Federal election: Cumming, Boissonnault neck and neck as Edmonton Centre remains a toss up

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Federal election: Cumming, Boissonnault neck and neck as Edmonton Centre remains a toss up

Author of the article:

Anna Junker, Jonny Wakefield

Edmonton Centre Liberal candidate Randy Boissonnault speaks to the media outside his campaign office, late Monday night Sept. 20, 2021.
Edmonton Centre Liberal candidate Randy Boissonnault speaks to the media outside his campaign office, late Monday night Sept. 20, 2021. Photo by David Bloom /Postmedia

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It was too early to declare a winner in the battleground of Edmonton Centre Monday, one of the city’s closest electoral contests of the 2021 federal election.

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Edmonton Centre was neck-and-neck as of publication time Monday, with Conservative James Cumming and Liberal Randy Boissonnault virtually tied with votes still being counted. NDP candidate Heather MacKenzie was a close third, followed by People’s Party of Canada candidate Brock Crocker.

With more than 3,000 mail-in ballots to be counted Tuesday, an official result looked unlikely Monday night.

Speaking to reporters outside his campaign office just before midnight, Boissonnault projected confidence and said it is clear there are a lot of progressives in Edmonton Centre.

“What we saw tonight is that Edmontonians have expressed in Edmonton Centre a real desire to see a progressive agenda,” he said.

“I think it’s a clear message for us to make sure that we deliver on affordable housing and … $10-a-day childcare, to make sure that we work across the aisle to make this parliament work, and while we’re waiting for the results we’re going to be able to reflect on what that means in Edmonton Centre.”

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He added he will wait to see what happens with the mail-ballots but is “very confident” about what he’s seen so far.

“It’s a roller-coaster. And right now we’re in a part of the roller-coaster where we just have to wait, the ride isn’t over yet. We need to see what the rest of the votes are.”

Edmonton Centre was one of a handful of Alberta ridings expected to be competitive in 2021, after a Conservative near-sweep in the 2019 election.

Deputy prime minister Chrystia Freeland campaigned for Boissonnault in this year’s contest, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole appeared at a campaign event alongside Cumming, while NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh campaigned with MacKenzie.

None of the three leading campaigns held big election night events due to COVID-19 public health measures. Cumming’s team watched the returns at a west Edmonton pub, while Boissonnault cancelled a campaign event at the downtown Matrix Hotel. MacKenzie’s team did not hold an event, either.

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Cumming declined to comment Monday evening, pending further results.

Federal Conservative candidate James Cumming after his win in 2019.
Federal Conservative candidate James Cumming after his win in 2019. Photo by Ed Kaiser /00088784A

Edmonton Centre is the city’s densest riding, encompassing all of central Edmonton from Yellowhead Trail to the North Saskatchewan River between 97 and 156 Streets.

Boissonnault and Cumming have both served as the community’s MP. For the past two races, their campaign offices have been across the street from one another on Jasper Avenue.

Boissonnault is a former Rhodes Scholar who served as special adviser to the prime minister on LGBTQ2 issues. He spent his time since 2019 working as a consultant, including for the Westminster Foundation for Democracy.

Cumming is past CEO of the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce who served as O’Toole’s shadow minister for COVID-19 economic recovery. He said he was campaigning in memory of his son Garrett, who lived with Duchenne muscular dystrophy and died in March, aged 35.

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MacKenzie is a former school trustee and executive director of a renewable energy non-profit.

NDP candidate Heather MacKenzie in a file photo from 2013.
NDP candidate Heather MacKenzie in a file photo from 2013. Photo by Photo Supplied /Photo Supplied

Edmonton Centre has a history of changing hands between Liberals and Conservatives. Liberal deputy prime minister Anne McLellan held Edmonton Centre from 2004 to 2006, followed by nine years of Conservative Laurie Hawn.

Hawn announced his retirement in 2014, clearing the way for Boissonnault, who beat Cumming by just over two percentage points.

Cumming went on to win in 2019 by more than eight points, during an election fought largely over pipelines.

Boissonnault’s campaign advertisements urged progressive voters in the riding to support the Liberals rather than MacKenzie and the NDP. Some ads urged voters not to “double down” on Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s handling of the COVID-19 campaign.

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Boissonnault also said he regretted his conduct during the SNC-Lavalin hearings, during which he aggressively grilled then-Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould.

MacKenzie disagreed with Boissonnault’s concerns about vote-splitting.

“I don’t think that Randy’s concerns are borne out, but I do think that there are enough progressives in Edmonton Centre for us to have an NDP member of Parliament,” she said late Monday night.

According to Elections Canada, voters in Edmonton Centre returned more than 3,000 mail-in ballots. The counting of those votes won’t begin until Tuesday at the earliest.

jwakefield@postmedia.com

twitter.com/jonnywakefield

ajunker@postmedia.com

twitter.com/junkeranna

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