ELXN: NDP’s Battleground BC Strategy
BC has rarely been the battleground province that Ontario or Quebec normally is (Ontario and Quebec have 121 and 78 seats respectively, while BC has only 42 seats), but BC is the province where the four major parties are polling the closest together and will therefore see some of the hardest fights in this election. 338 Canada provides this breakdown in BC (as of October 2):
· Conservative: 32.6%
· Liberal: 27.1%
· NDP: 18.1%
· Green: 17.8%
With this tight a race, BC voters may be more likely to feel that their vote counts, and – importantly – that their elected MP could hold the balance of power for a party winning a majority or minority in October.
With this feeling of empowerment, progressive BC voters (whose policy priorities are the environment, housing affordability, and taxes) who are unsatisfied with the Liberals (especially their record on pipelines and climate change) may be more likely to vote their conscience (read: vote for the NDP or Greens) instead of strategically voting Liberal. As former Premier Christy Clark said, British Columbians are the “least strategic voters in the country.”
As the province where the NDP are polling the strongest (outside of the Territories), this dynamic presents real opportunities for the NDP to win seats in BC.
Where Can the NDP Win in BC?
We can see the NDP strategy at play in mostly urban and suburban BC ridings, like Vancouver South, Burnaby-North Seymour. All three of these ridings are a toss-up, with Liberal incumbents facing strong challengers from the NDP and Conservative Party. For Vancouver Island ridings, like Courtenay-Alberni (where the CPC, NDP, and Greens are polling within 4 points of each other), the environment is a particularly relevant policy issue after forest fires have caused respiratory illness and blackened the sky for the past few summers. As a result, candidates from the NDP, Greens, as well as CPC have made climate change a key part of their platforms– along with attacking the Liberal record on everything from being a global climate leader to the carbon tax.
The NDP are also finding support in exurban ridings (like Cowichan–Malahat–Langford) andrural ridings (like North Island-Powell River and Courtenay-Alberni, all on Vancouver Island), where they face steep competition from both the Conservatives and the Greens. This reflects the divide British Columbians feel about pipelines: a recent Angus Reid poll shows that 55% of British Columbians support the next federal government building the TransMountain pipeline, while 31% are against. Support for the pipeline is fairly widespread across the province, with a June 2019 poll (also from Angus Reid) showing that Metro Vancouver was 59% in support, Vancouver Island was 60% in support, and the Interior and Northern BC at 63% support. This level of support across the province has remained fairly static over the past year and is unlikely to change significantly.
The TransMountain pipeline would carry oil from Alberta to Burnaby, BC, the city where Singh is running.
Jagmeet Singh’s BC Promises
Jagmeet Singh has therefore tried to straddle his promise to fight climate change with BC voters’ support of energy projects like the Coastal GasLink, as well as his pledges to affected Indigenous communities – a fine, at-times contradictory line to walk but not dissipate to the line NDP Premier John Horgan has straddled successfully to-date.
However, Singh’s opposition to the TransMountain pipeline may ultimately hurt NDP candidates in rural and suburban ridings by leaving them open to attacks from the Greens and the Conservatives.
Jagmeet Singh is hoping to capitalize on NDP support in BC with policies that have particular impact in BC, like reducing BC Ferry fares and the opioid crisis.
Standing on a ferry, Singh announced his government would spend $30 million to reduce the BC Ferries passenger fares in an effort to make life more affordable for suburban and rural families. While other provinces may raise eyebrows at such a localized campaign promise, the tough competition the NDP are facing against the Greens on Vancouver Island gives the NDP a strong rationale for promoting policies that make life more affordable for these residents. Moreover, the existential threat of winning less than 12 seats and therefore losing party status – which the NDP currently faces – gives a political rationale for localized promises in an area were the party holds a realistic chance of maintaining seats.
Similarly, the opioid crisis has hit BC particularly hard, and Singh said his government would immediately declare a public health emergency and stop the criminalization of people dealing with addiction. But he stopped short of committing to regulate a safe supply of drugs.
BC is in the unique position in the country of having ridings with legitimate four-way races across the province. While the Liberals swept BC in 2015 in a record-breaking 17-seat win (beating the previous election record set by Pierre Trudeau in 1968), this year BC is up for grabs as a battleground province where the NDP are hoping to make several victories.
As such, BC may be the key for each party to get what they want. Under a thin Liberal victory in Ontario and Quebec, BC could deliver Conservatives with enough seats to win a Minority. On the other hand, should the Liberals grow support in Ontario and Quebec over the next three weeks, BC could make the difference between a minority and majority Liberal government – with all the perks that carries. For the Greens – who are expected to win 5 seats in this election, with 4 of those seats coming from BC – winning seats in BC can give them enough power to prop up a minority government in a coalition and influence policy-making on climate change.
Now that we’re only a few weeks away from October 21, Canadians en masse are starting to pay attention to the election, which means that it’s time for each of the candidates to give this election everything they’ve got and power through to the finish line. Given the four-way race in BC, we might even see some tectonic plates shift. It will make for some tense late-night TV-viewing for all keen political observers on October 21st.