Strategic voting, or voting at all, common on doorsteps in Ottawa Centre

OTTAWA — Liberal MP Catherine McKenna bounds up and down the stairs in an apartment building just a few blocks from Parliament Hill, pushing to identify every last possible vote as the countdown clock ticks ever closer to election day.

A few blocks and an entire economic world away, NDP candidate Emilie Taman does the same thing in an Ottawa public housing building.

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The voters who answer their doors have any number of things on their mind — gun control, human rights, and climate change among them.

The environment has become a top issue in this election for the first time, and perhaps even more so in Ottawa Centre given McKenna has been environment minister for the last four years and introduced the much-debated national price on carbon.

Taman says climate probably comes up at 95 per cent of the doors.

Green candidate Angela Keller-Herzog says there is no other issue she hears about more often.

But at the doors in some apartment buildings in the riding less than five days before the vote, only one solitary voter brings up climate change on their own. The only common thread that emerges among these voters is not a policy at all: It's whether or not to vote strategically, or whether to even vote at all.

Taman, knocking on doors in a building notorious in downtown Ottawa for crime and drugs, spends as much time trying to convince people of the reasons to go to the polls as she does pushing them to support her.

"I'm Emilie Taman. I'm the NDP candidate for the election," she says to one gentleman who reluctantly opens his door. "Are you going to be voting?"

"Nope," he says with a shrug.

Across the hall and older couple tells her the same thing.

"Are you going to be voting?" she asks, as their dog winds its way around her legs.

"Not sure," the woman says as her husband ushers the barking dog back inside the apartment. "I'm just not sure yet."

Taman offers them a campaign flyer and tries to convince them to call her if they see anything in it they like.

Ottawa Centre's claim to electoral fame is that it is the riding that includes Parliament Hill. An urban riding that includes the downtown core of the national capital and several wealthy neighbourhoods that surround it, Ottawa Centre is also one of the most politically engaged, Keller-Herzog notes.

In 2015, 80 per cent of voters cast a ballot.

More than half the voting-age residents have university degrees, and more than one in five have a master's degree or PhD. Many work for the federal government and will be tasked with carrying out the policies of whichever party forms government.

It is also one of the few ridings where the contest doesn't mirror the national Liberal-versus-Conservative narrative. Since its creation in 1968, Ottawa Centre has shifted between the Liberals and New Democrats, except for the six months the Tories held the riding between a 1978 byelection and the 1979 federal election.

Carol Clemenhagen, an Ottawa-area health administrator, is carrying the Conservative banner this election. There are more than half a dozen other candidates on the ballot here, including a couple of independents and people representing smaller parties like the Communist Party of Canada and the Animal Protection Party of Canada.

Taman — it rhymes with salmon, she reminds one volunteer struggling to pronounce her surname at the door — and Keller-Herzog are clearly frustrated the Liberals and leader Justin Trudeau paint themselves as the only alternative to the Conservatives and their leader, Andrew Scheer.

But the thought is still on the minds of some voters here.

One woman tells McKenna she is not normally a Liberal supporter, but this year she "absolutely" is backing her to keep the Conservatives from winning.

Keller-Herzog is honest about what may happen.

"I've met lots and lots of people at the door who have told me 'for the first time I'm going to vote Green,'" she said. "The question is now that we're at the crunch time, whether they will fulfil that."

At one apartment, the resident speaks at length first with Taman's volunteers and then the candidate herself about the issues.

But he wonders aloud about the wisdom of supporting the NDP if the party doesn't have a chance to form government. Taman doesn't try to convince him New Democrats might win the most seats; instead she pushes back by saying the party could have an impact if the party wins enough seats and the Liberals don't get a majority.

"We always get better policies out of Liberals when they have a minority and when the NDP is strong," she tells him.

He remains unconvinced, but thanks her for her time.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Oct. 19, 2019.

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