The Tyee

Three Ridings Moved in Vancouver Island North Coast Region

No longer ‘up for grabs’: Powell River-Sunshine Coast, Alberni-Qualicum, Comox Valley

By: By Will McMartin, 9 May 2005,

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Battleground BC has removed three ridings in the Vancouver Island North-Coast region from the 'up-for-grabs' column. ALBERNI-QUALICUM and POWELL RIVER-SUNSHINE COAST now are viewed as 'likely' to elect New Democratic Party MLAs, while COMOX VALLEY is considered 'likely' to return Liberal incumbent Stan Hagen.

The Vancouver Island North-Coast region has a century-long history of support for centre-left parties. (See Battleground BC, April 16)

The New Democratic Party swept all five of the region's seats in 1972, and following redistribution took six-of-six in 1979 and 1983. Bill Vander Zalm's Social Credit party captured three seats - with Hagen in Comox, Graham Bruce in Cowichan-Malahat, and Harold Long in Mackenzie - in 1986, but the Socreds' success proved short-lived as all three were defeated after a single term.

Redistribution prior to the 1991 general election increased the region's representation to seven seats, six of which were won by the NDP. The one that got away was the former Mackenzie riding, renamed Powell River-Sunshine Coast, where then-Liberal leader Gordon Wilson scored a break-through.

Wilson held his seat in 1996, even though he had quit the Liberals to establish the Progressive Democratic Alliance. The New Democrats held five of their six seats in the election, but lost Parksville-Qualicum to the Liberals.

Redistribution altered the region's electoral boundaries prior to the 2001 general election, and the Liberals swept all seven seats. Included in their number were Hagen, Bruce and Long, the three former Socred MLAs.

The region's historic support for the centre-left, the 2001 general election results, recent public opinion polls and data from the 2001 census, led to an early Battleground BC decision to place Cowichan-Ladysmith, Nanaimo and North Island in the 'likely' NDP column. The remaining four ridings - Alberni-Qualicum, Comox Valley, Nanaimo-Parksville and Powell River-Sunshine Coast - were put in the 'up for grabs' category. Nanaimo subsequently was moved to 'solid' for the New Democrats, and Nanaimo-Parksville was shifted to 'likely' Liberal. Today, the three remaining 'up-for-grabs' seats are being dispersed in the manner described above.

ALBERNI-QUALICUM was won by Liberal Gillian Trumper in 2001; it was her first victory after three successive defeats (two as a Socred, one as a Liberal). She bested veteran NDP MLA Gerard Janssen, taking 53.3% of the popular vote to his 30.1%. This district is somewhat bifurcated west-versus-east, as the NDP has enjoyed historic strength in Port Alberni and environs, while the Liberals are dominant in the Qualicum Beach area. It is very likely that this riding on May 17 will be the closest on Vancouver Island.

Trumper, a long-time mayor of Port Alberni, has made little impact in the legislature over the past four years but she is a formidable foe for the New Democrats. The NDP representative is Scott Fraser, a popular but losing candidate in the 2004 federal election. A former mayor of Tofino, he was appointed by the party after the initial representative quit when faced with questions concerning his 'police career.'

COMOX VALLEY was captured by the New Democrats in 1991 and 1996. Margaret Lord won the seat in the former contest with 39.2% of the vote; she was succeeded by Evelyn Gillespie, who garnered 42.8%. Liberal Hagen prevailed over Gillespie in 2001 with 56.3%.

Of note is Gillespie's vote-share, 19.4%, four years ago when she lost the seat. As the table below indicates, Comox Valley ranked 12th for the NDP of 14 Vancouver Island-Coast seats (behind even Oak Bay-Gordon Head), and was just one of three where the NDP garnered less than 20%. Indeed, of 25 New Democratic Party MLAs seeking re-election across the province in 2001, Gillespie finished last in terms of popular vote. To win this seat, the New Democrats will have to more than double their vote-share from the last general election. It will be a very difficult challenge, although not impossible. Andrew Black, a teacher, is the NDP candidate.

POWELL RIVER-SUNSHINE COAST, for the first time in two decades, does not have Wilson's name on the ballot. He ran as a Liberal in 1986 (and lost) and 1991 (won), as a PDA candidate in 1996 (won), and a New Democrat in 2001 (lost). All four of those elections were 3-way contests, and the battle in 2005 is shaping up the same way.

The riding home to provincial Green leader, Adriane Carr, now making her third (and second consecutive) bid for a legislative seat. In 2001 she finished third, behind Long and Wilson, but had 27.0% of the vote, the highest vote-share in the province for the Greens. Like Wilson, Long will not have his name on the ballot in 2001. The Liberal hopeful is Maureen Clayton, a small business owner and school trustee. Representing the NDP is Nicholas Simons, a staffer with the Sechelt Nation.

Wilson won in 1991 and 1996 with 54.7% and 49.1% of the vote, respectively, while Long was successful in 2001 with 42.4%. The winning candidate in 2001 likely will have to garner at least two-of-every-five votes (40%), and it appears that New Democrat Simons is the most likely to surpass that threshold.

TABLE -- Vancouver Island, listed in order of NDP's 2001 vote-share

  • Victoria-Hillside - 37.3%
  • Victoria-Beacon Hill - 36.9%
  • Cowichan-Ladysmith - 32.0%
  • Nanaimo - 30.2%
  • Alberni-Qualicum - 30.1%
  • Esquimalt-Metchosin - 30.0%
  • Saanich South - 28.1%
  • Powell River-Sunshine Coast - 27.2%
  • North Island - 26.4%
  • Oak Bay-Gordon Head - 22.7%
  • Nanaimo-Parksville - 21.1%
  • Comox Valley - 19.4%
  • Saanich North and the Islands - 17.7%
  • Malahat-Juan de Fuca - 16.1%*

* This is the popular vote for the official NDP candidate. Incumbent Rick Kasper, the former NDP MLA, ran as an Independent.

Check here 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]