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NDP MLA for Port Moody-Coquitlam, Joe Trasolini, on March 22, 2012 at his campaign office. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)
NDP MLA for Port Moody-Coquitlam, Joe Trasolini, on March 22, 2012 at his campaign office. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

Gary Mason

NDP surge in polls is magnet for candidates Add to ...

When popular one-time mayor Joe Trasolini opted to run for the New Democratic Party in the Port Moody-Coquitlam by-election in April, it was considered a coup for the province’s Opposition party. And it was equally regarded as a blow to the governing Liberals, with whom Mr. Trasolini had a long history.

It was also easy to frame the decision in a crass, political context: wily and astute, Mr. Trasolini simply put his name and reputation behind the party he felt had the best chance of winning the next provincial election.

And each new public opinion poll that comes out these days indicates he made the right decision.

Mr. Trasolini isn’t the only person who believes the writing is on the wall for the Liberal government. Intense interest in NDP nominations exists throughout the province – or at least where there are openings. There is no greater evidence of that appeal than in the riding of Vancouver-Fairview, where two high-profile candidates are squaring off: George Heyman and Geoff Meggs.

Mr. Heyman is the executive director of the Sierra Club and the former president of the B.C. Government Employees Union. Smart and articulate, he is certainly what qualifies as a star candidate. But then again, so is Mr. Meggs, the Vancouver councillor who many joke is the person who really runs city hall.

In a hypothetical NDP government, either would be considered a natural for a spot at the cabinet table.

The NDP hasn’t seen this much interest in the nomination process in some time. For much of the past decade, the party elicited little curiosity among individuals who might be considered noteworthy. The exception was Gregor Robertson, the current mayor of Vancouver whose candidacy for the NDP in 2005 stood out because he was a highly successful entrepreneur. And successful entrepreneurs weren’t supposed to run for left-leaning political institutions.

The addition of Mr. Trasolini to the NDP mix and the fight for the party nomination in Vancouver-Fairview is an indication that times have changed. With the latest polls showing the NDP with an almost 20-point advantage over the Liberals and the personal popularity of B.C. Premier Christy Clark sinking fast, interest in the NDP is at historic levels.

“I think you can compare it to the late 1980s, when the Socreds were in trouble and it looked like Bill Vander Zalm was going to call an election,” NDP Leader Adrian Dix says. “That’s what we’re seeing now. There is just huge interest for candidate spots and in ridings where the NDP haven’t been given much of a shot in the past.

“That is changing. The demographics of many ridings have changed. We believe we can win all 85 of them. We believe we’re going to win in places like Kelowna and Vernon. It’s a whole new ball game.”

The NDP, it should be noted, makes its candidates work for their nominations regardless of their stature. That is in contrast to the B.C. Liberals, which in the past cleared the nomination path for star candidates such as Carole Taylor, the former journalist and civic politician who is now chancellor of Simon Fraser University, and Wally Oppal, the former B.C. Court of Appeal justice – among others.

This time around, the Liberals may not have to confront that situation. It’s easy to attract attention from so-called stars when your party is flying high in the polls and they are assured a cabinet seat, it’s another when those same polls have you at the bottom and facing possible decimation come election time.

This is where Ms. Clark will have her work cut out for her: trying to persuade people with a name to take a chance on her party. One personality that has been floated as a possible Liberal candidate is one-time Vancouver Canuck Trevor Linden.

Mr. Linden would be about as attractive a candidate as they come. The idea of him carrying the Liberal flag into the next election no doubt stirs the hopes and imaginations of the beleaguered folk at party headquarters. There’s only one problem: why in heaven’s name would he? To win a seat and warm up the opposition benches for four years? That is, if he won.

No law says that, just because you are well known and a truly nice guy and look great in a set of designer eyeglasses, voters have to support you. For evidence, we give you one Daniel Igali, the former gold medal Olympic wrestler who ran for the provincial Liberals in 2005 in the riding of Surrey-Newton.

The Liberals won that election. But Mr. Igali – one of the most beloved Olympians in Canadian history – was defeated by little known New Democrat, Harry Bains.

Follow on Twitter: @garymasonglobe

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