‘A different country’: Close Island races pit Green against NDP

The Green Party and the NDP are seeing tight but winnable races on Vancouver Island for Monday’s federal election, prompting the leaders of both parties to spend a full day here on Friday.

“Politically speaking, Vancouver Island is like a different country,” said political scientist David Black, who works at Royal Roads University.

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In the rest of Canada, it’s often a fight between the Liberals and Conservatives for about 65 per cent of the popular vote, with the Greens, NDP, Bloc Québécois and People’s Party of Canada competing for the remaining 35 per cent, he said.

On the Island, however, the dominant parties are the Greens and the NDP. “We define left, right and centre here somewhat differently, because the centre here is further left than might be said of the national average.”

Both Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh held rallies and events from Nanaimo to Saanich on Friday.

Of the Island’s seven seats, the NDP currently have five and the Greens have two. “Think of how remarkable this is — in the seven ridings on the Island, most will be a two-party race between the NDP and the Greens,” Black said. “That doesn’t translate nationally at all.”

For the Greens, which are flourishing as climate change becomes a dominant election issue and they experience success in provincial races, this is the year to break through, Black said.

On the Island, the party could win up to three more seats, going from two MPs to potentially five, he said. “They won’t reach official party status of 12 seats, but even to get halfway there is a lot better than where they were last election, with Elizabeth May in this lonely corner of Canada just holding on.”

For the federal NDP, which is experiencing a late-campaign uptick in the polls because of the popularity of Singh, Black said this election is about the ability to reassert their influence in Parliament and be a possible partner “in some form or fashion” in what could be a Liberal minority government.

Black believes the Greens and NDP are in a neck-and-neck race in most Island ridings, with the exception of May’s riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands, where he expects she has a sure win. If the Liberals have a chance on the Island, Nikki Macdonald in Victoria “is their only hope.”

Singh’s Island campaigning on Friday included a visit to the University of Victoria’s Student Union Building, where several hundred people gathered outside cheered as he arrived.

He began a series of casual one-on-one conversations with students, posed for selfies and exchanged handshakes in the shadow of his campaign bus.

A persistent rain seemed to stop on cue as he made his rounds.

Grace Kennedy said she was impressed that Singh was in the Victoria area during the late stages of the election campaign.

“I think it’s really nice that he shows that he cares,” she said. “It’s super cool that he came to just hang out with us.”

Student Sheldon Dale also chatted with Singh. “He seems like quite a nice guy, straight forward and he was pretty personable, as well.”

Nothing political came up, Dale said.

He said he is still undecided about who to vote for.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May’s concurrent schedule in the capital region included a session of sign-waving starting about 5 p.m. at Esquimalt and Tyee roads, the busy approaches to the Johnson Street Bridge.

Motorists reacted with honks and thumbs up out their windows almost as soon as the first sign was raised.

A strong contingent of volunteers, some wearing green coats, pants and other apparel, spread around the intersection.

One of them was Caroline Tansley, who said climate change is what brought her out to lend a hand.

She said the Greens are “the only credible party to act on climate change.”

Mark Jeffers was also among the volunteers showing support for the Greens.

“I go with what they’ve got on their platform,” he said. “It’s obviously time for climate action, so that’s the No. 1 reason.”

Sign waving sessions have been useful so far, he said.

“We’ve done a lot of these in different ridings and we get a very good response.”

May and Singh will both be in Vancouver today.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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