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Close Ones: Where Your Vote Really Matters

B.C. is shaping up to be a three-way contest. Party strategists are sweating the tightest races in these ridings.

By Tom Barrett 14 Jul 2004 |
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TheTyee.caAbout once a decade or so, the national pundits tell the sour and cynical voters of British Columbia that this time our votes will really count.This time, they tell us, the election won't be decided before the polls close west of the Rockies. This time, they tell us, B.C. will get to decide who's going to form the government.Usually they're wrong. Usually the population mass in Quebec and Ontario makes up its collective mind and decides the outcome before B.C. voters get off work.Still - like J.Lo telling herself that her latest relationship is really, really going to last - we live in hope.And with the Liberals and Conservatives seemingly neck-and-neck nationwide, who knows? Maybe this time we will realize our vengeful dream and force the rest of the country to stay up late to find out who won.If the iron laws of time zones do work to our advantage this year, there are several B.C. ridings where it appears that our votes will really count - ridings that are close enough to provide more real-life drama than a whole season of Canadian Idol.Indications are that, on a provincewide basis, this is a three-way race.B.C. was Reform-Alliance countryThe traditional huge lead enjoyed by the Reform-Alliance parties in B.C. appears to have dropped substantially. The New Democratic Party looks to have bounced back sharply. While the numbers should perhaps be taken with a grain of salt, a mid-June Ipsos-Reid poll suggests that the Conservatives, Liberals and NDP are all grouped closely together, at around 30 per cent of decided voters.That's a long way from the 2000 election results - Alliance 49.4 per cent, Liberals 27.7 per cent, NDP 11.3 per cent.At the same time, the Greens (2.1 per cent in 2000) are creeping up. Ipsos-Reid gave them 10 per cent, enough to move them out of the "others" column when the results are tabulated.It's hard to argue with the notion that much of what is going on is due to the change of government in Victoria. In the 2000 election, everybody was mad at the NDP. Now, it seems, everybody's mad at Gordon Campbell, and the anger is being focused on both the federal Liberals and the tax-cutting Conservatives.This may not mean a sweeping change in the number of seats each party wins, however. The Reform-Alliance traditionally won many of its seats - rural ones especially - by massive margins. If those margins drop because some populist voters drift back to the NDP, it likely won't show up in the seat count.But the apparent trend, if it holds up election night, should result in several close three-way races.To identify which ridings are likely to provide the most entertainment on June 28, we threw ourselves into the spin cycle and asked campaign strategists to name the races they think are the closest. Their responses:Tex Enemark, senior advisor, Liberal partyBurnaby-DouglasSvend Robinson's old riding is a close three-way race, said Enemark, a veteran Liberal campaigner. Robinson won his seat in a squeaker in the November, 2000 election - the results for this seat, adjusted to reflect an electoral redistribution that created two new ridings, work out to 35.81 per cent for Robinson's NDP; 33.42 per cent for the Canadian Alliance; and 24.71 per cent for the Liberals.If you add the Alliance and Progressive Conservative totals in this riding together, you get 38.84 per cent, three percentage points more than the NDP. While it's dangerous to assume that all the Alliance and PC votes will automatically go to the new Conservative party, in a riding this close, the merger will undoubtedly have some effect.The Liberals are represented in Burnaby-Douglas by B.C. party president Bill Cunningham, who survived a controversial nomination process. Enemark said the Liberals are being helped by the fact that many of Robinson's supporters voted for the man, rather than the party."When you knock on the door, people say, 'I'm not a New Democrat, but I used to vote for Svend,'" Enemark said. "Where that gets you is hard to say."Delta-Richmond EastEnemark said Liberal canvassing results show the party is gaining ground on the Conservatives here. John Cummins won this riding for the Alliance in 2000 and is running for the Conservatives, but Enemark said redistribution and rapid growth in the Richmond part of the riding have hurt Cummins.To many people in this riding, "the current incumbent isn't viewed as an incumbent," Enemark said. "They never heard of him before."Still, the Conservatives would appear to have a solid lead here, based on the 2000 results. Adjusted for redistribution, the Alliance won 54.32 per cent of the vote here, compared to 31.98 per cent for the Liberals, 6.59 per cent for the Progressive Conservatives and 5.37 for the NDP.Newton-North DeltaIncumbent Conservative Gurmant Grewal ran into some negative press before the election call and the Liberals are hoping candidate Sukh Dhaliwal will be able to capitalize on that.Enemark notes that Dhaliwal and her competitors for the Liberal nomination sold more than 16,000 new memberships. "If they can just get those 16,000 to vote they're a long way towards victory," he said, laughing.The 2000 results, adjusted for redistribution, are: Alliance, 51.16 per cent; Liberal, 35.27 per cent; PC, 6.05; NDP, 5.75.New Westminster-CoquitlamEnemark said this appears to be one of several ridings where people are willing to abandon party affiliations to vote for a particular candidate. In this case, Enemark said, it's former IWA leader Dave Haggard, who is challenging the "totally invisible" incumbent, Conservative Paul Forseth.Redistribution has increased the share of Alliance-PC voters in this riding; the adjusted figures from 2000 give the Alliance 47.28 per cent, the Liberals 28.71 per cent; the NDP 12.84, and the PCs 7.97.South Surrey-White Rock-CloverdalePopular local councillor Judy Higginbotham is running for the Liberals here, against Conservative Russ Heibert, who beat longtime Reform-Alliance MP Val Meredith for the nomination. The nomination fight was clouded by allegations that Heibert was allied with an anti-abortion, Christian fundamentalist faction.Higginbotham has considerable ground to make up here, however; the redistributed 2000 results have the Alliance at 58.73 per cent, the Liberals at 22.46 per cent, the PCs at 10.4 per cent, and the NDP at 5.43.Bob Ransford, B.C. campaign co-chair, Conservative partyBurnaby-DouglasRansford, another veteran political operative, was reluctant to discuss which races are the closest."It's tough," he said, "because when you tell a candidate their race is tough then they start to worry."However, Ransford said, the "inner suburban ridings" in the Lower Mainland feature the closest races, and Burnaby-Douglas is definitely a close three-way race.RichmondRansford describes this riding as a two-way race between the Conservatives and Liberals. The uncertainty is increased by the fact that there is no incumbent here.In 2000, the Alliance's Joe Peschisolido narrowly beat Liberal Raymond Chan. Peschisolido eventually crossed the floor to the Liberals, but lost the Liberal nomination to Chan.Chan is running against Conservative Alice Wong, who came second in Vancouver Kingsway in the last federal election.The Richmond results from 2000, adjusted for redistribution, are: Alliance, 44.62 per cent; Liberal, 41.43; PC, 5.98; NDP, 5.67.Vancouver Centre"Vancouver Centre, believe it or not, is probably a three-way race," said Ransford.Incumbent Liberal Hedy Fry won this one handily in 2000, but the Progressive Conservatives made a relatively strong showing - if all the riding's PC supporters stay with the new Conservative party, Conservative Gary Mitchell moves within striking distance.New Democrat Kennedy Stewart could be helped by the province-wide resurgence of the NDP, although he has a long way to go.Adjusted for redistribution, the 2000 results are: Liberals, 41.98 per cent; Alliance, 25.64 per cent; NDP, 13.35; PC, 11.52.Vancouver KingswayKingsway, said Ransford, is another three-way race. Liberal dream-team candidate David Emerson is hoping to hold on to the seat won by Liberal Sophia Leung in 2000. Former MP and B.C. cabinet minister Ian Waddell is running for the NDP and Jesse Johl, described as "young but feisty" by the Vancouver Sun, is running for the Conservatives.The adjusted 2000 results for this riding are: Liberal, 43.23 per cent; Alliance, 28.99; NDP, 15.91; PC, 5.18.Vancouver QuadraFormer Social Credit cabinet minister Stephen Rogers is challenging Public Works Minster Stephen Owen in a riding that comprises creme-de-la-creme neighbourhoods like Point Grey and Southwest Marine Drive.The adjusted 2000 percentages are: Liberal, 43.81; Alliance, 34.47; PC, 9.36; NDP, 7.04. Combined, the Alliance and PC votes beat the Liberals by 0.02 percentage points.Vancouver South"Vancouver South is probably bouncing between being a two-way race and a three-way race," said Ransford. Another Liberal dream team member, former NDP premier Ujjal Dosanjh, is taking on Conservative Victor Soo Chan and NDPer Bev Meslo.Despite Ransford's optimism here, a recent Vancouver Sun-Compas poll indicated Dosanjh had a healthy lead.The redistributed 2000 results: Liberal, 46.80; Alliance, 34.59; NDP, 7.91; PC 6.08.Gerry Scott, B.C. campaign manager, NDPEsquimalt-Juan de FucaMP Keith Martin, who jumped from the Alliance to the Liberals, could find that it's much harder getting elected as a member of the governing party.Scott, another veteran campaigner, said that Martin is also dragged down by his past support for a larger private-sector role in medicare - although this didn't seem to hurt him when he was a Reform-Alliance member."Private health care and the Liberal label is a lethal combination" thanks to Gordon Campbell, Scott said.Adjusted for redistribution, the 2000 results were: Alliance (Keith Martin) 49.63 per cent; Liberal, 23.89 per cent; NDP, 13.48; PC 8.05.Kamloops-ThompsonBefore Reform took off in 1993, Kamloops used to go for longtime NDP MP Nelson Riis. This riding is one of several ridings outside the Lower Mainland that Scott thinks will be very competitive."There may be 10 close races" in the province, he said. "There'll be some in the Lower Mainland, certainly, but there'll be plenty elsewhere, too."This riding was won in a walk by the Alliance in 2000. Adjusted for redistribution, the percentages were: Alliance, 50.31; NDP, 25.24; Liberal, 16.29; PC 6.93.Newton-North DeltaGurmant Grewal's riding is a three-way race, Scott said.Skeena-Bulkley ValleyAnother area where the NDP used to count on strong support, the race here is intensified by the presence of prominent native leader Miles Richardson, running for the Liberals.The adjusted 2000 results: Alliance, 46.23 per cent; Liberal, 27.57 per cent; NDP, 18.18 per cent; PC 3.87 per cent.Vancouver Island NorthMore traditional NDP territory that switched to Reform-Alliance.The adjusted 2000 results: Alliance, 50.76 per cent; Liberal, 25.00 per cent; NDP, 11.83 per cent; PC 6.18 per cent.Silvaine Zimmermann, B.C. campaign co-chair, Green partySaanich-Gulf IslandsZimmermann says she can't say much about the races in any ridings besides this one - Saanich-Gulf Islands is the only riding in which the Greens can afford to poll.Although the other three party officials said the Greens don't have a hope of even coming close to winning a seat in this election, Zimmermann said that the 2001 provincial election results indicate the party can take this riding.In the provincial constituency of Saanich North and the Islands, the Greens' Andrew Lewis won 25.41 per cent of the vote. Now he's hoping the provincial results will translate to the federal campaign.In the 2000 federal election, this was a safe Alliance seat for incumbent Gary Lunn, who is running for the Conservatives. Adjusted figures are: Alliance 42.92; Liberal, 32.41; PC 10.37; NDP 8.04. When it adjusted the figures, Elections Canada didn't give a separate percentage for the Greens, listing the party under the heading of "other" with three other candidates.The Greens took 5.5 per cent of the vote under the riding's old boundaries.West Vancouver-Sunshine CoastZimmermann said the Greens have hopes of winning this one as well, based on the fact that it shares some territory with the Powell River-Sunshine Coast provincial riding, where provincial Green leader Adriane Carr took 27.01 per cent of the vote in 2001.A Green victory here over incumbent Conservative John Reynolds would be one of the greatest upsets in Canadian election history. Adjusted 2000 figures are: Alliance (Reynolds), 47.86 per cent; Liberal 27.06 per cent; PC, 9.38 per cent; NDP, 6.26 per cent. Under the riding's old boundaries, the Greens took 4.9 per cent in 2000.Veteran political journalist Tom Barrett is a contributing editor to The Tyee.  [Tyee]

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