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Green Vancouver-Fairview could help shape provincial campaign

By-elections tend to be low-key affairs, but lessons drawn from next week’s two votes could shape strategies for May’s big dance. And one of these mini-referenda is taking place in a district that’s about as green as they come.

“I would suspect there are probably more environmentalists per capita living in Vancouver-Fairview than maybe in the rest of Canada,” according to Kennedy Stewart, a political scientist in Simon Fraser University’s Graduate Public Policy Program. “So it’ll be really interesting to see where the environment fits in this whole by-election.”

Stewart says the two major parties may be reluctant to talk about the issue because the Liberals realize their carbon tax is unpopular and the NDP have not come up with a solid alternative.

“I think that’s going to be a theme right through until the next provincial election,” he said. “The Greens are going to consistently try to keep the environment as the top issue where the other two parties are going to try to scurry away from the environment.”

While the predictive power of by-election results is usually limited because of low turnout, next week’s contests could be significant as the first and only public consultations on the carbon tax before the province-wide vote, according to Mario Canseco, vice president of public affairs for Angus Reid Strategies.

“It’s almost like a test run,” Canseco said. “If the NDP does well with their message of punish polluters, do something with the industry and axe the tax, we might be in for something interesting in May.”

Stewart doesn’t think the NDP’s opposition to the carbon tax will play well in a wealthy, short-commute district like Vancouver-Fairview but believes disgruntled supporters are more likely to stay home than defect in huge numbers to the Greens.

Canseco expects the Greens to exceed their single-digit share of the popular vote from 2005 but would be surprised by anything more than 15 to 20 percent, even with party leader Jane Sterk as the Vancouver-Fairview candidate.

As for the impact of increased Green votes, Stewart says it’s difficult to know which of the two major parties will suffer most. Most support tends to come from people who wouldn’t otherwise engage in the process but it depends from riding to riding.

Both Kennedy and Canseco think the Liberals are likely to take back the seat they lost in 2005 to Gregor Robertson who is now running for Vancouver mayor.

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