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Battleground BC

More on the North: Three Seats Go 'Likely Liberal'

Skeena, Prince George North and Prince George-Omineca no longer 'up for grabs.'

By Will McMartin, 2 May 2005, TheTyee.ca

Three seats in Battleground BC's North region have been moved from the 'up-for-grabs' column to 'likely' wins for the Liberals. The changes were made in light of two factors: province-wide opinion polls which show the Liberals consistently leading the New Democratic Party by six-to-eight percentage points, and the Liberal margins of victory in these northern ridings four years ago.

In 2001, Liberal Roger Harris captured SKEENA with 65.2% of the popular vote, exactly 40 percentage points ahead of the combined vote-share of his NDP and Green opponents. Liberal Pat Bell triumphed in PRINCE GEORGE NORTH with a 61.2% vote-share, good for a 39.3 percentage point lead over the NDP-Green tally, and Liberal Paul Nettleton won re-election in PRINCE GEORGE-OMINECA with 61.7%, an even 37 percentage points ahead of his major rivals' combined popular vote.

At first glance, it would appear that all three ridings should be retained easily by the Liberals. But local factors in each, plus regional alienation over the Campbell government's record and program cutbacks, make it difficult to place any in the 'solid' Liberal column at the present time.

In SKEENA, the town of Kitimat has initiated legal proceedings to overturn two provincial government directives which allow Alcan to export hydro-electricity to the United States. Led by mayor Rick Wozney, who ran unsuccessfully for the Liberals in 1996, the municipal council believes that Alcan has laid-off local workers engaged in aluminum production so as to focus on hydro exports.

In the two Prince George ridings, many residents are miffed that the Liberals broke their 2001 election commitment to "not sell or privatize" BC Rail, the Crown corporation that later was sold to CN.

While these regional issues are certain to diminish support for the Liberals, the fact is that the governing party currently enjoys a comfortable lead in province-wide polls over their principal opponents, the New Democratic Party. Unless the NDP is able to reverse the trend and establish a lead in the polls, the Liberals are likely to retain these three northern seats.

SKEENA was won by New Democrat Helmut Geisbrecht with 46.7% of the vote in 1991. He won re-election with a slim 40.3% five years later, and survived a hard-fought recall campaign before losing with 19.9% to Harris. Popular with local residents, Harris one year ago was named minister of state for forest operations.

Representing the NDP is Robin Austin, a social worker.

New Democrat Paul Ramsey represented PRINCE GEORGE NORTH for 10 years before he retired in 2001. Ramsey won just 38.7% of the vote in 1991, and then a paltry 39.6% in 1996, and like Geisbrecht was able to stave off the ignominy of being recalled. Like Harris, Liberal MLA Bell was named as a junior minister of state in early 2004, responsible for promoting mine development.

The NDP candidate is Deborah Poff, a popular political science professor at the local University of Northern British Columbia.

PRINCE GEORGE-OMINECA was one of just seven B.C. electoral districts to elect a Social Credit MLA in the 1991 election debacle that followed Bill Vander Zalm's premiership. Nettleton captured the riding with a bare 36.9% in a tight three-way contest (between the Liberals, NDP and BC Reform) in 1996, but retained the seat with 61.7% in 2001.

John Rustad, blessed with the surname of a prominent Prince George lumber family, is the Liberal candidate. Representing the New Democratic Party is Chuck Fraser, a social worker who contested the seat in 1996, and lost to Nettleton by 308 votes, albeit with just 34.8% of the vote.

Table - North: 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%
 [Tyee]