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Battleground BC

Vancouver Island South: Carole James Territory

For the first time in decades, the NDP was shut out here in 2001.

By Will McMartin, 17 Apr 2005, TheTyee.ca

This Battleground BC region returned six MLAs in every general election between 1903 (when party politics arrived in the province) and 1966. Victoria, the capital city, had four MLAs until 1941 when it lost one to the new riding of Oak Bay; Saanich and Esquimalt were single-member districts.

With rare exceptions, the party elected to government — the Conservatives (1903-1916); the Liberals (1916-1928); the Conservatives again (1928-33); back to the Liberals (1933-1941); then the Coalition (1941-1952); and finally Social Credit (1952-75) — won at least half of the region’s seats.

Socialist victories in the region were rare. Robert Connell, leader of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, won one of the Victoria seats in 1933, but suffered defeat four years later. Two decades later, in 1952, CCFer Frank Mitchell triumphed in Esquimalt, but he was turfed the following year.

Victoria was reduced to two-member status in 1966, and three years later Social Credit won all five of the region’s seats. It was the Socred high-water mark, as the region splintered when Dave Barrett led the New Democratic Party to power in 1972. In that election Esquimalt chose a New Democrat (Jim Gorst); Saanich and the Islands elected a Conservative (Hugh Curtis); Oak Bay re-elected its MLA (Scott Wallace), formerly was a Socred but who had converted to the Conservatives, and two-member Victoria returned a Liberal (David Anderson) and a Socred (Newell Morrison).

In 1975, even as the Barrett government was kicked out of office and New Democrats across the province were losing their seats, NDP newcomer Charlie Barber captured one of the two Victoria seats. The other Victoria MLA was a Socred (Sam Bawlf), and Esquimalt also elected a Social Credit MLA (Lyle Kahl). In Saanich, Curtis, who had quit the Conservatives on the eve of the election, was re-elected as a Socred, while Oak Bay returned Wallace, the former Socred turned Tory.

The NDP regained Esquimalt-Port Renfrew in 1979 as Frank Mitchell returned to the legislature after a lengthy absence, and two New Democrats now represented Victoria as Barber was joined by Gordon Hanson. Socred MLA Curtis won re-election in Saanich, and Social Credit newcomer Brian Smith topped the polls in Oak Bay-Gordon Head. Four years later, in the 1983 general election, four of the five incumbents were re-elected. The exception was Barber, who retired and was succeeded by Robin Blencoe, also a New Democrat.

Saanich and the Islands joined Victoria as a two-member district in 1986. The former elected two Social Credit newcomers, Mel Couvelier and Terry Huberts, while the latter returned NDP incumbents Hanson and Blencoe. Smith held Oak Bay-Gordon Head, while NDP rookie Moe Sihota won in Esquimalt-Port Renfrew following Mitchell’s retirement. The 1991 general election, won by Mike Harcourt’s NDP, saw the Socreds disappear from the region. Six of seven MLAs in the area were New Democrats: Blencoe in Victoria-Hillside; Gretchen Brewin in Victoria-Beacon Hill; Sihota in Esquimalt-Metchosin; Elizabeth Cull (victor in an earlier by-election following Smith’s retirement) in Oak Bay-Gordon Head; Andrew Petter in Saanich South; Rick Kasper in Malahat-Juan de Fuca. Only Saanich North and the Islands resisted the NDP onslaught, choosing instead a Liberal, Clive Tanner.

Five years later, NDP MLAs Sihota, Brewin, Petter and Kasper won re-election, while New Democrat Steve Orcherton succeeded Blencoe in Victoria-Hillside. The Liberals now had two MLAs in the capital region: Ida Chong overtook Cull in Oak Bay-Gordon Head, while Murray Coell succeeded Tanner in Saanich North and the Islands.

In 2001, for the first time in decades, the NDP was shut-out of the capital region as the Liberals swept all seven seats: Sheila Orr defeated Orcherton in Victoria-Hillside; Jeff Bray captured Victoria-Beacon Hill; Chong was returned in Oak Bay-Gordon Head; Coell won re-election in Saanich North and the Islands; Susan Brice prevailed in Saanich South; Arne Hamilton topped the polls in Esquimalt-Metchosin; and Brian Kerr beat Kasper (who ran as an Independent) in Malahat-Juan de Fuca.

The 2005 election is likely to see the return of at least a few South Island New Democrats to the legislature. NDP leader Carole James, running for a second time in Victoria-Beacon Hill, should prevail over Bray. Esquimalt-Metchosin and Malahat-Juan de Fuca, neither of which has a Liberal incumbent seeking re-election, are solid bets to return NDP MLAs, while Victoria-Hillside is likely to choose a New Democratic Party representative.

Oak Bay-Gordon Head and Saanich North and the Islands are solidly behind Liberal incumbents Chong and Coell, while the region’s most exciting race is expected to take place in Saanich South.

TABLE -- BC Liberal share of the vote in 2001:

  • Oak Bay-Gordon Head — 57.3%
  • Saanich North and the Islands — 54.3%
  • Saanich South — 52.2%
  • Esquimalt-Metchosin — 45.8%
  • Malahat-Juan de Fuca — 42.3%
  • Victoria-Beacon Hill — 37.0%
  • Victoria-Hillside — 37.7%

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 will@thetyee.ca  [Tyee]