With an area about four times the size of the United Kingdom, there’s no denying British Columbia is a big province. But the fight for votes in B.C. largely centres on the many seats packed into a relatively small, crowded part of the province.
Federal leaders are spending a lot of B.C. campaigning time in the Vancouver region that is home to about half of B.C. residents. That region, comprising cities such as Surrey, Burnaby, New Westminster and Richmond, and others out into the Fraser Valley, has 26 of the province’s 42 seats.
It’s also defying predictions on which way they might swing.
“In the other provinces, there are fairly traditional trend lines," says pollster Nik Nanos, chief data scientist and founder of Nanos Research. However, he describes a “spaghetti trend line” of intermingling party support in B.C. that confounds predictions in the province. "In the case of British Columbia, the four parties are clustered much closer together than in any other province,” Mr. Nanos says.
In the 2015 election, the Liberals won 17 seats, up from two in 2011. The Conservatives lost 11 seats, ending up with 10 in B.C. The NDP won 14 seats, up from 12 in 2011. Green Party Leader Elizabeth May won in the Vancouver Island riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands.
B.C., where anything can happen
Petros Kusmu, during a break from an environment-focused, all-candidates meeting he helped organize in Vancouver-Granville, says he has been struck by the shifting nature of B.C. politics since he moved from Alberta to the West Coast 10 months ago.
“In Alberta, there’s a far greater degree of predictability electorally, federally than there is in the Lower Mainland or even B.C. I was surprised how much it seems like B.C. is up for grabs,” the 30-year-old management consultant said. “It’s a bit more exciting here electorally, which makes it, for a voter, far more exciting as well, because you get the sense that your vote is really going to help actually swing things.”
Mr. Kusmu, a resident of Vancouver Centre and self-described progressive voter, said he has yet to decide whom to vote for as he researches candidates.
After an all-candidates meeting in Vancouver Kingsway six days after the campaign began, Guy Rivard, the pastor at a Catholic church across the street from the meeting venue, spoke of a political journey he has taken since voting Conservative in Quebec City in 2015. His new riding’s incumbent, New Democrat Don Davies, first elected in 2008, is facing challengers including former Vancouver news anchor Tamara Taggart, now running for the Liberals. Justin Trudeau, the Liberal Leader, attended her acclamation as a candidate and made an early stop in the riding.
Though impressed by Mr. Davies, Mr. Rivard said he plans to vote Green to signify the need for action on climate change. “The Conservatives are the Conservatives. They are not interested in climate change,” he said. “The Liberals are obviously interested in selling oil, which makes no sense.”
The environment looms large among issues of concern in the Pacific province. A survey commissioned by the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade says the key issue for voters is whether parties can demonstrate they can balance protection of the environment with protecting jobs, and addressing the high cost of living.
“If you just read the headlines, you would think that everybody in Vancouver is against the Trans Mountain pipeline, and certainly people in the City of Vancouver and Burnaby are leaning against it, but across the Metro Vancouver region we do find more support than opposition," said Evi Mustel of the Mustel Group, which conducted the survey.
“Our message was [the parties] have to balance both the need to protect the environment, as well as to ensure that we have a viable economy. They can’t go too far. One extreme or the other. They really need to have a platform that addresses both those issues effectively."
There are issues beyond the pipeline. B.C. is grappling with an acute opioid crisis and some of the highest housing costs in the country. The mayors of the province’s two largest cities – Vancouver and Surrey – are looking for billions of dollars for transit expansion.
Jody Wilson-Raybould, who broke with the Liberal government over the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin on corruption charges, may have become known across the country after she told her story in Ottawa hearing rooms, but she is a familiar figure in the Lower Mainland as the incumbent MP for Vancouver-Granville, where she is now seeking re-election as an independent.
B.C. is where key policies of Mr. Trudeau’s government have become tangible, according to political scientist Allan Tupper. “[Federal Liberal] messages have been quite important given what’s going on on the ground in very visible way,” the University of British Columbia academic says.
The local factor
Beyond the issues, three of the major national political leaders have strong ties to the province.
Ms. May and Jagmeet Singh of the NDP are incumbents in ridings in the province: Ms. May on Vancouver Island and Mr. Singh, who got his start in elected politics as a member of the Ontario legislature, won Burnaby South in a by-election earlier this year.
Mr. Trudeau has spoken of B.C. as a second home. His mother’s family is from B.C. and he relocated to the province in his 20s, when he worked as a snowboard instructor and, eventually, a teacher. The remains of his youngest brother, Michel, were never recovered from a remote Interior lake. Mr. Trudeau regularly vacations in the province.
On Oct. 21, B.C. could provide seats to re-elect the Liberals to a majority government, or put either the Liberals or Conservatives behind the wheel of a minority government. B.C. voters could help bolster an NDP resurgence. While the Greens are running candidates across the Vancouver region, their national campaign manager, Jonathan Dickie, says the party is focused on winning on Vancouver Island, home base for their two incumbents.
British Columbia, especially the Vancouver region, counts for a lot in the election, says Shachi Kurl, executive director of the Angus Reid Institute, a not-for-profit, public-opinion research foundation.
“British Columbia, by virtue of the fact that Metro Vancouver is one of the largest population bases in the country, does take on an enhanced role in a way that 40 years ago it didn’t, or even 20 years ago, it didn’t,” she said in an interview.
Since the election was called, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has visited four Vancouver-region ridings, all seats with Liberal incumbents that were previously Tory-held seats. Mr. Trudeau, in the same region, has campaigned in seats with Liberal incumbents and gone on the offence in Vancouver Kingsway – Mr. Davies’s riding. During an eight-day swing through the Vancouver region and Vancouver Island, Mr. Singh hit a mix of Vancouver-region ridings with NDP and Liberal incumbents.
On Friday, Mr. Trudeau was scheduled to campaign in Surrey, Port Coquitlam and Burnaby, promoting the campaigns of a mix of incumbents and new candidates, including the candidate competing against Mr. Singh in Burnaby South. Meanwhile, Mr. Scheer was scheduled to release the Conservative party platform in Tsawwassen, south of Vancouver.
Each party faces key challenges here, Ms. Kurl says. The Liberals need to galvanize the youth vote that helped them in 2015. The Conservatives need to figure out how to build their base to compete in cities. And the Greens need to expand their caucus, an effort that may be bolstered by elected Greens in the B.C. Legislature and Vancouver city government.
As for the New Democrats, she said they have the benefit of support from legislature members who comprise the B.C. government. Since 2017, the province has been governed by the NDP under Premier John Horgan and supported by three members of the provincial Green Party who hold the balance of power in the legislature.
Glen Sanford, B.C. director for the federal NDP campaign, says there’s a strategic calculation that B.C. voters supportive of the job Mr. Horgan and his team are doing may consider supporting federal New Democrats in the province.
The Liberals are speaking bullishly of holding their seats from 2015 and picking up others by focusing on their appeal to the interests of the middle class, and underlining Mr. Trudeau’s connections to the province. Conservatives are also wooing the middle class and playing on disappointment with Mr. Trudeau.
To the Green Party, there’s political opportunity in British Columbia’s fluid political situation.
“What we’re seeing in most other provinces is that it’s clear that there’s one party that is starting to pull ahead. In B.C., it seems like the numbers are shifting quite a bit, but that the four major parties are in play, and so there’s likely lots of ridings where there are three or four-way races,” Mr. Dickie said in an interview.
“At this point, if the election was now, it would be very hard to determine the outcome in a number of ridings,” he said. “The opportunity for us is that we can come up the middle in some three- or four-way races. The downside of that is that’s hard to predict."
To the Greens, the provincial legislature members as well as Greens on Vancouver’s city council, school board and parks board, are a positive case for electing federal Greens.
“For voters, it makes their federal Green candidate seem much more viable,” says Mr. Dickie, adding the Greens believe they have prospects on Vancouver Island.