British Columbia's third-place Green Party released a plan to offer free daycare for working parents – a policy that nips at the heels of the Opposition New Democrats, who are putting forward a much less generous plan as their marquee platform plank.
The Green Party has traditionally trailed far behind the province's two main parties, but even though the Greens have just one MLA, the NDP have found themselves taking aim at the governing Liberals but also fending off a challenge from the left.
The pressure may be increased this time around, as the Greens mount a traditional bus tour for the first time and contract their own polling company.
NDP Leader John Horgan refused to discuss the Green Party – or barely mention it by name – on Wednesday, the second day of his pre-writ campaign tour. Instead, he preferred to change the subject.
"My case to voters is that we need to change the government, and the best way to do that is to support the B.C. NDP," Mr. Horgan said in Vancouver-Point Grey. "I am talking to Greens. I am talking to Liberals. I am talking to New Democrats."
He suggested he was not concerned about what other parties do.
The Green plan announced Wednesday includes free daycare for working parents with children under three and up to 25 hours of free early childhood education per week for three- and four-year-olds. The entire program would cost $4-billion over four years.
The NDP's plan, in contrast, includes a $10-a-day daycare program.
The Greens have long been seen as a potential spoiler for the NDP, as the Conservatives have been for the Liberals, though it's difficult to measure the precise impact. While Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver was elected to the legislature in 2013, the party's share of the popular vote has steadily declined since a high of 12 per cent in 2001.
Meanwhile, on the right, the B.C. Conservatives – which like the BC Liberals have no formal connection to their federal counterpart – have virtually disappeared and have no leader.
Although Mr. Weaver has criticized the Liberals, he was, on Wednesday, dismissive of the New Democrats.
"The BC NDP have had 16 years to inspire British Columbians to get behind them. They have failed every time," he said in an interview, referring to the NDP's defeat in the 2001 election – the last year they held power – and elections since then."[The NDP] are campaigning by being better than the BC Liberals, but being better than the worst is not good," said Mr. Weaver, suggesting the NDP has been evasive on policy details such as the specifics of their $10-per-day daycare, which the party has said it will explain in due course.
On one key environmental issue, the Greens are going further than the NDP. They propose to scrap the Site C hydroelectric dam, now under construction, while Mr. Horgan has said he will have the project reviewed by the B.C. Utilities Commission to help decide what to do with the controversial project.
David Moscrop, a political scientist at the University of British Columbia, said the Greens could end up harvesting protest votes from voters at odds with either the Liberals under Christy Clark or the New Democrats under Mr. Horgan.
Although Mr. Weaver has spoken of winning many seats, Mr. Moscrop said he will be curious about whether the Greens focus on a few winnable seats despite Mr. Weaver's rhetoric.
"Watch their resources," he said. "Where do we see Andrew Weaver. Where do we see money and resources?"
Hamish Telford, a political scientist at the University of the Fraser Valley, said the Greens' shift toward a more robust campaign is a "hugely important" development.
Mr. Telford said Mr. Weaver has made good use of his presence in the legislature, establishing a presence in B.C. political discourse that is new for the party and could work to its advantage, especially in the televised campaign debates in which the Greens are set to have a place. He added that the Greens could also end up taking votes from disaffected BC Liberals.