One of Prime Minister Trudeau’s favourite lines from the 2015 federal election was that British Columbia was his “second home” given his family’s history and previous work experience in the province. He’ll need every ounce of those connections and goodwill during the 2019 federal campaign.
The political landscape has changed significantly for the Liberals over four years. Justin Trudeau is facing a host of problems as he seeks to secure his current swath of seats in the province:
- the impact and related controversy over the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion (TMX) project;
- two opposing party leaders (Jagmeet Singh and Elizabeth May) with seats in the province;
- a now NDP-led provincial government;
- affordability issues such as housing and fuel prices, and;
- the rising tide of climate change concerns.
Taken together, these are significant challenges for a government that won the lion’s share of seats in the Lower Mainland the last time around, as well as seats in what were once Conservative strongholds such as Kelowna.
Looking ahead to October, there are various “X factors” for the federal campaign. These include the following:
How will the votes split among B.C. “progressives”?
The centre-left battle for votes will decide numerous ridings. In this context, the Green Party’s surge is no doubt causing some in Liberal circles to check their blood pressure. The Green Party was not a major factor in 2015. Lately, they have found momentum, particularly on Vancouver Island, where they won a 2019 by-election. In areas around Vancouver proper, this could result in significant split riding results. Jagmeet Singh’s by-election win in B.C.—now political “beachhead” for the NDP—may also disrupt the Liberals in riding battles for so-called “progressive” voters.
This problem becomes even more palpable when we take a look at the electoral map in British Columbia. While the province is geographically large, only the Lower Mainland is dense enough to warrant a significant number of ridings. If partisan support in the Lower Mainland remains fractured, then the vast majority of available seats in British Columbia could be truly up for grabs.
In tight races, the advantage inevitably goes to those with the best organization. The political “ground game” will be absolutely critical for parties. Better volunteers and campaign managers with resources can turn out votes faster and more effectively than candidates with skeleton operations. For the Liberals and Conservatives, this is a strategic advantage. The New Democrats will also be able to draw upon deep organizational talent and infrastructure in B.C., perhaps benefiting from Premier John Horgan’s incumbency.
A distinct edge will also go to the political parties best able to leverage advancements in digital and social media to get their messages across in a way that will have a definitive impact on voters.
Who will gain First Nations’ voter support?
Multiple First Nations will impact the election results in B.C. While the Prime Minister has made efforts to build bridges with First Nations’ communities, and has made reconciliation a top priority, support for the Liberals among First Nations is still seemingly mixed. Issues like the PM’s support for TMX have not helped his cause. The fact that pipeline construction will likely begin very close to the election offers a tremendous risk of negative media coverage.
In 2015, the Liberal Party made gains among First Nations voters, but the NDP still drew the majority of their votes according to a CBC News analysis conducted in 2016. It remains to be seen if the Liberal Party and Justin Trudeau will be able to repeat their 2015 performance with First Nations voters.
Will Andrew Scheer seize the opportunity?
There is a genuine opportunity for Andrew Scheer and the Conservative Party to make some gains in British Columbia. Although it may seem counterintuitive, Scheer’s stance in favour of increased natural resources development will probably help him retain the support of more free-enterprisers who would welcome investment and economic development in British Columbia.
His objective must be to retain their support if he wants to both hold on to his current seats in the B.C. interior, as well as to pick up more seats such as Steveston—Richmond East or Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge.
Scheer will also be hoping that the Green Party and the NDP can cause a large enough split in voter support in order to win some of the more vulnerable ridings in the Lower Mainland. For the Conservatives, British Columbia represents one of their best chances to add to their seat total. Indeed, Scheer’s environmental plan is further proof of the opportunity his team sees—even if he can’t win environmental moderates, there is a chance that the few votes his plan will help earn could make the difference in tight races in British Columbia.
The looming fight in B.C. will undoubtedly be one of the most interesting battlegrounds comes the fall.
——— Written by Jeffrey Ferrier, Vice-President, Public Affairs, and Andrew Richardson, former Manager, Political Insights and Strategy, NATIONAL Public Relations