnick said.

Nickel Belt NDP MP France Gelinas said the stories you hear in the riding depend on the region you visit. Due to the immense size of the constituency, voters tend to have very different experiences.

“If you visit shopping malls in areas like Hanmer, Walden and Chelmsford, you will see that many small businesses have been forced to close because they couldn’t get through the pandemic,” she said.

“They are not happy. They are very stressed. Not only has the pandemic been hard on all of us, but they have lost the ability to make a living. I can’t say I blame them.

Voters who live south of Sudbury in communities like the French River, Saint-Charles and Sturgeon Falls are not very happy right now either, she added.

“They are very dependent on tourism. Due to the pandemic, last year was a complete collapse and the year before there was a big fire in the area which shut down many of these businesses, ”she said.

“They are providers. These are the people who own campgrounds, hotels and restaurants. They live people who visit the area during the summer.

On the flip side, there are other parts of the Nickel Belt riding that have done relatively well during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Most of the mines are in the Nickel Belt in areas like Garson and Onaping, for example. Mining was an essential service during the pandemic, so most of the people who work in mining kept their jobs, ”she said.

“For these voters, there seems to be more of a mix. Those who were Liberals are happy and those who were NDP want them back to power.

The northernmost part of the constituency, which includes communities like Mattagami and Gogama, also tends to be happier.

“There’s a whole new gold mine opening up in front of them – the Cote Gold project from IAMGOLD,” she said.

“IAMGOLD has hired hundreds of people and is still looking to hire more. Many people who come from the watershed see the opportunity to return. I would say that part of the riding is happier.

Although attitudes vary, Gelinas said a few issues are being raised across the board.

“Access to health care is enormous. Those who live near Sudbury have access to Sudbury services, but if you go a little outside Sudbury, access to health care is always an issue, ”she said.

“Another problem you hear everywhere is the price of gas. “

The price of gas fluctuates a lot in parts of the Nickel Belt, Gelinas said.

“There is no public transit in many of these communities. There is no alternative but to drive, and the distances are often long. They would like the federal government to regulate the price of gasoline, ”she said.

Voters in Nickel Belt riding are also concerned about the government’s decision to call an election amid the pandemic.

“The Liberals will pay the price for Nickel Belt for calling an election right now,” said Gelinas, who campaigned door to door with Chenier, the federal NDP candidate.

“People are really scared of COVID-19, and a lot of people have asked for help getting a mail-in ballot because they don’t want to be exposed. “

She added that every time she knocks on a door, she hears the same thing.

“They say, I can’t believe Justin Trudeau spent $ 800 million of our taxes so he could try to get a handful of more Liberal MPs,” she said.

“People think now is not the right time, and he could have achieved his goals with a minority government.”

Tabachnick said he was surprised it was such a big deal in this federal election.

“Maybe because I’m a political scientist, I know that no minority government really lasts longer than two and a half years. For me, historically, calling an election now is not too early, ”he said.

“But this fourth wave kind of threw a wrench into this scenario, and I think people are just squatting.”

Having to change gears and start paying attention to the elections has been frustrating for some, he added.

“They just want to get back to their normal lives. They don’t want what some might consider an unnecessary distraction to get back to work or get the kids back to school, ”he said.

“I can understand the frustration, but for me it’s not a problem. What we want to hear from our politicians is how they would govern, what policies they have and how this post-pandemic economy and country is going to work. “

The Local Journalism Initiative is made possible through funding from the federal government.

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Twitter: @SudburyStar

Colleen Romaniuk, reporter with the Local Journalism Initiative, The Sudbury Star

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