Harper visits Hamilton to make routine announcement - it's all about winning in 2015

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Prime Minister Stephen Harper paid Hamilton a visit to unveil Canada’s newest crop of Vanier Scholars. McMaster will house six scholars this year. There are 167 scholars this year.

So, why did Harper choose to make a national announcement at Hamilton’s McMaster University?

McMaster’s number of Vanier scholars is within the expected range for its size and doctoral offerings.

As is the case with most appearances by politicians, it’s a political calculation – Harper’s courting Hamilton voters.

Why Hamilton voters you say, haven’t they voted NDP for years and Liberal before that?

Hamilton’s ridings have been gone NDP or Liberal, but there have been large pockets of Conservative votes within the City.

The key to the 2015 Federal Election will be the new ridings being born in 2013 when electoral ridings are redrawn. Redistricting occurs every decade and the Conservatives see it opening a huge opportunity from them in Hamilton.

This is the first of many visits we will see from Prime Minister Harper in the next four years as his party works to build and keep up public awareness of their brand.

The Conservatives invested a great deal of time and energy making routine announcements in the 905 GTA ridings between the 2008 and 2010 elections.

Their focus on these ridings paid off in a majority government. They won Mississauga from the Liberals (even taking Michael Ignatieff’s Toronto riding of Etobicoke—Lakeshore on the other side of the Toronto-Mississauga border). On the east side of the Toronto border, they took Ajax-Pickering from Mark Holland in one of the biggest upsets of the night.

There will be 21 new ridings created in Ontario, one for every about 620,000 people (based upon the 2006 Census, the 2011 Census will be the basis for distribution of the new ridings). Hamilton’s city population in 2006 was 504,559. Hamilton’s urban area population was 647,634 – just over the number for the potential creation of a new riding in Ontario.

Ontario’s population densities have significantly changed since 2001.

The ridings in the North GTA are experiencing an explosion in population growth creating a disparity in the value of votes in the region. (Wikipedia provides a listing of ridings by population) The riding of Brampton West is Canada’s most populous riding with 170,422 people in 2006. (Compared to Canada’s least populous riding, a vote in Brampton West hold a sixth of the value.) The riding of Halton is Canada’s fifth most populous at 151,943; when boundaries were last drawn the population was 100,055. Hamilton Mountain is the most populous in our city with 122,729 residents.

Halton will be split apart in 2013.

The ridings east of Halton in Mississauga are all over-populated and it is likely that a new Mississauga riding will spill over into Oakville, pushing the Oakville riding into Burlington. It’s a domino effect that will push into Hamilton. More often than not, the Aldershot region of Burlington has shared a riding with the western part of Wentworth County (the former county that is now the City of Hamilton).

Flamborough (with its explosive population growth as well) could form part of a new riding with parts of Burlington and potentially portions of Halton near the county-City of Hamilton line.

Ancaster could become part of a new West Mountain riding if Hamilton Mountain is split. A West Mountain riding would include the segment of Hamilton Centre located on the escarpment. The East Mountain can form a reborn Wentworth East riding with the Stoney Creek portions of Hamilton East-Stoney Creek and Niagara West-Glanbrook. This leaves Hamilton East and Hamilton West (including Dundas and Westdale in this scenario) as two ridings in the lower city.

Hamilton East – Stoney Creek is two distinct voting blocs merged into one riding. The Hamilton East half of the riding is an NDP fortress (with many polls in the riding being NDP strongholds even during the reign of Sheila Copps) and the Stoney Creek half a swing riding up for grabs between the Liberals and Conservatives.

The escarpment segment of the current Hamilton Centre riding votes Conservative.

These polls are swept aside by the current swells from the NDP fortress that is lower Hamilton. Remove them from the lower city, merge the NDP fortress into one riding and you have opportunity for the Conservatives to pick up seats within Hamilton.

In the days after the May election, local Liberals meet to regroup. Local Conservatives met, with excitement, to plan their 2015 election strategy with redistribution in mind.

The Conservatives looked at the poll-by-poll results and saw they have geographically concentrated blocs of voters divided by the current riding boundaries. With redistribution in 2013, Hamilton’s political landscape could change in their favour consolidating these blocs within favourable riding boundaries.

The 2003 redistribution started the change from Liberal Red to NDP Orange in the core surrounded by a sea of Conservative Blue. The redistribution of Hamilton East into a riding with lower Stoney Creek resulted in the end of Sheila Copps as the local political strongman.

The local political landscape changed like never before. The local political class learned the lessons of 2003 and are applying them to 2015.