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Battleground BC

Vancouver Island North-Coast: Leaning Left Again

But Alberni-Qualicum, Comox Valley, Nanaimo-Parksville and Powell River-Sunshine Coast are up for grabs.

By Will McMartin, 16 Apr 2005,

This Battleground BC sub-region has strongly supported ‘left-of-centre’ politicians and parties for more than a century; a situation unlikely to change in 2005.

B.C.’s sixth general election, in 1890, was the first in which ‘labour’ candidates won election to the provincial legislature. Both Tom Keith, elected as MLA for Nanaimo City, and Tom Forster, who topped the polls in two-member Nanaimo, were nominated by the Miners’ and Mine Labourers’ Protective Association. The two had campaigned on the ‘Workingmen’s Platform,’ as did Forsters’ seat-mate, Colin McKenzie, a ‘farmers’ candidate.’

Political parties appeared on the political scene in 1903, and the Socialist Party of British Columbia won two seats in the legislature. Both were in the mid-Island area: J.H. Hawthornthwaite was returned in Nanaimo City, while Parker Williams captured Newcastle.

For a decade or so, the socialists maintained a solid grasp of seats in the Nanaimo-Newcastle area, while the Liberals and Conservatives prevailed in Alberni, Comox, and the Islands. But the Liberals captured Nanaimo in 1916, and held it for 36 years with William Sloan (1916-1928) and George Pearson (1928-1952). The Mackenzie electoral district, created across the strait on the mainland in 1924, initially supported the Conservatives.

Establishment of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation in 1933 had little immediate impact on the region, as just Mackenzie elected a CCF MLA in the party’s inaugural effort. Four years later, however, Colin Cameron captured Comox, and Sam Guthrie, who had served a single term as Newcastle MLA for the Federated Labour Party (1920-24), was returned in Cowichan-Newcastle. Each was re-elected in 1941 and again in 1945, but both lost in 1949. The CCF’s Herbert Gargrave won Mackenzie in 1941 and 1945, before he too was rejected in 1949.

In 1952, when W.A.C. Bennett’s Social Credit party began its two-decade reign, the CCF had its best-ever showing in the mid- and northern Vancouver Island region, taking Alberni (with John Squire), Cowichan-Newcastle (Bob Strachan), Comox (Bill Moore) and Mackenzie (Tony Gargrave). These seats stayed in CCF hands for some time, as Strachan would win nine consecutive elections; Gargrave and Squire, five apiece; and Moore, two.

Nanaimo returned a Conservative MLA in 1952 and 1953, then a Socred in 1956 and 1960, before electing its first New Democratic Party MLA, Dave Stupich, in 1963. Stupich was re-elected in 1966, lost in 1969, and then scored victories in 1972, 1975, 1979, 1983 and 1986. The Socreds, meanwhile, held sway in Comox (with Dan Campbell, 1956 to 1972) and Mackenzie (with Isabel Dawson, 1966 to 1972).

The NDP picked up all five mid- and north Island seats in 1972, with Stupich in Nanaimo, Strachan in Cowichan-Malahat, Karen Sanford in Comox, Bob Skelly in Alberni, and Don Lockstead in Mackenzie. Three years later, despite being turfed from government after a single term, the NDP retained all five ridings, including Cowichan-Malahat where Barbara Wallace had succeeded Strachan. After losing his North Vancouver seat in 1975, former NDP MLA Colin Gabelmann won the newly-created seat of North Island in 1979.

The region’s six seats were swept by the New Democrats in 1983, but only four of seven in 1986 when Bill Vander Zalm’s Socreds formed government. Nanaimo, a new two-member riding, returned Stupich and Dale Lovick, while Mackenzie, Cowichan-Malahat and Comox were won by Social Credit newcomers Harold Long, Graham Bruce and Stan Hagen. Redistribution prior to the 1991 general election gave the region seven single-member seats, all but one of which subsequently was won by the New Democrats. The exception was Power River-Sunshine Coast (previously Mackenzie), where Liberal leader Gordon Wilson prevailed. Socreds Long, Bruce and Hagen were defeated.

The NDP retained five of their six seats in 1996, losing Parksville-Qualicum to Liberal Paul Reitsma (who later resigned his seat after being caught in a phony-letter writing scandal), while Wilson — who had jumped to the short-lived Progressive Democratic Alliance — was re-elected in Powell River-Sunshine Coast.

All seven seats were swept by the Liberals in 2001. The victors included former Socred MLAs Long (in Powell River-Sunshine Coast), Bruce (Cowichan-Ladysmith) and Hagen (Comox Valley). Others included Rod Visser (North Island), Gillian Trumper (Alberni-Qualicum), Mike Hunter (Nanaimo) and Judith Reid (Nanaimo-Parksville).

Six of the seven are seeking re-election in 2005, as Reid has opted for retirement. Given historic election results, Cowichan-Ladysmith, Nanaimo and North Island are likely to be re-captured by the New Democrats, while Alberni-Qualicum, Comox Valley, Nanaimo-Parksville and Powell River-Sunshine Coast are ‘up for grabs.’

TABLE -- Vancouver Island North-Coast, listed in order of Liberals’ 2001 vote-share

  • Nanaimo-Parksville — 62.6%
  • North Island — 57.1%
  • Comox Valley — 56.3%
  • Alberni-Qualicum — 53.3%
  • Cowichan-Ladysmith — 52.2%
  • Nanaimo — 44.6%
  • Powell River-Sunshine Coast — 42.4%

Check in daily for Battleground BC, Will McMartin’s voting predictions and analysis, exclusive to The Tyee. You can reach him with tips, insights and info at  [Tyee]