Highly skilled. New Canadian. Taxi driver.

Green Party candidate, Kevin O’Donnell, says the biggest issues can be summarized in the fewest words – and the other Ottawa Centre candidates agree.

The “foreign workers” controversy has taken centre stage in the recent debates in the Ottawa Centre riding. The dispute arose out of the Liberals’ proposed tax credit for businesses that employ skilled foreign workers.

According to the 2006 census, almost a quarter of the urban riding’s 109,000-plus residents were immigrants. In neighbourhoods like Hintonburg, mosques, Croatian and Russian Orthodox churches can be found in the riding.

But while O’Donnell agrees with the Liberals’ proposal, he says that it’s been overly politicized.

“The other parties jump on this hot-button issue, not from the context of disagreeing on it outright, but by saying it’s wrong to do it now after eight years,” says O’Donnell.
“We’re talking about 1,000 to 1,200 people a year – is this a ballot question?” asks O’Donnell. “I don’t think it should be anywhere near a ballot question when we have more pressing issues.”

And the other candidates agree that there are plenty of issues facing the riding.

On a map the riding of Ottawa Centre looks like an inverted maple leaf. Bordered by the Ottawa River, Rideau Canal, and Sherbourne and Merivale Roads in the west, the riding is a Rubik’s cube of neighbourhoods that vary significantly in their demographic make-up, from working class Mechanicsville to the more white-collar Glebe.

The platform of Progressive Conservative candidate, Robert Dekker, seeks to appeal to the concerns of this smorgasbord of residents.

Providing affordable housing, reducing homelessness, keeping taxes low, and cutting waste in government spending are the key priorities that Dekker would champion if elected on October 6.

“We are a clear alternative to those who don’t want to have to deal with any more McGuinty lies, broken promises and higher taxes,” says Dekker. “We will make sure that spending does not go through the roof has it has done in the last eight years.”

But history would suggest that the vote on October 6 will not go the way of O’Donnell or Dekker.

Contested for the first time in 1968, Ottawa Centre has never been won by a Conservative or Green Party candidate. The reins of power have instead passed between the hands of the Liberals and NDPs – with the former winning the riding six times, the latter seven.

The incumbent Liberal candidate, Yasir Naqvi, won the 2007 contest with 35% of the vote — just 5% more than his NDP rival, Will Murray. This campaign promises to be just as closely contested as the NDP candidate, Anil Naidoo, can rely on MP Paul Dewar’s recent federal success and the surge of pro-NDP support following the death of former party leader, Jack Layton.

But Naqvi remains confident. He points to the 350 new housing units he has helped create, the funding he has raised for the Ottawa River Action Plan, and the $600 million he helped secure for Ottawa’s light rail project.

In a second term Naqvi hopes to “expedite the expansion of the O-Train southwards so we can provide a better alternative to residents as opposed to taking their own cars.”

Census data that indicates only 25% of the riding’s residents use public transport supports the need for such a policy.

Naqvi also says that he aims to review the processes of the Ottawa Municipal Board to combat the rapid development and urban intensification that is taking place in the riding.

But after knocking on 30,000 doors since 1997, Naqvi believes that the community’s voice has been lost.

“We need to put the community’s vision of the neighbourhood first and foremost going forward.”