VANCOUVER — Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is heading to what he calls his “second home” in British Columbia for his first event of the 2019 election campaign — a province full of both opportunity and peril for the governing party.
He’ll be headlining a rally tonight in the riding of Vancouver Kingsway — right next door to the constituency held by his former attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould. She precipitated a crisis for Trudeau’s government last winter with allegations she’d been inappropriately pressured by the prime minister, his office, other ministers and bureaucrats to end the criminal prosecution of Montreal engineering giant SNC-Lavalin.
Wilson-Raybould quit Trudeau’s cabinet over the affair, followed by cabinet ally Jane Philpott. Trudeau eventually kicked both women out of the Liberal caucus and they are now seeking re-election as Independent candidates.
Outside Rideau Hall, Trudeau brushed off a suggestion that the venue for his first event had anything to do with its proximity to Wilson-Raybould’s riding.
He noted that he started the 2015 campaign by marching in Vancouver’s Pride parade, rather than with a traditional launch in Ottawa — a decision he recalled was criticized at the time as “a terrible mistake.”
“We demonstrated that campaigns happen out there across Canada and launching the campaign in my second home of British Columbia felt right both in 2015 and it feels right right now in 2019,” Trudeau said shortly after visiting Gov. Gen. Julie Payette to officially fire the starting gun for the 40-day campaign.
“I can’t wait to get out to B.C. this afternoon but I’m very much looking forward to getting right across the country in the coming weeks.”
Trudeau’s mother, Margaret, hails from B.C. Trudeau himself worked in the province in his youth, as a bouncer, a snowboard instructor and eventually as a teacher. When it comes to his love of the back-slapping side of politics, Trudeau has often said he takes after his B.C. relations — especially his maternal grandfather, former federal cabinet minister Jimmy Sinclair — rather than his aloof, cerebral father, former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, who famously hated retail politics.
Liberal strategists say Trudeau intends to spend much of the first week of the campaign on the offence, hitting ridings currently held by other parties but that Liberals believe they have a chance of picking up. That includes a number of ridings in B.C., where a four-way fight among the Liberals, Conservatives, NDP and Greens makes the outcome particularly unpredictable.
On that score, Vancouver Kingsway fits the bill. It has been held by New Democrat Don Davies since 2008. He captured 45.7 per cent of the vote in 2015, almost 20 points ahead of the second-place Liberal contender.
Prior to that, the riding was held by David Emerson, who won originally as a Liberal in 2004 only to cross over to the Conservatives immediately after the 2006 election to serve in Stephen Harper’s first cabinet.
This time, the Liberals are running a high-profile candidate, former CTV-B.C. evening news anchor Tamara Taggart.
In 2015, the Liberals won 17 of B.C.’s 42 seats. While they believe there are seats to be gained in the province, they will also have to fight to retain what they already have in a province where concern about climate change is paramount.
B.C. is home to the strongest opposition — including environmentalists, Indigenous communities, Vancouver’s mayor and the province’s NDP government — to the Trans Mountain pipeline, which Trudeau’s government purchased to ensure a way to get Alberta oilsands crude to the B.C. coast.
The Green party, meanwhile, is hoping for big breakthrough in B.C., which is currently home to Green Leader Elizabeth May and the only other elected Green MP, Paul Manly.