B.C. ridings to watch in 2015 federal election campaign

This campaign will be almost twice as long as previous ones and much is at stake. While recent public opinion polls have the Conservatives making up lost ground to the Thomas Mulcair’s NDP, it remains to be seen how things will ultimately play out come voting day. Every seat will count, and in B.C., which gained six new ridings, there are several emerging battles that could prove decisive for either of the three main parties.

What is this election about? Pollsters, candidates and experts are in agreement that much of what British Columbians are talking about centres on issues relating to the leadership, the environment, child care, affordability and the economy. These are issues that are particular pressing in many of the Lower Mainland ridings, where two and even three-way races are shaping up.

Here are some of the key ridings to watch:


BURNABY-NORTH SEYMOUR

A dynamic new riding that includes a slice of the traditionally-held NDP stronghold of Burnaby (taken from Kennedy Stewart’s old riding) and a portion of the Conservative-leaning North Vancouver. Had this riding existed in the 2011 election, many would have predicted a Conservative win. Times, however, have changed, and Kinder Morgan’s plan to twin its Trans-Mountain pipeline, which would drastically increase tanker traffic along the riding’s shores, has emerged as a major issue.

Green candidate Lynne Quarmby, an SFU professor, who was one of dozens of protestors arrested during last year’s anti-pipeline protests on Burnaby Mountain, has considerable name recognition. But whether she can convince traditional NDP supporters to take a chance on the Greens remains to be seen.

NDP candidate Carol Baird Ellan, a retired judge, will argue against splitting the vote, which would only benefit the Conservative’s Mike Little.

Liberal candidate Terry Beech is the long-shot in what should prove a tight race.

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VANCOUVER-SOUTH

The Liberals are betting Harjit Sajjan, a lieutenant-colonel in the Canadian Armed Forces with combat experience, will be able to reclaim the seat they lost in 2011, when Conservative candidate Wai Young knocked off incumbent Ujjal Dosanjh by a couple thousand votes.

The riding, which boasts one of the largest immigrant populations in B.C., has historically shifted between the Conservatives and Liberals, making this race, on paper at least, a two-way sprint. Recent polling, however, has placed Young, who recently came under fire for making embarrassing public comments, in third place.

The NDP, who have still not named a candidate, are in second place, meaning, this contest could produce a surprise upset.


VANCOUVER-GRANVILLE

Another new seat in a dynamic area of Vancouver made up of portioned off sections of two Liberal ridings, an NDP riding and a Conservative riding to the south. The Liberals are confident their star candidate Jody Wilson-Raybould, a former Crown prosecutor and the former regional chief of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations, will turn the riding red. The NDP, however, have their own star in community activist Mira Oreck, a director of the Broadbent Institute, who was raised in the riding.

The seat incorporates the newly densified areas of Cambie and Oak streets, as well as major portion of the Broadway corridor, making transit one of the key issues for residents. Child care and affordability are other issues candidates are championing.

The Conservative challenger is Erinn Broshko, a lawyer and business man.

*Another race to keep an eye on, if just for name recognition, is Vancouver-East, where former NDP MLA Jenny Kwan will vie for the seat held by long-serving NDP MP Libby Davies, who announced her retirement earlier this year. Expect Kwan’s challengers to re-hash her past connection to the Portland Hotel Society scandal.


SOUTH SURREY-WHITE ROCK-CLOVERDALE

Dianne Watts, Surrey’s former long-serving mayor, is considered a shoo-in for this Conservative stronghold. Considered a lock for cabinet, it will be interesting, however, to see how Watts fares in the event of a Conservative defeat. Regardless of whether she becomes part of a government or an opposition, expect Watts to emerge as the Conservatives’ top B.C. lieutenant, a position made vacant by the departing James Moore.

Two other Surrey races to watch are Fleetwood-Port Kells, where the NDP’s Garry Begg, a retired RCMP inspector, will aim to knock off the Conservatives Nina Grewal; and Surrey-Newton, a redrawn boundary, where incumbent Jinny Sims (Newton-North Delta) will face a determined Sukh Dhaliwal, who previously held the riding.

Their Conservative challenger is Harpreet Singh.

Over the years, Newton-North Delta has been held by all the three major parties by slim majorities.

 
SAANICH-GULF ISLANDS 

In the 2011 election, Saanich-Gulf Islands swung from Conservative to the Green Party when voters sent the first Green MP, party leader Elizabeth May, to Ottawa when she beat out a Conservative cabinet minister.

Could the Conservatives, who governed under their own banner or as Reform or Alliance since 1993, win it back if the riding is caught up in the NDP swing and the left vote splits or May’s gaffe comes back to haunt her?

“I don’t know, but my hunch is that Eliizabeth May will win again,” said UBC political science professor Richard Johnson. “I don’t think either the NDP or the Greens would want to see the Conservatives back in.”

In over six decades, the riding has elected non-conservative candidates only three times.

In the last election, May (31,890 votes) was ousted Gary Lunn (25,544 votes) with support from previous Liberal voters. She won 36 per cent of the vote and Liberal candidate lost 33 per cent, while Lunn also lost eight percentage points.

But last spring, May embarrassed herself with a rambling, angry and profanity-laden speech at the annual press gallery dinner in Ottawa, and political analysts told the CBC the speech would become part of her political legacy and hurt her and her party.

Even though she apologized, excusing her awkward performance as an attempt at humour and sleeplessness combined with cold medication, the image remains of her ranting for 10 minutes and being ushered off stage by Transport Minister Lisa Raitt.

Johnson said it likely wouldn’t hurt her in the next election because “She’s a perfect fit for the riding,” which he said is suspicious of urban people and definitely middle-class.

The riding’s boundary is changing slightly, with it losing a small urbanized portion of Saanich, but it still relies heavily on its base of wealthy seniors. And it captures university students who live near the University of Victoria.

In addition to May, Tim Kane is the declared Liberal candidate.


COURTENAY-ALBERNI

Courtenay-Alberni is a new riding created from Nanaimo-Alberni and Vancouver Island North, both of which elected Conservatives in 2011, James Lunney, now an Independent, and John Duncan, respectively.

Elections Canada shows that if the votes from the old ridings are transposed to the new ones, the Conservatives would remain ahead in both.

But an anti-tanker group called the Dogwood Initiative released a poll showing 33 per cent of voters would vote NDP in the next election, compared to 23 per cent for the Conservatives, in the riding, which includes Parksville, Qualicum Beach, Courtenay, Port Alberni, Tofino, Ucluelet and Denman and Hornby Islands.

And UBC political science professor Richard Johnson said the resource-rich northern part of Vancouver Island has traditionally voted NDP until that changed in 1993 when the Reform candidate won, “to the shock of everybody.”

The New Democrat candidates in 2011 in both old ridings finished second, within between 2,000 and 5,000 votes.

Late last month, the federal government rained money down on Vancouver Island, including funds for improvements to the Parksville conference centre, Port Alberni recycling depot and Ucluelet skateboard park, leading some pundits to call it “Christmas in July,” according to report in the Alberni Valley Times.


ESQUIMALT-JUAN DE FUCA

The New Democrats took the south Vancouver Island riding in 2011, when Randall Garrison won the seat held for almost 20 years by Liberal Keith Martin (who has in the past has also run or sat as a Conservative, Independent, Alliance and Reform) after he retired.

But Garrison beat the Conservative candidate Troy DeSouza by just 406 votes and the third-place Liberal candidate Lillian Szpak was well behind.

The riding is affected by the redistribution of boundaries and UBC political science professor Richard Johnson predicted the new riding, which includes Saanich, Langford, Esquimalt, Colwood, Sooke, View Royal and Metchosin, will vote orange with the rest of Vancouver Island.

“The NDP will sweep the island,” he said. “The surge of the NDP is widely enough reflected in all the polls to suggest there’s something there. At this point, the NDP won’t likely lose any ground to the Liberals” on the island.

But he said whether polls are a reliable indicator of the election’s outcome depends on “whether or not the polls get the support for the Conservatives right. There are fewer people voting Conservative but how many fewer?”


KAMLOOPS-THOMPSON-CARIBOO

Formerly Kamloops-Thompson, this riding is three-quarters within the city of Kamloops and has been Conservative since at least 2004.

The seat is held now by Cathy McLeod, a former nurse and the former mayor of Pemberton, for the Conservatives.

But the mostly working class riding — mining, milling and smelting — was an NDP stronghold in the 1970s and 1980s, said UBC political science professor Richard Johnson.

“It’s not teetering on the brink like the Vancouver Island ridings,” he said, but could be vulnerable.

The boundaries will be changed for the upcoming election, but McLeod won 52 per cent of the popular vote in 2011, with 29,682 votes, while New Democratic Michael Crawford held 37 per cent, with 20,983 votes, a spread of less than 9,000 votes.

The Liberals and the Green Party, with about 3,000 votes each, were distance third and fourth finishers.

“It there’s a swing (toward NDP), it could bring it within shouting distance” for the NDP, said Johnson.

Declared candidates so far are Bill Sundhu for the NDP and Steve Powrie for the Liberals, neither of whom ran in 2011.

 
KOOTENAY-COLUMBIA 

This electoral district, which serves the mostly blue-collar southeastern most corner of the province and includes Sparwood, Cranbrook, Nelson and Revelstoke, has been solidly Conservative and Reform or Alliance since 1997.

“Anything that touches the Kootenays is all mines, mills and smelters,” said UBC political science professor Richard Johnson. “But all that stuff is weaker than it used to be and it’s become less proletariat and more middle class and comfortable.”

David Wilks, an ex-cop and city councillor, won the riding handily for Conservatives in 2011, with 56 per cent of the vote, or almost 24,000 votes, compared with just 33 per cent or 14,000 votes for the NDP’s Mark Shmigelsky. The Greens had just 2,500 votes and the Liberals 1,500.

The boundaries are changing for the next election to include the West Kootenay communities of Nelson, Salmo and Kaslo and exclude the hamlets of Nakusp and Needles, and the Revelstoke Mountaineer reported that will work against the NDP.

But former Cranbrook mayor Wayne Stetski, who’s running for the NDP, has attacked Wilks for a 2012 statement he made (and later recanted) saying as a backbencher he had no power to oppose the Harper Government’s omnibus bill, and Stetski will likely make that an election issue.

William (Bill) Green has also declared he will run again for the Greens.


SOUTH OKANAGAN-WEST KOOTENAY

The new riding of South Okanagan-West Kootenay is made up of mostly the old riding of B.C. Southern Interior and of Okanagan-Coquihalla and a small part of Kootenay-Columbia.

The boundary redistribution coupled with the retirement of longstanding NDP MP Alex Atamanenko could leave open the new riding for the next election.

Atamanenko has represented B.C. Southern Interior since 2006, when he beat the Liberal candidate with a comfortable lead, followed by easy wins over the Conservative second-place finishers in 2008 and 2011, when he beat the Conservatives’ Stephen Hill by almost 6,000 votes.

But Atamanenko was beaten by the Conservative candidate in 2004, a little more than a decade ago, by just 680 votes.

The Conservatives would take the new riding if the votes from the old districts were transposed to the new one, with 45 per cent of the vote, followed by the NDP with 40 per cent and the Greens and Liberals in distant third and fourth place.

The new riding, according to Elections Canada, includes Castlegar, New Denver, Silverton, Slocan, Nakusp, Pentiction, Oiver and Osoyoos but no longer Nelson, Kaslo and Salmo.

The candidates declared so far are Marshall Neufeld for the Conservatives, Dick Cannings for the NDP and Connie Denesiuk for the Liberals.

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