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Mid-campaign regional analysis: British Columbia

With just days to go until the federal election, what looked to be advantage Conservatives in British Columbia is looking more like advantage NDP.

Heading into Thanksgiving weekend, the Conservatives—reduced to just 10 of the province’s 42 seats in 2015—looked well positioned to take seats from the Liberals and New Democrats, and re-establish themselves as the dominant federal political force in B.C.

It looked like a perfect storm for the province’s progressives. The Liberals, NDP and Greens were all within a few points of one another, with the Conservatives comfortably leading the pack. The numbers pointed to Conservative wins in their traditional strongholds in the Interior, and potential victories in four-way races on Vancouver Island.

Then came the Jagmeet Singh surge. The New Democrats are picking up support across Canada, and the latest Ipsos poll now shows the NDP leading in B.C. at 30%, up 4.1 points compared with 2015, when the party won 14 seats. The Conservatives are now running second (27%), with the Liberals (26%) and the Greens (13%) trailing.

If these numbers hold until election day, things are looking good for the NDP to hold their 14 incumbent seats and maybe make gains in Metro Vancouver’s suburbs. And the Conservatives? These numbers suggest that a number of must-win seats, within their grasp just a few days ago, may be slipping beyond their reach.

Unpacking how this will play out starts by recognizing that battleground British Columbia is actually four different battlegrounds, each with its own set of unique issues and dynamics.

There is northern and interior B.C. The Conservatives are looking to pick up as many as four seats here. Two would come from the Liberals in Mission—Matsqui—Fraser Canyon and in Kelowna—Lake Country. Though Liberals are hoping former B.C. Liberal MLA Terry Lake could steal Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, those hopes appear to be fading. The Conservatives are attracting support in resource communities struggling with forestry layoffs and where people are unhappy with governments in Ottawa and Victoria.

There are two Conservative-NDP races to watch there, in Kootenay—Columbia and South Okanagan—West Kootenay. While these seats looked like potential Conservative pick-ups, rising NDP support may help NDP incumbents Wayne Stetski and Richard Cannings hold on.

The Conservatives need to make gains in suburban Metro Vancouver. Cost of living is top of mind in these communities, and the Conservatives’ focus on putting money in people’s pockets and making life more affordable for families is resonating to an extent. The Conservatives could pick up as many as nine more seats in this region, most of them from the Liberals in places like Richmond, Delta and across the North Shore.

The Conservatives had also hoped to get some pick-ups in seat-rich Surrey and Burnaby. Rising NDP support will make this a challenge for Andrew Scheer and his team. The NDP is also running on pocketbook issues like pharmacare. Jagmeet Singh is running in Burnaby South and his local presence is helping candidates in Burnaby and with Surrey’s large Indo-Canadian population. So for the Conservatives, these two cities are now a big election-day question mark.

There is one Burnaby seat where the Conservatives stand no change. That’s Burnaby-North Seymour, where they have no candidate. Liberal incumbent Terry Beech is expected to benefit from the Conservatives not having a candidate, but rising NDP support in B.C. means New Democrat Svend Robinson may have a shot.

Vancouver Island was supposed to be where Elizabeth May and the Greens break through, and they do stand a good chance of winning as many as five seats. But with polls showing the NDP now in the lead in B.C., the NDP is better positioned to fend off the Greens and maintain at least some of their Vancouver Island seats. There is also a scenario where the Conservatives pick up a number of seats. Yes, Vancouver Island is as progressive as the rest of Canada thinks it is. The opportunity for the Conservatives is that support among progressives is fairly evenly split among the Liberals, NDP and Greens. That’s a recipe for potential Conservative pick-ups in more rural areas, such as Courtenay—Alberni and North Island—Powell River.

The one B.C. region where the Conservatives are likely to be shut out is Vancouver. In the city, voters are expected to vote as they have in recent past in NDP and Liberal strongholds. The most interesting contest pits former Liberal Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould—now running as an independent—against Liberal candidate Taleeb Noormohamed. Ms. Wilson-Raybould launched her campaign with a show of force—a huge rally attended by local activists and even her political opponent Elizabeth May. Still, independents face a big disadvantage compared with well-resourced federal campaign, and Mr. Noormohamed may well come out with the victory.

With the federal election results expected to be close, and with so many B.C. seats potentially in play, expect all the political parties to campaign hard in B.C. in the campaign’s few remaining days.

Justin Trudeau will rally support for the Liberals, saying that a vote for the NDP or a vote for the Greens will mean a Bloc Quebecois-backed Conservative government. This approach has worked well for Liberals in other elections, and they hope it will work this time too.

For his part, Jagmeet Singh will look to build on the momentum of his strong debate performances and polling numbers. Watch for big rallies in the Lower Mainland and on Vancouver Island where Singh will encourage voters to back his plan to stand up for people against the rich and powerful.

Elizabeth May will put her focus on Vancouver Island. The region represents her biggest political opportunity in all her years leading the party, and she will urge voters there to elect a strong contingent of Green MPs to fight the climate crisis.

With the Conservatives looking strong in the North and Interior, expect Andrew Scheer to campaign in suburban Metro Vancouver talking about his proposed tax cuts.

How will it all play out? Will the Conservatives restore their hold over federal politics in B.C.? Will the Liberals find a way to maintain the historic gains they made in 2015? Will the NDP or Greens surprise? Time will tell.

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Written by John Sparks

Mid-campaign regional analysis: the Prairies
October 11, 2019