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Conservative Leader Stephen Harper autographs a sign during a campaign stop in Campbell River, B.C. on Saturday April 23, 2011. (Adrian Wyld/ The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld/ The Canadian Press)
Conservative Leader Stephen Harper autographs a sign during a campaign stop in Campbell River, B.C. on Saturday April 23, 2011. (Adrian Wyld/ The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld/ The Canadian Press)

Rod Mickleburgh

The knives are out in B.C.'s bloodiest sport: Politics Add to ...

Why would Conservative Party Leader Stephen Harper, on the Saturday of a long Easter weekend, journey all the way from Etobicoke to Campbell River on the northern reaches of Vancouver Island?

After all, the Tory incumbent John Duncan is a cabinet minister and winner of five of the past six elections. What's his worry?

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In a word: Halibut.

Recreational fishers for the tasty, ocean flatfish, are up in verbal arms over the government's handling of the annual halibut fishery. They feel they are being short-changed in deference to commercial fishermen, and Mr. Duncan is paying the price.

Ken Jenkins has run Codfather Charters in Port Hardy for 26 years. A lifelong Conservative supporter, he says he will be voting NDP this time, along with many other recreational fishers.

"At one of our meetings, we took a straw vote and only two of our guys didn't vote for John Duncan in 2008. Now, we're gunning for him."

That, plus the recent upsurge of support for the NDP in the past week or so, could prove pivotal in a riding the New Democrats won as recently as 2006.

So Mr. Harper made a rare journey to a seat already held by the Conservatives, seeking to shore up Mr. Duncan's support by lashing out at the NDP.

Still, Vancouver Island North is one of only two Conservative ridings in the province where the NDP was close to the Tories in 2008, and now have a good shot at winning. Surrey North, where incumbent Dona Cadman is having a tough time, is the other.

But Jack Layton is B.C.-bound later this week, and who knows what that enthusiasm might produce. More, more, more?

At any rate, the late boost in NDP strength should secure the party's grasp on the nine seats it currently holds, some of which the Conservatives had been making eyes at.

Predictions beyond that are difficult, depending on which poll you pay attention to. The Angus Reid sampling had the NDP up six points in B.C. over 2008, but the Liberals down only 1.3 per cent, to 18 per cent. Still, that was significantly lower than the mid-twenties the party claimed earlier on.

The most bleeding has come from the Green Party, which has plummeted from a respectable 9.4 per cent in 2008, to six per cent now.

But why are the Liberals even more worried than the Conservatives? Momentum, once it gets going late in a campaign, is very hard to slow down. Any significant slippage to the NDP could spell doom to the Liberals' presence in B.C., handing nearly all their five ridings to the hated Tories because of a larger split vote among anti-Conservative forces.

In B.C., where politics is a true blood sport, this election is suddenly very, very interesting.

Follow on Twitter: @rodmickleburgh

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