Trying to win the riding

By: Emily Dickinson

With some candidates urging the cheering crowd not to vote Conservative, the debate on social assistance held last week could be seen as a low point for the Conservative candidate in Ottawa Centre, Rob Dekker.

The provincial election is just a week away, and Dekker, who didn’t show up to the debate- or three others that week- has been accused of not caring about social assistance or education.

The main organizer of the social assistance debate, Kevin Kinsella, said he wasn’t shocked at Dekker’s absence. He said it wouldn’t make sense for him to come, as the crowd of over a 120 people was probably made up of Liberal and NDP supporters.

“Why would he show up? It’s a symbol of how disrespectful he is to people who can’t work,” said Kinsella.

But Dekker’s work experience says otherwise. He currently sits as the president of the board of trustees at Daybreak, a non-profit organization that helps people find social housing.

He said he isn’t running away from debates, he just has to balance his time so he can speak to as many people as possible. Considering he wasn’t chosen as the candidate for the riding until early August, he has had less time to campaign than the other candidates. He would rather spend the two hours of debate time on going door-to-door.

“That’s 200 more people to talk to one-on-one,” he said, which he probably deems more beneficial to him than trying to defend himself to a crowd of hostile voters.

Jonathan Malloy, professor of political science at Carleton University, explained that a debate is mostly comprised of partisans anyways, not people who are undecided about how they’ll vote.

Being the Conservative candidate in a riding that has never been Conservative is hard. Ottawa Centre has flipped between Liberals and New Democrats since it was created in 1966, but never the Tories.

Federally, the region isn’t known for being Conservative either.  The candidate who ran in the federal elections in the Spring, Damian Konstantinakos, didn’t attend many debates, either.  Although he didn’t win, he came in second, beating the Liberals, which is a pretty big accomplishment for this riding in particular.

“It seems like a pattern, maybe Dekker is following his federal counterpart,” said Malloy.

The riding, which includes Westboro, the Glebe, Centretown, Ottawa Civic Hospital and Carleton University, has three main demographics- students, young professionals, and people living off social assistance- not necessarily people you would expect to vote Conservative, explained Malloy.

But Dekker is aware of this. He said that the diversity of the riding is a challenge, but that’s what makes it an interesting place to run, because there’s always someone to help.

Although another scheduling conflict made him unable to attend the debate Tuesday at Carleton University, he will be attending broadband debates where all topics, including education and social assistance will be discussed. Maybe he will be able to show residents of Ottawa Centre where he stands and change their minds, if they haven’t been made up already.

Malloy said it’s highly unlikely that Ottawa Centre will chose a Conservative. This may be true, but judging from the number of blue lawn signs, it’s hard to know for sure. Dekker said he has had only been greeted warmly door-to-door, and said most people are sick of the McGuinty government’s broken promises.

“I like our chances of winning,” said Dekker, who thinks that 2011 will be the first time Ottawa Centre is represented at Queen’s Park by a Conservative MPP.

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