Change in direction top-of-mind issue for voters, some candidates say

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Casey's decision to switch parties not a concern for voters

TRURO - One of the biggest issues that Liberal candidate Karen Casey is hearing during her door-to-door campaign throughout Colchester North is the desire for change.

Colchester North voter Shannon Benoit will be marking her ballot for Liberal candidate Karen Casey in next Tuesday's provincial election. The fact the former Progressive Conservative MLA crossed the floor between terms is not an issue of concern, she said.

"And they say that without any questioning from me," Casey said during an interview with the Truro Daily News regarding the general dissatisfaction she is hearing about the current NDP government.

‘"We need a change,'" Casey said of the doorstep sentiment. ‘"We can't have another four years of this.'"

If there is one thing Casey can relate to - it's change.

This is Casey's third provincial election campaign but her first as a candidate for the Liberal Party.

Having grown up in the midst of a Progressive Conservative family, when Casey decided to enter politics following more than 30 years as an educator, she naturally chose that party in which to run.

In 2006 and again in 2009 she ran successful campaigns, taking more than 50 per cent of the riding's votes in each election. During that period, she also gained ministerial experience with the PCs in the departments of education and health.

But in January 2011, Casey's long-held association with the PCs came to a stormy end when she crossed the floor and became a member of the Liberal Party of Nova Scotia. It was a move that came with much consternation from those within the Progressive Conservative fold and which has continued to follow her into this campaign.

From Casey's perspective, however, it was much-needed change in order for her to stay true to her own political beliefs and one she believes is best for the constituents she serves.

"I think it's generally accepted that people are not influenced by that," she said, of the floor crossing, despite calls from within the PC camp that legislation should be enacted for forced by-elections when an MLA decides to change parties.

"In fact, I'm hearing people saying, ‘we don't know why you did it but we believe it was for the right reason.'"

And as voters "watch the tactics of the others now," she said, "they recognize there was good reason."

But the end of the day, regardless of what party is represented, Casey believes the most important element between a voter and their elected representative is how their concerns are received and dealt with.

"When you are elected as an MLA your constituency office is completely non partisan," she said. "You can't be seen to be working for or with any political party. You are there to work for your constituents. And when you start mixing party politics with your role as an MLA then you are really doing a disservice to some of your constituents. That's not what I was elected to do. I was elected to represent and be a voice for my constituents and so that's what I've stood up for and that's what I continue to do."

Listening to the criticism from her former PC colleagues about her party switch, however, leaves Casey believing "... that they do not understand what an MLA's office should be all about."

And it's certainly not what the voters she has been communicating with are concerned about, she said.

Constituency resident Shannon Benoit agreed.

"Way bigger issues than somebody crossing the floor, in my opinion," she said, in regard to such concerns as education and health care.

Benoit said she has looked at the platforms being offered by all three parties and at the end of the day, the Liberals came out on top, in part because of the local candidate.

"I believe what Karen stands for. I believe she has done a great job with her constituents in the area thus far. I just think that she's very personable," she said. "I think she's a really up front and honest person. She says what's on her mind and it's not a facade. She tells you the truth, not what you want to hear, basically."

In 2009, when the NDP was given its first opportunity to take the provincial reins, people wanted change and were optimistic that a new government could deliver the promises upon which they were elected. But Casey said the message she is receiving is that that didn't happen.

"There seems to be a disappointment and a dissatisfaction with what hasn't transpired," she said, of concerns over the province's economical woes and job creation issues.

That sentiment is shared by John K. MacDonald, the riding's PC candidate in this election, who said 85 to 90 per cent of the people he has spoken to after knocking on more than 2,500 doors, are also demanding change.

"Not necessarily change only in government but change in the direction we're running this province," he said.

The primary concerns coming from rural voters, MacDonald said, surround the need for assistance for small business and the agricultural industry while those in the urban areas of the riding are "quite concerned about the high tax rates and the power rates."

"That's what I'm primarily hearing form the heavily populated areas of my constituency," he said.

But MacDonald said he believes the issue of an MLA switching parties between elections is also important because the constituents should know the person they supported at the election booth continues to share common interests and direction.

Another voter from the riding, who did not wish to have his name published, said he has not spoken to any of the three candidates. But he said the PC's platform on job creation, moving away from defined pension plans for MLAs, tax cuts and the party's position against providing forgivable loans to large corporations were the deciding factors in winning his vote.

"I do not like the NDP's platform," the man said. "They've given too much away to big corporations when they said they were not going to when they were voted in. And they have broken too many promises. We're tired of them."

And while his wife will be voting Liberal, the man said, one sentiment they share is that Casey's decision to cross the floor is not an issue.

Jim Wyatt, the NDP candidate - who like MacDonald is taking his first run for political office - also does not see it as an election issue and he is not in favour of holding a by-election if an MLA crosses the floor between terms.

Rather, he said, the people he has spoken to are more concerned about ensuring the province has a balanced budget - a factor that Wyatt is proud to proclaim has been achieved by the current government.

But they are also concerned about such issues as high power rates, taxation and household revenue.

"The issues at the doorstep are all over the place," Wyatt said. "I still think the biggest issues most people are facing are family budgets."


Twitter: @tdnharry

Colchester North Candidate profiles:

Name: Jim Wyatt

Party: NDP

Age: (not provided)

Resides: Portapique

Married to: Joy Laking



Name: John K. MacDonald

Party: Progressive Conservative

Age: 70

Resides: Brule

Married to: Antoinette (Toni) LeDrew



Name: Karen Casey

Party: Liberal

Age: 63

Resides: Valley, family home in Bass River

Married to: Glen



Organizations: NDP, Liberal Party, Truro Daily News

Geographic location: Colchester North, Bass River

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