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Vancouver Island North: The closest race in BC?

In the last two federal elections, the same two foes battled it out in Vancouver Island North, splitting their races by a hair.

Here come round three for New Democrat MP Catherine Bell and former Conservative MP John Duncan.

In 2006, Duncan lost to Bell by just 616 votes – that’s a mere 1.1 per cent of the vote. “I did get 41 per cent of the vote. I've won elections with less,” said Duncan.

Before his defeat, Duncan, a forester from Campbell River, had held the riding for 13 years, first for the Reform Party, then the Alliance and finally the Conservatives. He stopped short of calling former trade unionist Bell's 2006 victory a fluke, but he noted it was the highest result for the NDP in the riding since 1988.

Before that, in the 2004 election, Duncan squeaked in with 35.4 per cent of the vote, only 483 ballots ahead of Bell. The margin was a tiny 0.9 per cent.

This time around both Duncan and Bell are predicting another hard-fought, two-way race that's too close to call. Some key factors:

A rebounding Green Party. Duncan says he expects a lift as Greens siphon NDP votes.

The hurting forest sector. Bell will be hammering the softwood lumber agreement backed by Stephen Harper. “He's taken us backwards, sold out our resources and our industrial communities.” The softwood deal contributed to the closure of a local saw mill as well as part of a pulp mill. “Our government sold out our ability to subsidize an industry that's in trouble, that could use some government support,” Bell said.

Duncan, however, said that while times are tough in resource dependent communities, the Conservatives are the best party for the economy. “Who's the best fiscal manager? Who's responsive to the needs of resource communities?” Harper is “the best Prime Minister Canada's had in my lifetime,” states Duncan, “and I've been around for awhile.”

The yin-yang effect. The last time voters from northern Vancouver Island sent somebody from the winning party to Ottawa was 1974. Since then the riding has been consistently out of step with the majority of Canadians

Neither sees the Liberals as a factor in the riding. Support for the party has dwindled in the region, and this time they're running a political newcomer, Geoff Fleischer.

Read more about the North Island race in today’s full-length Tyee feature.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria.

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