The entire country is watching as the Liberals try to protect their turf and steal some NDP seats; Conservatives want to win back ridings lost in 2015; Greens and NDP are looking to gain ground; and one high-profile independent has everyone’s attention
Nearly every riding in Metro Vancouver and many beyond its urban boundaries could be a change-maker this federal election, as the Conservatives try to win back seats stolen by the Liberals, and the Greens and NDP fight for turf on Vancouver Island.
Federal election outcomes are often determined by the time votes in Western Canada are counted, but that could be different this year as the fate of the Liberals — wounded by the SNC-Lavalin affair, the Trans Mountain pipeline purchase and photos of Leader Justin Trudeau in dark face paint — may depend on how many seats they can keep in B.C.
“So this is something that now becomes far more critical for the governing Liberals: Their path to victory really does run through British Columbia, and particularly Metro Vancouver,” said Shachi Kurl, executive director of the Angus Reid Institute.
“Look for the Conservatives to want to take back ridings that they feel were stolen from them. And the Liberals will probably get punished in some ridings.”
Propelled by Trudeaumania, the federal Liberals won 17 of B.C.’s 42 seats in 2015, a massive gain over just two victories in 2011. The Conservatives, by contrast, fell from 21 seats in 2011, to just 10 in the last election.
“The Liberals don’t have deep roots in B.C., but I think some ridings are more in play than others,” said Hamish Telford, associate professor of political science at the University of the Fraser Valley.
The NDP’s strength remained roughly the same in 2015 with 14 victories. Green Leader Elizabeth May won her Saanich-Gulf Islands seat in the last two federal elections, and her party collected another MP in a byelection win in Nanaimo-Ladysmith in May.
So, what will happen this election, as Justin Trudeau can no longer promise “sunny ways”; the Conservatives’ Andrew Scheer is a lesser-known leader; the NDP campaign has struggled to raise money; and the Greens have shown signs of surging, despite a rough start for May.
Opinions vary on how the photos of Trudeau — including one of him wearing black face paint at a costume party while a teacher in 2001 at Vancouver’s West Point Grey Academy — will hurt the Liberals on election day, Oct. 21. Pollster Mario Canseco of Research Co. said it was too early to gauge the impact, noting scandals in previous elections have not always had an impact at the ballot box.
But University of B.C. political scientist Max Cameron said the photos could change the outcomes in several swing ridings, especially those in Metro Vancouver with a culturally diverse electorate.
“There are many ridings where the margin of victory is very narrow,” Cameron said. “In the context where every vote matters, this could have a real impact.”
We gathered input from pollsters, academics and other political watchers to highlight 10 B.C. ridings that reflect some of this shifting political landscape.
This will be the most watched riding in B.C., and perhaps in the country.
Former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould, the Liberals’ star candidate in 2015, is running as an independent after a very public and nasty divorce from the governing party earlier this year. She quit cabinet after saying she had been subjected to a lengthy campaign of political pressure to intervene in the criminal prosecution of Montreal-based engineering giant SNC-Lavalin. She was eventually kicked out of the Liberal caucus by Trudeau, who the ethics commissioner would later rule had, in fact, attempted to influence Wilson-Raybould.
The election results in this riding could be a referendum on how badly Canadians want to punish Trudeau and his Liberals for the scandal.
Wilson-Raybould is popular, smart and a trailblazer — she was Canada’s first Indigenous justice minister — with significant support in her riding, but it is difficult to get elected as an independent. She faces a formidable challenger in her Liberal replacement: tech entrepreneur Taleeb Noormohamed, a senior executive at various startups, who has also worked with the Privy Council Office in Ottawa and was a vice-president with the Vancouver 2010 Olympics.
The Liberals took nearly half of the votes in 2015, leaving the NDP and Conservatives with about a quarter each — and those two parties are not expected to be big players this year either, pundits say.
“That riding is on the national stage,” said Canseco, adding candidates will likely get national rather than local questions on the doorstep, and any news generated during the campaign will give the other party leaders yet another chance to remind voters of the SNC debacle.
With the retirement of popular two-term MP Murray Rankin, the Greens believe they can wrench away this traditionally safe NDP seat. The Liberals and Conservatives were not even factors here in 2015, with the NDP and Greens combined taking three out of every four votes.
Carrying the Green banner is Racelle Kooy, an Indigenous woman who has worked in government and media relations for various organizations, including the First Nations Economic Development office in Vancouver.
Her NDP competitor is first-term city councillor and University of Victoria social justice instructor Laurel Collins, who is also expected to make the environment a key campaign issue. Collins may face questions on the campaign trail, though, about city hall’s controversial removal of a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald and its now-rescinded idea to ask Ottawa for funding for Remembrance Day parades.
The Greens’ only two MPs are from Vancouver Island. May’s seat in Saanich–Gulf Islands is expected to be safe, and she desperately wants Paul Manly to hold Nanaimo–Ladysmith, a seat he snatched from the NDP in a byelection.
Pundits believe a surging Green party could steal other NDP seats on the island, including Esquimalt–Saanich–Sooke and Cowichan–Malahat–Langford.
The NDP hopes to seize this seat from one-term Liberal MP Terry Beech, who is expected to face wrath from constituents over his party’s unexpected purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline. The pipeline’s terminus is in this riding, and an all-candidates meeting is being held here solely to debate the planned expansion.
The NDP is banking on former 25-year MP Svend Robinson to topple Beech. Robinson was a well-liked MP in Vancouver and Burnaby from 1979 until 2004, when he resigned after admitting to stealing a valuable ring from an auction house. He was given a conditional discharge, which means he has no criminal record, and said he was under severe stress.
Robinson, who has since worked with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, has said he hopes voters will not judge him for “one serious mistake,” but on his career of community service.
While Robinson is opposed to any pipeline expansion, the Liberals argue they are trying to balance the economy and the environment, by both supporting growth in the fossil fuels industry and also enforcing stricter environmental policies, such as a carbon tax.
Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge
This riding, along with neighbouring seats Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon and Coquitlam-Port Coquitlam, were traditional Conservative territories that were swept up by 2015’s red wave. All three were very close races, with the Liberals’ margins of victory between two and three per cent.
Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge Liberal MP Dan Ruimy, a backbencher in Ottawa and an active politician in his home riding, says strengthening the middle class is a top priority. Conservatives have put their hopes in former two-term B.C. Liberal MLA Marc Dalton, who says affordability is the No. 1 concern.
Telford, the political scientist, says it is middle-class, commuting neighbourhoods like these that the Conservatives are trying to woo back with promises such as a transit credit, which could appeal to those who take the West Coast Express, and the party’s opposition to the Liberals’ carbon tax, which increases gas prices.
This riding may be the epicentre of the dogfight between the two leading parties in this election. Liberal incumbent Jonathan Wilkinson stole the seat from former two-term Conservative MP Andrew Saxton in 2015. Saxton, who works in finance, is running again to win his seat back.
This is an affluent riding that traditionally supports centre-right politicians, and Wilkinson, a Rhodes Scholar who sat in Trudeau’s cabinet as fisheries minister, will have to convince voters they have been better off in the last four years under the Liberals, says Canseco, president of Vancouver-based Research Co.
“That is a riding that will set the stage for how the Conservatives will try to get the voters back,” he predicted.
The Liberals handily won in 2015 with a margin of victory of 30 per cent, but Canseco noted Saxton would potentially benefit from Trudeau’s face paint controversy if left-leaning voters flee to the NDP.
>A heated battle similar to North Vancouver’s will play out in Vancouver South, Canseco said, where Liberal defence minister Harjit Sajjan must fend off an attempted return to power by Wai Young, the Conservative incumbent he easily upset in 2015.
The Liberals hope former TV news personality Tamara Taggart can use her star power to upset veteran MP Don Davies in this NDP stronghold. Trudeau visited this riding on day one of the campaign, signalling the importance of this race.
This riding has traditionally been very multicultural and working class, but demographics are changing and that could give the Liberals a boost, said Telford, the political scientist.
However, he thinks it will be difficult for Taggart to peel enough votes away from Davies, who has held the seat since 2008 and garnered more than 45 per cent of ballots cast in 2015.
While the NDP’s demise has been widely predicted in other parts of Canada, given a shortage of election donations and a still-unfilled slate of candidates, the party typically has had more support in B.C. And leader Jagmeet Singh has performed well on the campaign trail, which could bolster the NDP’s standings here, Telford added.
Liberal candidate Terry Lake, a former B.C. health minister and former Kamloops mayor, will try to use his name recognition to unseat incumbent Cathy McLeod in this traditionally safe Conservative riding.
McLeod, a nurse, was a councillor and mayor in Pemberton, and the Tory MP in this riding since 2008. Lake, who has worked in the cannabis industry since 2017, said he’s entering federal politics because of the overdose crisis, global warming and rural economic development.
In 2015, this riding was essentially a three-way race, with McLeod snagging 25 per cent of the vote, and the Liberals and NDP 21 per cent each. But this time the NDP vote may collapse, as the party still does not have a candidate in the riding, after two previous nominees both stepped down.
Although the Greens got just two per cent of the votes in 2015, its new candidate, lawyer Iain Currie, has been actively campaigning and will try to stake some of the centre-left support in the riding.
Liberal MP Joe Peschisolido is running for re-election, despite being under investigation by the federal ethics watchdog over allegations that he failed to update his public records when the Law Society of B.C. took control of his law firm earlier this year.
Peschisolido was elected as a Canadian Alliance MP for Richmond in 2000, crossed the floor to the Liberals in 2002, and was punished by voters in 2004 with an electoral defeat. He made his political comeback in 2015 when he beat his Conservative challenger by just over six per cent in the newly drawn riding of Steveston-Richmond East
Nearly 50 per cent of residents are Chinese in this riding, which typically swings Conservative, so can Peschisolido hold it for the Liberals as he faces off against the same 2015 Conservative candidate, Kenny Chiu?
Chiu has criticized the Liberals’ financial policies and foreign affairs, and in March said the way Ottawa handled the case of Huawei’s executive Meng Wanzhou had “completely tarnished” Canada’s foreign reputation, the Richmond News reported.
Former TransLink spokesman Ken Hardie rode the 2015 Liberal wave in this Surrey riding, routing Conservative incumbent Nina Grewal, who had held the seat since 2004.
Grewal faced some controversies, and so too does Hardie’s newest Conservative opponent, Shinder Purewal, a Kwantlen University political science professor. In 2011, when he was running for the federal Liberals, he tweeted that Vancouver’s Pride Parade was “vulgar” and should be banned, and debate about the tweet has resurfaced during this campaign.
However, Canseco said this is such a multicultural riding with so many differing points of view that Purewal’s tweet may not hurt on election day.
“Can you hold on to that type of momentum for Hardie, when he was swept up by Trudeaumania?” Canseco wondered. “This riding is remarkably Conservative. So it could flip.”
South Surrey-White Rock
The Liberals pilfered this riding away from the Conservatives in a 2017 byelection, after Tory MP Dianne Watts — the popular former Surrey mayor — resigned her seat.
Former provincial cabinet minister and White Rock mayor Gordie Hogg won by a slim majority over former Conservative MP Kerry-Lynne Findlay — and the two are back to battle for the traditionally blue seat.
Byelections are seen as a referendum on the governing party, so Hogg’s victory was encouraging then — but two years later the Liberals are dealing with more scandals.
Hogg has deep roots in the community, after spending four decades in municipal and provincial politics. Findlay, a lawyer, was elected as the Conservative MP for Delta-Richmond East in 2011 and served as national revenue minister before being defeated in 2015.
Canseco said this riding is a “mixed bag” that makes an election-day outcome hard to predict, but he believes Hogg could keep his seat.
However, Cameron, the UBC political scientist, argued this is one of the diverse ridings in which the black-face photo could hurt Trudeau’s Liberals.
With more than four weeks to go, the outcomes of these ridings remain, of course, unpredictable.
“The other factor in tight swing areas, especially in Metro Vancouver, is going to be voter turnout. What we know is that Conservative voters are very motivated, very loyal,” said Kurl.
“We know that B.C. is a battleground.”
— With files from David Carrigg and Nick Eagland
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