UP FOR GRABS: Candidates to replace Victoria MP Denise Savoie will emerge soon

Victoria mayor Fortin, former Oak Bay mayor Causton, among names being tossed around

Victoria MP Denise Savoie has announced her retirement from federal politics due to health reasons. The race is on to find a replacement.

As federal political parties adjust to the surprise of Victoria MP Denise Savoie’s resignation last week, the focus is turning to potential candidates and hot-button issues for the likely fall byelection.

Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin is rumoured to be considering a run at the NDP nomination, an opportunity that would see him take leave of city hall during the climax of the Johnson Street Bridge project.

“He’s made it quite clear among friends that he’s got aspirations for higher office,” said Mat Wright, former communications director for 2011 Liberal candidate and former Oak Bay mayor Christopher Causton. “I think he’s going to look at this as an opportunity he can’t miss.”

Fortin’s office refused comment on his potential candidacy.

Former Conservative candidate Patrick Hunt said he will be making a decision next week on his candidacy. “I certainly haven’t ruled it out,” he said. “We’ll come with a game plan to win this time.”

As a rule, byelections do not favour the governing party and local candidates tend to be magnified more than in a general election, said University of Victoria political scientist Norman Ruff.

“All four parties have something to prove,” he said. “The NDP will want to retain (the seat) as continuing evidence of (Tom) Mulcair’s leadership appeal while the Liberals are hungry to regain the seat as a sign of some party revival.”

The Conservatives are able to run a strong campaign, Ruff added, while the Greens will be hoping for some “contagion” from Elizabeth May’s success in Saanich-Gulf Islands to become the first Green MP in 2011.

A byelection also provides more of an opportunity to capitalize on local issues than in a general election, said former Liberal MP David Anderson, who held the Victoria seat from 1993 to 2006.

While major national issues like the Enbridge pipeline project, environmental assessment cuts and a reduction in fisheries officers are going to weigh on voters’ choices, local concerns like the Capital Regional District’s secondary sewage treatment project – which Anderson opposes – could prove to be paramount to electoral success.

“This could be the sleeper that wins either the Liberals or the Greens the election,” Anderson said. “But it’s for the NDP to lose. They are the favourites.”

May said the Greens do advocate for regional sewage treatment, but that the proposed project – of which one-third will be funded by federal dollars – is not the right fit.

“The current system isn’t sustainable forever, but it’s certainly not an urgent crisis where we jump to the wrong system,” May said. “Municipally, provincially and federally, there are a lot of us who don’t think the solution that’s being proposed right now is the right one.”

The byelection provides the first democratic outlet for residents of Victoria, Oak Bay and a large portion of Saanich to voice their support or rejection of the controversial $782-million sewage treatment project, which will increase annual municipal taxes by hundreds of dollars per household.

“(Prime Minister) Stephen Harper’s leadership style will inevitably be the larger backdrop (in the byelection),” Ruff said.

Nathan Rotman, the NDP’s national director, called Savoie’s resignation disappointing and said the candidate nomination process will likely open after the Labour Day weekend.

“Certainly, we expect this to be a popular nomination race,” Rotman said, adding the federal government will likely call Victoria’s byelection this fall in conjunction with several others in Calgary Centre, Durham, Ont. and possibly Etobicoke, Ont.

“I would speculate it will be a late October call for a late November election date,” Rotman said.

The federal government has 180 days to call a byelection when a seat becomes vacant. If Victoria is not called until February, the byelection will occur in the middle of the provincial 2013 election campaign, an undesirable scenario for both levels of government.

Last Thursday, Savoie announced she would step down on Aug. 31 for unspecified health reasons. She served as Victoria MP for three terms since 2006, winning an impressive 50 per cent of the vote in the 2011 election.

Savoie’s challengers in the last federal election were Conservative Patrick Hunt, Jared Giesbrecht for the Greens and Christopher Causton, Liberal candidate and former Oak Bay mayor.

Causton could not be reached for comment on his interest in running for the Liberal seat this fall.

dpalmer@vicnews.com

Who’s in charge?

• Victoria MP Denise Savoie will step down Aug. 31.

• Nicole Turmel, the NDP whip, and her office will take over administration of Savoie’s office until a byelection is called, likely for this fall.

• Political representation for Victoria will be unofficially assumed by Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca MP Randall Garrison, a member of the NDP caucus.

What do you think?

– Give us your comments by email: editor@vicnews.com. All letters must have a name and a telephone number for verification.

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