Votes count here: Tight race forms between NDP and Liberals in Hull-Aylmer

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Hull-Aylmer candidates: Étienne Boulrice (CPC), Nycole Turmel (NDP), Greg Fergus (Liberal), Roger Fleury (Green), Maude Chouinard-Boucher (Bloc)


What's happening in this battleground riding?

Many labour unions and organizations have made no secret of their goal to get Stephen Harper out of the Prime Minister's Office.

But when the former president of a union is the one running for a seat, the race takes on a symbolic importance. That is exactly the situation in Hull-Aylmer, Quebec. NDP incumbent Nycole Turmel, the former president of Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) was considered to have a strong chance at re-election. But the surge of Liberals in the polls has turned this into a battleground riding.

Many of the hotly contested ridings are ones where voters have a chance of ousting the Conservatives. Hull-Aylmer is somewhat unusual -- or, it was -- in that it is a two-way race between between Turmel and Liberal candidate Greg Fergus. Fergus is currently about two points behind Turmel, with the Conservatives lagging far behind.

The NDP's waning popularity in Quebec seems to have hit Turmel. Larry Rousseau, the vice president of PSAC, says that it has become a key riding because, in part, of the niqab controversy becoming a wedge issue in Quebec. "When [Thomas] Mulcair started to lose that support, it also translated into some loss of support here in the region," he said.

With Turmel being PSAC's former president, there's a special connection between her and the union. "There was always a desire on the part of the PSAC to try to ensure that Nycole was returned to Parliament" said Morna Ballantyne, the special projects officer at PSAC.

However, PSAC members voted at their convention that their main priority is ensuring the Conservatives aren't re-elected and that they would not encourage members to vote for a certain candidate, according to Ballantyne.

The union has poured about $5 million into their "Stop the Cuts" campaign, aimed at raising awareness of government cuts to services.

And about 3,500 PSAC members live in Hull-Aylmer, according to Rousseau, making it an even more important riding for the union. Ballantyne said over the campaign they have been communicating with PSAC members both the importance of ousting the Harper government and Turmel's record.

According to Global News, Hull-Aylmer was a Liberal strong hold for many years. Turmel rode the orange wave in Quebec straight into her seat in the House of Commons in 2011. She's a popular parliamentarian who served as interim leader of the opposition after Jack Layton's death in Aug. 2011, and was later appointed opposition whip by Mulcair.

It has been a tough campaign. Turmel has been the subject of bizarre allegations that she has a terminal illness -- a rumor, according to the Ottawa Citizen, allegedly spread by Liberal campaign staffers. The Liberals have denied the accusations, while the NDP have filed a complaint with Elections Canada. Turmel's campaign spokespeople have also denied that she is ill.

And though Fergus has no experience serving as elected politician according to his website, he does have a lot of experience within the Liberal party, where he served as national director.

But Turmel's biggest challenge might be fighting the idea that to vote strategically, you have to vote Liberal. "A lot of people are talking about strategic voting now," Rousseau said. And because the national polls show the Liberals in the lead, strategic voters are swinging their way. Rousseau said that they have noticed that this attitude could lead to vote-splitting in certain ridings. 

However, Rousseau said that he was heartened to hear, while doing door-to-door canvassing over the Thanksgiving weekend, that the niqab debate was no longer at the forefront of people's minds. "Reason is starting to set in," he said. 

"It's as if people's attention started to switch back to, 'oh yeah, how is it that we're going to stop Harper?"

If you're interested in what happened in this riding in the 2011 election, look no further:

CPC 5,051; 10.05 per cent

NDP 29,553; 58.78 per cent

Liberals 10,302; 20.49 per cent

Green 1,012; 2.01 per cent

Bloc 4,362; 8.68 per cent

H.G. Watson is the associate editor at J-source and former rabble labour beat reporter. Follow her on twitter @HG_Watson.

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