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Battleground BC

More on the North: Cariboo North, Cariboo South and North Coast

Two seats move to 'Solid Liberal' and one to 'Solid NDP'.

By Will McMartin, 1 May 2005,

Three seats in Battleground BC's North region - two Liberal and one NDP - have been moved from the 'likely' to 'solid' columns. Cariboo North and Cariboo South are expected to be retained easily by the BC Liberals, while North Coast will return to the New Democratic Party fold.

As related yesterday (April 30), both the New Democrats and Greens fared poorly in the North in the 2001 general election, receiving far-smaller shares of the popular vote than they did province-wide. The Liberals won all 10 seats in the region, most by substantial margins.

The table below illustrates the margins of victory four years ago by the North's Liberal MLAs over the combined vote-totals of the NDP and Green party.

Consider: Liberal John Wilson won Cariboo North with 65.0% of the popular vote. His New Democratic Party opponent was far behind at 17.7%, and the Green candidate had just 4.6%, for a NDP-Green total of 22.3%.

Wilson's margin over the combined NDP-Green vote-share was 42.7 percentage points. This was the third highest in the North's 10 ridings, close behind Peace River North and Peace River South, both of which are solid Liberal seats.

Given current province-wide public opinion polls, which consistently show the Liberals leading by New Democrats by six-to-eight percentage points, the Liberal advantage in Cariboo North and Cariboo South currently appears insurmountable.

Such is not the case in North Coast, where Liberal Bill Belsey garnered just 45.3% of the popular vote in 2001. This was a minuscule three percentage points ahead of the combined vote-share for his NDP and Green opponents. Again, current polls suggest that it is extremely unlikely that Belsey will retain his seat on May 17.

CARIBOO NORTH became a single-member seat in 1991, and that year was won by New Democrat Frank Garden with a paltry 39.1% of the vote. Five years later, when Garden's vote-share slipped to 38.3%, he lost to Liberal Wilson.

Wilson, a soft-spoken veterinarian who made little impact in Victoria, has retired from politics. Quesnel's mayor, Steve Wallace, is the Liberal candidate and should succeed Wilson as MLA on May 17.

The NDP candidate is Bob Simpson, a business consultant and former Liberal. CARIBOO SOUTH was held by New Democrat Dave Zirnhelt from 1991 to 2001. (He initially won a 1988 by-election when Cariboo was a two-member riding.) Zirnhelt - who served in cabinet as minister of economic development, and later forests - captured 45.4% of the vote in 1991, 41.5% in 1996, but lost four years ago with just 25.8%.

The Liberal victor in 2001 was Walt Cobb, former mayor of Williams Lake, who had a massive 62.2% vote-share. Cobb has been a fixture on the government backbench and has little prospect of getting a cabinet portfolio, but his huge margin of victory four years ago will be very difficult for any opponent to overcome.

Representing the New Democratic Party is Charlie Wyse, a former Williams Lake city councillor and onetime Conservative.

NORTH COAST was held by the New Democrats from 1972 until 2001, when Liberal Bill Belsey took the seat with 45.3% of the vote. As illustrated by the table below, his margin of victory over the combined NDP-Green vote was a minuscule three percentage points. Given recent province-wide public opinion polls, it appears very unlikely that he will win a second successive term.

The New Democratic Party candidate and probable victor is Gary Coons, a teacher and president of the local BCTF.

Table - Liberal margin of victory over combined NDP and Green vote in 2001

  • Peace River North - 61.7
  • Peace River South - 52.4
  • Cariboo North - 42.7
  • Skeena - 40.0
  • Prince George North - 39.3
  • Prince George-Omineca - 37.0
  • Cariboo South - 36.4
  • Prince George-Mount Robson - 28.3
  • Bulkley Valley-Stikine - 28.2
  • North Coast - 3.0