H+K senior counsellor Hon. Don Boudria speaks to The Hill Times about former Toronto police chief Bill Blair’s future in politics. This piece ran in The Hill Times on May 8, 2015.

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Blair favourite to win close race in Scarborough Southwest in next election: poll

Bill Blair led in a public opinion poll in the riding of Scarborough Southwest with 42 per cent support, compared to incumbent NDP MP Dan Harris at 34 per cent, according to a Forum Research poll of 587 voters conducted April 26 and released yesterday.

If former Toronto police chief Bill Blair wins the Liberal nomination in Scarborough Southwest, Ont., he will also be the favourite candidate to win in the federal election this fall, says a new poll released by Forum Research.

Mr. Blair led in public opinion polling in the riding with 42 per cent support, compared to incumbent NDP MP Dan Harris at 34 per cent, according to a Forum Research poll released yesterday.

The poll, conducted with 587 voters in the riding on April 26, also showed that voters in the riding approved of both Mr. Harris and Mr. Blair equally at 44 per cent.

“While these two candidates are equally well-liked, it appears the greater name recognition that comes along with being chief of police will benefit Bill Blair in his campaign,” said Forum Research president Lorne Bozinoff in a statement.

The poll, accurate to within four percentage points 19 times out of 20, also shows that 33 per cent of respondents said they didn’t know whether they approved or disapproved of either Mr. Harris or Mr. Blair.

Summa Strategies’ Robin MacLachlan, a former NDP staffer, said although the poll result favoured Mr. Blair, it also indicated a close race between the two.

“Name recognition certainly matters, and Mr. Blair has that but, interestingly, from this poll, he seems to have similar name recognition to the incumbent MP, Dan Harris,” Mr. MacLachlan told The Hill Times. “On a small sample, he’s only eight points back from a high profile former police chief. If both of them are off a little bit, it’s almost within the margin of error. I would feel pretty good if I was Dan Harris because the Liberals did drop in a preferred candidate on a sitting progressive NDP MP. This poll shows it’s a really tight race between Dan Harris and Bill Blair.”

Hill+Knowlton Strategies’ Don Boudria, a former federal Liberal Cabinet minister, told The Hill Times, however, that Mr. Blair has a pseudo-incumbency because he was a public servant as the police chief.

“Don’t forget that they [residents of the riding] associate Mr. Blair as somewhat of an incumbent … because he’s serving the people. They say, ‘Dan Harris has served us.’ Okay, well they say, ‘So has the other guy, he’s served as our police chief.’ So there’s an element of pseudo-incumbency to his position and it probably explains he voters favouring him in some measure,” Mr. Boudria said.

Mr. MacLachlan said that while Mr. Blair is in the lead so far, “he does come with a lot of baggage.”

Mr. Blair was the police chief who oversaw the G-20 protests and supports random carding of civilians in non-criminal instances.

“Mr. Blair has a boost in name recognition, but does it outweigh the baggage he brings that would not resonate with the progressive voters that Liberals are trying to appeal to in Toronto?” Mr. MacLachlan said. “Combined with the backlash the Liberals are receiving for supporting Harper’s agenda on C-51 [Anti-terrorism Act] and attack on civil liberties, Mr. Blair’s candidacy kind of adds to the damage to the Liberal brand.”

Daisy Group consultant Warren Kinsella, a former Liberal ministerial staffer, agreed. He told The Hill Times: “Let’s just say that Bill Blair—he of the G20 police thuggery and carding of non-whites—will assist NDP candidates everywhere else, pretty much.”

But Mr. Boudria said if that were true, that it would have been reflected in the Forum poll.

Mr. MacLachlan also criticized the Liberal Party for wanting Mr. Blair to run in an NDP-held riding, when it could have parachuted him into the neighbouring riding of Scarborough Centre, currently held by Conservative MP Roxanne James. Ms. James is the Parliamentary secretary to the Public Safety minister and has been speaking on Bill C-51, the Anti-terrorism Act, for which the Liberals voted in favour.

Mr. MacLachlan said the Liberals gave her a “free ride” on the controversial bill, “and now in her campaign by not giving her a tough challenge from the former police chief.”

Mr. Boudria said there are different reasons, however, for Mr. Blair to run in Scarborough Southwest. “Where does Mr. Blair himself want to run? What riding does he feel closer represents what he wants to do in Parliament? What riding does he live in? I don’t know the answers to any of those questions, but he’s obviously choosing that riding to run in for a variety of reasons not just the reason of just should I run against a Tory or an NDPer?,” Mr. Boudria said. “That’s probably the last thing on his mind.”

Mr. Harris won the riding in the 2011 election with 35 per cent support, defeating Liberal incumbent Michelle Simson, who came in third place with 29 per cent support. The Conservative candidate Gavan Paranchothy came in second place with 31.8 per cent.

Over in Scarborough Centre, Ms. James defeated Liberal incumbent John Cannis in the 2011 election with 35.6 per cent support compared to his 31.7 per cent support. The NDP came in a close third with 30.1 per cent support.

There are six other candidates vying for the Liberal nomination in Scarborough Southwest including: Muhammad Bukhari, Chayanika Dutta, Shamsul Islam, Michael Kempa, Marlène Thélusma Rémy and Michele Serrano. A nomination meeting has not been announced yet.