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Halifax-Chebucto district for grabs 

Gregor Ash, Joachim Stroink and Christine Dewell vie to replace the retiring Howard Epstein.

click to enlarge Gregor Ash
  • Gregor Ash
For the first time in 20 years, how Halifax-Chebucto votes is anyone’s guess. When four-time incumbent Howard Epstein announced in January he wouldn’t re-offer, he left a question mark in his wake.

Province-wide the Liberals are in the lead with 48 percent of decided voters, followed by the NDP with 28 percent and the Conservatives with 23 percent, according to the most recent poll by Corporate Research Associates (the margin of error was 4.9 per cent). Twenty-two percent were undecided.

The poll suggests public dissatisfaction with the province’s first NDP government, captained by Darrell Dexter. But it remains to be seen whether strident NDP supporters will give Dexter another shot, and, at the district level, whether Epstein’s replacement will make a difference.

Having a posse can’t hurt. Halifax Chebucto’s new NDP candidate Gregor Ash has knocked on doors accompanied on occasion by Epstein, Halifax MP Megan Leslie and former NS NDP leader Alexa McDonough, who also held the riding in the 1980s.

That Epstein joined him on two occasions says something. In two cases, once in 2009 and again in 2012, Dexter shut Epstein out of cabinet.

“I’d be lying if I said there weren’t people holding it against him,” Ash says of NDP supporters in Halifax-Chebucto.

Dexter and Epstein openly disagreed on NDP policy, including the environment and the economy, but Ash says he’s midway between the two politically. He cares about the environment, but sees a balanced budget as a priority.

click to enlarge Joachim Stroink
  • Joachim Stroink
As a federal candidate last election and with a profile associated with CKDU, the Halifax Pop Explosion and the Atlantic Film Festival, Ash is a known name with experience on the campaign circuit. “Of the unknowns I’m a fairly well known, if that makes sense.”

Ash’s face is prominently displayed in front of Epstein’s freshly painted porch. Duplicates of the sign circle the block and sprinkle the street.

Voters in his district are educated and middle class, and they pay close attention to larger provincial issues including education, health care and the environment, Epstein says.

The latest polling data doesn’t show that the Liberals are doing well, but that the government is doing itself in, Epstein argues.

Epstein thinks Ash has the edge, though he concedes the Liberals will likely increase their standing.

Halifax Chebucto voters have switched from Liberal to NDP and back again since 1970. Before Epstein, Jay Abbass of the Liberals held the riding for a term. Before him, McDonough won it between 1981 and 1993. Before her, the Liberals had a good grip for just over a decade.

Christine Dewell
  • Christine Dewell
Liberal candidate Joachim Stroink believes he’s got a shot this election. Since he began knocking on doors seven months ago, the owner of the Trail Shop on Quinpool Road says voters, including NDP faithfuls, are starting to commit.

In one case, a man who said he always voted NDP told Stroink he wasn’t going to vote at all. At the end of the conversation the man said he would vote Liberal.

Stroink believes it’s a tight race between himself and Ash, but says he has a better shot now that Howard has retired. “Sure, it’s definitely an opportunity for change, and change is a healthy thing.”

Conservative candidate Christine Dewell says with NDP losses in the district, it’s a race between the Liberals and Conservatives.

As the only woman in the race, she says she has the edge. “I’m the only woman on the bill [and] I think voters are looking for a new face.”

Dewell comes from a Tory family that’s well-known in the district. She’s hoping to gain support from young families by talking about health care, jobs for young people and class sizes.

NDP supporters are telling her they’re not voting NDP this election. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they’re not committing to vote PC either. The last time a Conservative won the riding was in 1967.

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