On the eve of the 2009 B.C. election, an influential battery of environmentalists lined up against the New Democratic Party, aiming to punish leader Carole James for her campaign against the carbon tax. When the ballots were counted, the schism in the NDP's traditional coalition helped deliver another victory to the B.C. Liberals.
This spring, a green machine is gearing up against the NDP again. Instead of issuing a blanket condemnation, however, conservationists are getting strategic, picking just a handful of ridings where they think they can influence the election outcome.
In 2009, the price paid by the NDP did not translate into growth by the Green Party of B.C. at the polls. But if there is a Green breakthrough anywhere in May, it will be in Oak Bay-Gordon Head.
The Dogwood Initiative has amassed a contact list of roughly 5,000 voters in this riding who have expressed interest in their "Vote No Tankers" campaign. The environmental organization will use that, and a platoon of door-knocking volunteers, to push for a candidate who will champion their campaign to stop increased oil-tanker traffic.
In this riding, that just happens to be the Green Party's Andrew Weaver.
The campaign is issue-specific, but it also demonstrates that the wounds from the 2009 election haven't healed. The party's allies openly attacked Ms. James and her team for a "failure of the leadership of the NDP on the most important issue of our time." Those aren't words that are easily forgotten.
Today, the NDP isn't campaigning against the carbon tax – even though it maintains it is flawed. But under Leader Adrian Dix, the environment doesn't automatically trump the interests of business. Kinder Morgan bought a table at Mr. Dix's last major fundraiser. His party refuses to take a stand against the energy giant's proposal to triple the current output of its existing pipeline that runs from Edmonton to the coast, saying only that the proposal would have to go through a made-in-B.C. environmental review.
"For a voter in Oak Bay who looks over the Salish Sea and now has to imagine a six-fold increase in oil tankers, we want them to know who they can count on to take a stand," said Eric Swanson, Dogwood's campaigns director. "We'll give them the facts, their vote is up to them."
A draft copy of the flyer that the Dogwood campaign intends to distribute in the riding clearly shows that only one party – the B.C. Greens – opposes Kinder Morgan's TransMountain expansion and "supports using whatever means are available to stop the expansion of crude oil tanker traffic on B.C.'s coast."
Mr. Swanson said his organization's database and polling indicate the issue cuts across party lines in this riding. "If we knock on the door of someone who normally votes B.C. Liberal, we expect them to be as interested in this issue as an NDP voter."
That's critical to Mr. Weaver's chances. The Greens have proven adept at attracting voters who would otherwise sit out elections. But he also needs to pull votes from the two frontrunners. He offers a home to disaffected Liberals and NDP alike. He appeals to both parties' supporters in a single breath: "Gordon Campbell put together some good environmental policy, and the NDP were very cynical about it."
The NDP candidate, Jessica Van der Veen, ran a close second in the 2009 election. She maintains that her chief opponent is the Liberal incumbent, Ida Chong, who has represented the riding since 1996. "Last time I lost this riding by 561 votes even though the rest of the south island had swung NDP very strongly," she said. She noted that her 2009 campaign was launched late – a mistake she won't repeat.
But that contest was a two-way race: The Greens were barely in the game. This time, they have a seasoned campaign team that engineered federal Green Leader Elizabeth May's victory, and a close second in the recent Victoria by-election.
Ida Chong, B.C. Liberal (incumbent)
Jessica Van der Veen, B.C. NDP
Andrew Weaver, Green Party of B.C.
Greg Kazakoff, B.C. Conservative
2009 election: B.C. Liberal Ida Chong won the riding with 46.5 per cent of the vote; NDP candidate Jessica Van der Veen came in second with 44.3 per cent; Green candidate Steven Johns was third with 9.1 per cent
Seniors, 65 and older, in private households: 21 per cent (B.C. average: 14 per cent)
Average household income, before tax: $90,526 (B.C. average, $67,675)
Source: B.C. Stats, 2006