When the smoke clears after the provincial election, the results in the pulp-mill town of Prince George may tell the story for the province as a whole.
If Shirley Bond, a well-liked, hard-working MLA with an impressive track record in government can’t get re-elected (for the fourth time in a row), then the Liberals aren’t likely to win anywhere.
Ms. Bond, who became British Columbia’s first female attorney-general last year, has more than 10 years of experience in cabinet, including serving as minister of transportation, of education, of health services and as deputy premier.
One of the first things people say about her, even when they are critics, is that she works hard for her riding.
She is being challenged by the NDP’s Sherry Ogasawara, a dietitian and local media personality who is known for her views on fitness, not the state of the economy.
Given those factors it should be an easy win for a heavyweight such as Ms. Bond, but Ben Meisner, a veteran commentator in Prince George and editor of 250News.com, says he wouldn’t bet on her surviving.
“You ask, ‘who is Sherry Ogasawara’ and that’s exactly my point,” he says. “Who the hell is she? But could she win? You bet she could.”
Mr. Meisner is of the view that B.C. voters have made up their minds it is time for change, and Ms. Bond’s commendable track record in government probably won’t be enough to save her.
“I would say her chances of getting re-elected are three in 10,” he said.
Mr. Meisner said the Liberal government didn’t help her chances by pushing through the long-promised Wood Innovation and Design Centre, a provincially funded project that is meant to show off the use of wood in modern office tower buildings, and to revitalize Prince George’s downtown core.
But Mr. Meisner said the project has been mired in controversy because of questions raised about the land deal that preceded it (allegations of Liberal favours promised) and because it creates more competition among landlords in a city where there is already a surplus of office space.
“There is something like 88,000 square feet of office space available in the city right now,” he said. “You bring in the Wood Innovation Centre and that is just going to drain the other buildings … our downtown is already in collapse and this sure isn’t going to help … that’s a big issue here.”
Mr. Meisner said people in Prince George are still upset with the Liberals for selling BC Rail and for bringing in the HST.
Hasn’t repealing the tax helped?
“No. People are still mad about it … Look, Shirley worked her tail off for this community, she’s a good MLA, but there’s that mindset out there – it’s time to change,” he said.
But Jason Morris, an adjunct professor of political science at the University of Northern B.C., says no one should write off Ms. Bond too quickly.
“She has this dichotomous image,” he said. “She’s a strong candidate. She has the power of incumbency and she was a heavy hitter in cabinet … she’s an accomplished politician – but she has a reputation of being vulnerable, even though the record shows she isn’t.”
Mr. Morris said Ms. Bond has won three times in a row because she’s a good campaigner, including by a very substantial margin in 2009, when she took over 50 per cent of the vote and led the second-place NDP candidate by more than 2,300 votes.
He said Ms. Ogasawara is “very telegenic” and has a relaxed media presence – but wonders whether that will be enough to unseat such a strong rival.
Mr. Morris said more important than Ms. Ogasawara’s personality will be the funding and organization strength of her campaign team. And he gives the edge to Ms. Bond in that regard.
But like Mr. Meisner, he thinks the mood of the province will determine whether Ms. Bond wins a fourth term. He agreed that if she is swept away, there won’t be many Liberals sitting in Victoria after the votes are counted.
Shirley Bond, B.C. Liberal
Sherry Ogasawara, B.C. NDP
Nathan Giede, B.C. Conservative
2009 election: Liberal Shirley Bond won the riding with 50.61 per cent of the vote; NDP candidate Julie Carew came in second with 37.58 per cent; Green candidate Andrej DeWolf was third with 6.83 per cent
Seniors, 65 and older, in private households: 10 per cent (B.C. average: 14 per cent)
Average household income, before tax: $64,054 (B.C. average, $67,675)
Source: Elections B.C. and B.C. Stats