A snap federal election and whirlwind 35-day campaign amid a fourth wave of the pandemic changed little on the political landscape of Vancouver Island.
The NDP appeared set to win five seats on the Island Monday, while Elizabeth May cruised to another victory in Saanich-Gulf Islands for the Green Party.
But her Green colleague Paul Manly was fighting to keep his seat in Nanaimo-Ladysmith in a tight race with Conservative newcomer Tamara Kronis and the NDP’s Lisa Marie Barron.
Kronis said she was feeling “fantastic” and hoped to take the seat. “We were expecting a tight race. We’ve made huge gains for Conservatives in this riding and this election,” she said.
Manly said he was confident that special ballots would bring him the win.
“Obviously this isn’t what we had hoped for right here, right now,” he said. “It would be nice to be 1,000 votes ahead instead of 1,000 votes behind, but we have 8,000 votes yet that are going to be counted on Friday.”
With almost 9,000 special ballots requested in the riding, it could be some time before a final result is known.
Those ballots won’t be counted until they’ve been verified, which can take 24 hours, and that process didn’t start until after polls closed. There are 106,999 eligible voters in the riding.
Manly was first elected in a May 2019 by election and re-elected just a few months later in the October 2019 general election, closely followed by the Conservative and NDP candidates.
Manly’s tight race comes as the Greens struggled to increase their presence in Ottawa and Green Party Leader Annamie Paul failed to win her seat in Toronto Centre
Paul is coming off months of infighting between her supporters and factions of the party opposed to her leadership, and has largely stuck to campaigning in Toronto — though she did appear on the Island this past weekend to shore up support for the party’s only stronghold.
“The Green leader’s struggles haven’t helped the party’s cause, and remember Andrew Weaver came out supporting the Liberal platform,” said Michael Prince, political analyst and Lansdowne professor of social policy at the University of Victoria. “I think everyone knew going into this that Elizabeth May would win. Manley is having a much tougher fight.”
Since the writ was dropped, polls have indicated it would be a tight race in Nanaimo-Ladysmith, with the lead changing between the three candidates every day, said Kim Speers, a political scientist at the University of Victoria.
“We will likely have to wait for the mail-ins to be counted.”
David Black, communications professor at Royal Roads University, said it’s clear the well-publicized problems of the Green party have damaged Manly’s chances. “He tried, to a degree, to run a local campaign and insulate himself against those headlines about disarray in the party’s leadership, but has not done so effectively.”
As for May, with almost 80 per cent of polls reporting, she was far ahead of her rivals in Saanich-Gulf Islands, and expected to win her fourth term.
“My constituents know how hard I work for them, but I also know how much I owe them for their willingness to continue to take a chance on a Green member of Parliament, knowing I won’t be in a majority government, knowing I won’t be what the Conservative candidate kept saying during this election campaign, that without a seat at the table, in government, you couldn’t accomplish anything,” May said Monday night.
The former Green Party leader, first elected in 2011, was disappointed that a party that has run a full slate of candidates in past elections wasn’t able to do so this time amid a climate crisis. “I think as a party, we’re run by our membership so the members will be wanting to have a review of what happened in preparation,” said May.
May said Paul chose a challenging riding in which to run, a Liberal stronghold, but conceded it’s where she was born and has deep roots.
“The questions of Annamie’s future are really up to Annamie,” said May. “She needs to reflect as well. I mean it’s a very disappointing defeat for her in Toronto Centre and she’ll need to think about her political future, but the party is really strong. We’re here to stay.”
May said the Liberals took a gamble in this “power grab” election and she is “really relieved” they didn’t get a majority.
“A majority Parliament with the Liberals feeling smug would be very bad for climate, but a minority Parliament where they go back chastened — and I’m afraid it means going back to the polls again — means we will stay in Parliament and we will push as hard as we can and work across party lines, and see if what we can deliver on the timelines we have, which are short,” said May.
Victoria NDP candidate Laurel Collins was well ahead of Liberal Nikki Macdonald with almost 65 per cent of polls reporting Monday night. Collins, 37, who is seeking her second term, said she was “honoured” by the trust that the people of Victoria have placed in her.
“I spent the past two years fighting for this community, fighting for bold action on the climate crisis, real action on housing and reconciliation, and making sure the wealthiest pay their fair share, and I’m going to head back to Ottawa and keep up that fight,” Collins said Monday night from her home.
Collins was happy to see the Liberals returned with a projected minority government and with a few more New Democrats.
“I think that when parties have to work across party lines, it makes for better policies and a stronger democracy and it is so important that we have people in there holding this government to account and really pushing them to make sure that we get supports for people who need it,” said Collins.
The NDP’s Gord Johns, who was first elected in 2015, appeared headed to a win over Conservative Mary Lee in Courtenay-Alberni.
New Democrat Alistair MacGregor had a strong lead in Cowichan-Malahat-Langford, a riding he has held since 2015, with the Conservatives’ Alana DeLong in a distant second place.
In Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke, the NDP’s Randall Garrison appeared poised to retain the seat he has held since 2011, with a solid lead over Liberal Doug Kobayashi and Conservative Laura Anne Frost.
NDP incumbent Rachel Blaney was projected to win the riding of North Island-Powell River for a third term.
Speers said the Island’s NDP candidates were buoyed by NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who has made several trips here to shore up the stronghold.
Speers said the attempt for a majority government backfired for Trudeau. Although snap elections worked for B.C. Premier John Horgan and three of four other incumbent premiers who called provincial elections while COVID-19 spread across the country, it was different for Trudeau.
“[Horgan] was receiving high levels of trust and support,” said Speer. “But I think as the pandemic wore on, that level of trust and respect starts to wain as the levels of anxiety grows.”
Liberal candidate Kobayashi, a Colwood councillor and business consultant, said of the projected minority Liberal result: “We’re back to the same place we started.”
Looking back on the campaign and some of the anti-mask and anti-vaccination and even anti-government sentiment, Kobayashi said he found it unfortunate to see Canada becoming so divisive. “We are becoming similar in culture to the United States and that’s unfortunate.”
Black said Trudeau will face a backlash. “I think the Liberal Party, in forming a minority government with about the same number of seats as in 2019, has some explaining to do to Canadians, he said. “The entire premise of the election was to change the electoral map, and deliver the Liberal Party a majority and the kind of mandate that would allow them to confidently shape a post-COVID Canada.
The result “doesn’t read as a resounding affirmation of the Liberal platform,” he said. “A stronger minority, or a majority, would have been more convincing that way.”
— With files from Roxanne Egan-Elliott and Cindy E. Harnett