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The B.C. Pundit Panel talks about the importance of local campaigns

Dawn Black, left, and George Abbott are former B.C. MLAs.

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

Each week during the campaign, former MLAs George Abbott and Dawn Black have been joining us for an online chat about the issues of the election. This week, our panel of experts discusses the importance of local campaigns with The Globe's Gary Mason.

So why do local efforts matter?

Abbott: High-quality local candidates running strong campaigns can close a gap of up to 15 per cent, particularly if there is a weak opposing candidate.

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Black: I've been a campaign manager in the past in ridings where the NDP were not expected to win. Getting out of the gate quickly and forcefully makes a huge difference. I'm not sure a local candidate can make a 15-per-cent difference, though. The political science on local candidates indicates they only make a 2- to 5-per-cent difference. Of course, nobody who runs as a candidate believes that.

Abbott: I've always thought that the political scientists underestimated the local factor at 2 to 5 per cent. We wouldn't have half a dozen Green and Independent candidates with a legitimate shot at winning were the margin so small. A much-needed new hospital, a school that is falling down, these are the kinds of issues that will move centrist voters.

One of the more interesting local races is Delta South, where independent Vicki Huntington is seeking re-election without any party machine to support her.

Black: Local issues played a big role in Delta South in 2009. Sometimes a local issue can grab the attention of the people in a specific riding, but more often people vote on provincial issues.

Abbott: The data I have seen suggests that Huntington has a very good shot at re-election. A lot of her support comes from previous B.C. Liberal voters who were disaffected in 2009, and whose mood has probably not improved after the HST controversy.

Mason: I think Vicki Huntington will get re-elected in South Delta, which is a fascinating development and, frankly, one that we should applaud. I like the fact that people might vote based on the candidate's stand on issues rather than whether they will get anything from government if they vote for the right party. That is local politics at its most basic.

On the flip side is Vancouver-Point Grey, where one of the local candidates is the Premier herself, who has spent hardly any time in her riding. Do you think constituents will cut Ms. Clark some slack because she's running a provincial campaign?

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Abbott: I think the voters do cut a provincial leader some slack. Clark's constituents see her every night on the news and know what she is doing and what her message is.

Black: Christy Clark has a difficult row to hoe being the Liberal Party Leader and expected to campaign across the province. However, her votes will come from the people in Point Grey and yes, I think they want their candidates to participate in local all-candidate debates.

What is the most important thing you can do to bump up your numbers as a local candidate?

Black: Door-knocking, door-knocking, door-knocking! Tried and true, and people appreciate candidates taking the time to visit them and listen to their opinions and concerns. It's much more difficult to connect with people by phone today.

Abbott: No. 1: Avoid saying anything stupid that will create doubts for voters. No. 2: Get as many signs on private lawns as possible. It says to undecided voters, "If the Smiths are voting for Joe, that's good enough for me." No. 3: Knocking on doors is helpful, particularly if it produces a sign location.

Mason: I equate door knocking to a Fuller Brush salesperson forced to cold-call people at their homes to sell his/her wares. That has to be absolutely brutal.

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Black: Gary, I can count quickly the number of times a door has been slammed in my face. Yes, there a few times I was uncomfortable, but usually that was because I am a woman. The vast majority of people were polite even if they made it clear they wouldn't be supportive.

Abbott: When you send the local candidate out door-knocking, you give them the friendly polls to firm up support there. And Gary – when I went out, I sold Fuller Brush products and John Deere tractors at the same time. Very lucrative!

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