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Battleground BC

Polak's One of Three Seats Now Solidly Liberal

Langley, Penticton-Okanagan, and Vancouver-Point Grey upgraded from 'likely'.

By Will McMartin, 13 May 2005, TheTyee.ca

Battleground BC has moved three Liberal seats previously considered 'likely' into the 'solid' column. The changes have been made in light of historic election results, census demographics, recent public opinion polls and on-the-ground intelligence.

LANGLEY, located in traditionally right-of-centre Fraser Valley South, initially was in the 'likely' column for two reasons: it was the only riding in the region without an incumbent, and the Liberal candidate is a controversial 'parachute.'

Liberal Lynn Stephens won the seat in a 1991 upset (over the Socred MLA) with just 39.0% of the vote, but then won re-election five years later with 46.6% and in 2001 scored a whopping 64.9%. Stephens has retired from public office - although on election-eve she made a bizarre announcement, quickly retracted, that she might run as an Independent - after a 14-year legislative career.

Mary Polak, the Liberal nominee, manages iTrend Research Group, a Liberal-friendly polling company. The Cloverdale resident previously served as chair of the Surrey school board, and last November lost a by-election in once-safe Surrey-Panorama Ridge to New Democrat Jagrup Brar.

The NDP candidate is Dean Morrison, a local contractor. Some day in the future the New Democrats may win an election in Langley, but not in 2005. Polak will record a comfortable victory.

PENTICTON-OKANAGAN VALLEY is one of five ridings in the right-of-centre Okanagan region, but the New Democratic Party scored three surprising victories here over the past 17 years, through two electoral redistributions. The first occurred in a 1988 by-election, when Bill Barlee topped the polls in the two-member seat of Boundary-Similkameen. The second and third were in 1991 (following redistribution which eliminated dual-member ridings) when Barlee won re-election in Okanagan-Boundary, and newcomer Jim Beattie triumphed in Okanagan-Penticton. Both NDP MLAs were defeated in 1996.

Barlee's loss to Liberal Bill Barisoff was one of the closest contests in recent electoral history, with a mere 27 votes separating the two combatants. Five years later, after redistribution gave the riding its current appellation, Barisoff widened his margin of victory to nearly 12,000 votes. A veteran school trustee, Barisoff was named minister of provincial revenue in 1991, and last year moved to head the water, land and air protection department.

The NDP candidate is teacher Gary Litke, president of the BCTF local. VANCOUVER-POINT GREY is home to B.C.'s premier, Gordon Campbell, leader of the Liberal party. But Campbell took the riding by a relatively narrow margin - 12,637 votes to 11,074 - over his NDP opponent, the popular Jim Green in 1996, and then won re-election in 2001 over a little-known New Democrat with just 56.1% of the vote - which was less than his party's province-wide average of 57.6%.

In part this may be due to the sizeable centre-left electorate in Point Grey, which in recent decades sent New Democrats Darlene Marzari and Tom Perry to the legislature. Another factor may be Campbell's personal unpopularity, which often sees the Liberal leader trail his own party in voter approval.

Whatever the reason, the outcome in this riding probably will be closer on May 17 than a casual observer would expect. But with current public opinion polls showing the Liberals headed for re-election to government, it is doubtful that the province's sitting premier would lose his own seat.

British Columbians have seen several premiers suffer defeat in recent decades. Dave Barrett lost in Coquitlam in 1975, Rita Johnston was turfed by Surrey-Newton voters in 1991, and Ujjal Dosanjh fell short in Vancouver-Kensington in 2001. But in all these instances, their parties were thrown out of office at the same time.

It is rare for a premier's seat to be lost when their party is re-elected to government. Such an event last occurred in B.C. in 1924, when John Oliver finished fifth in the four-member Victoria City district. (Interestingly, the leaders of all three major parties were defeated in the general election: Oliver of the Liberals, W.J Bowser of the Conservatives, and A.D. McRae of the Provincial Party.) Oliver subsequently won a by-election in Nelson after he convinced a Liberal backbencher to retire.

The last Canadian premier to suffer the indignity of losing his own seat when his government won re-election was Alberta's Don Getty in 1989.

Campbell is not likely to endure a similar fate on May 17, even though he faces a strong challenge from New Democrat Mel Lehan, a teacher and high-profile community activist.

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 will@thetyee.ca  [Tyee]