In normal times, a B.C. NDP nomination meeting in the Fraser Valley community of Chilliwack wouldn’t rate much attention.
The party has never been a threat in a riding routinely represented by politicians of a conservative bent. Typically, the New Democrats garner about a quarter of the votes cast in Chilliwack. In the past, NDP candidates have been party activists who reluctantly agreed to be a sacrificial lamb after much cajoling.
That was then, this is now.
For the first time in memory, political observers believe the NDP may have a chance of winning in Chilliwack. Certainly, Gwen O’Mahony, who won the nomination this weekend, will not be going into this by-election like NDP candidates have in the past. That is, with no hope.
In fact, she told party members on the weekend she is running to win. As we say, it doesn’t seem as farfetched as it once might have. There is certainly a scenario where it could happen, and if it does, it will confirm in stark terms the prevailing wisdom that the Liberal government is in big, big trouble in B.C.
For months now, successive polls have put the NDP far ahead of the Liberals. The latest, a Forum Research survey that was released last week, showed the governing party being decimated at the polls if a general election were held now. The Liberals would only win 20 seats – down from the 48 the party has now. The NDP would capture 57, up from the 35 it won in 2009. And the B.C. Conservatives would take as many as seven ridings. (It has none currently).
Nothing Liberal Premier Christy Clark has done since assuming the job almost a year ago has been successful in moving the metre in her party’s favour.
The Conservatives will be running a strong candidate in the Chilliwack-Hope by-election, which must be called by early July. His name is John Martin, a university professor and popular local newspaper columnist. The Liberals have been able to persuade Laurie Throness, a political staffer with deep ties to the federal Conservatives, to seek the party’s nomination. Mr. Throness was chief of staff to Chuck Strahl, when he was still in politics and a member of Stephen Harper’s cabinet.
Mr. Martin and Mr. Throness would be in a dog fight for the conservative vote, which, of course, opens the door for someone like Ms. O’Mahony to march up the middle and win.
It would be an historic victory, one that would no doubt incite more concerns that the rise of the B.C. Conservative party almost guarantees that the B.C. NDP will form the next government in the province.
It will certainly give the New Democrats even more confidence than it has already. The NDP believes it can win in ridings that previously never gave the party a chance.
The by-election in Chilliwack-Hope will be a very good test of that.