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Newton-North Delta again too close to call

NDP Leader Jack Layton waded yesterday into a series of BC battleground ridings that have the potential to decide whether Stephen Harper will win a parliamentary majority next week.

A new poll suggests the Liberals are leading the Tories in Ontario and the Atlantic provinces. But no prediction is reliable when it comes to ridings like Newton-North Delta.

In 2006, fewer than 2,000 votes separated the victorious Liberal Sukh Dhaliwal from the third place NDP candidate. The difference was even smaller in 2004, the first election in which Newton-North Delta was a riding. And it’s likely to come down to a photo finish again this time around.

“If anything, the conditions that made a riding like that close last time have increased if it’s possible to be closer than that one was,” said Gerald Baier who teaches political science at the University of British Columbia. “This is one [riding] where a shift of five per cent of voters would easily help one of the candidates over the top.”

Things like Green voting, spillover from increasing support for the provincial NDP, and the arrival of new challengers could all make a decisive difference, according to Baier.

Not to mention the possibility of another political scandal in a riding that’s seen more than its share during its brief history.

“There is such a thing as bad publicity for a member of parliament,” Baier said in reference to the riding’s former Conservative MP Gurmant Grewal.

In the race so far, incumbent Liberal MP Sukh Dhaliwal raised eyebrows when it came to light that he had written a letter of support for a convicted drug trafficker, the original Green candidate John Shavluk dropped out days before the campaign started over comments that “could be construed as anti-Semitic” and independent candidate James William Miller-Cousineau appeared in court on charges of sexually assaulting a minor.

Layton’s visit to the riding and his appeals for support from Liberals, Greens and “people who used to be attached to the Progressive Conservative Party before they forgot about the idea of progress” were meant to draw a more positive kind of attention in the final days of the campaign. Not surprisingly, Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion and former future prime minister Stockwell Day have also stopped by in recent days.

As for the promises the candidates are making, Conservative hopeful Sandeep Pandher could not be reached for comment but the other two frontrunners agreed the economy is the most important issue for their constituents. The NDP’s Teresa Townsley also highlighted immigration and healthcare whereas Dhaliwal’s campaign manager, Al Payne, stressed crime and the environment, especially the protection of Burns Bog which he calls “one of the jewels of the community.”

That said, Townsley opposes the Gateway Project on ecological grounds while Payne says it doesn’t make sense to talk about strengthening the economy while opposing the megaproject.

“We just want to have Gateway done right so it doesn’t damage Burns Bog,” he said.

Rob Annandale reports for The Hook.

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