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Riding to Watch: Three-Way Battle in Saanich North

Greens hope for breakthrough; NDP says it’s only real alternative to Liberals.

By Andrew MacLeod 18 Apr 2017 | TheTyee.ca

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative bureau chief in Victoria and the author of A Better Place on Earth: The Search for Fairness in Super Unequal British Columbia (Harbour Publishing, 2015). Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

On a grey afternoon last Thursday, the BC Green Party’s biodiesel bus rolled into Sidney to support Adam Olsen’s bid to be the next MLA for Saanich North and the Islands, one of the seats where the party hopes for a breakthrough.

“We have the momentum,” federal Green Party leader and local MP Elizabeth May told a few dozen supporters gathered in a public park. “The wind is in the sails of Andrew Weaver and the BC Greens.”

The constituency is held by the NDP’s Gary Holman. Olsen came third in the 2013 election, but just 379 votes behind Holman. Stephen Roberts, who is also running again, came second for the BC Liberals.

“It’s going to be another three-way race,” Holman said. While there are advantages to being the incumbent, he said, “I don’t take anything for granted and it’s going to be close here.”

Holman said that as MLA he’s been a strong advocate on issues that are important to the community, including affordable housing, BC Ferries and transit.

After this election he hopes to represent his community as a voice in a government that really can make change for the better, Holman says.

“If you want that to happen and you don’t want to just complain about another Liberal government for four years, you need to change government,” he said. “The NDP has the only realistic chance of doing that.”

Liberal candidate Roberts was on the phone when The Tyee visited his office and unavailable. Neither he nor his team followed up on requests for an interview.

‘Better’ is still bad: Weaver

The night before Weaver visited Sidney, he spoke to a crowd of about 800 at the Victoria Conference Centre where he’d been introduced by environmental author, broadcaster and activist David Suzuki.

“The status quo is no longer good enough,” Weaver said.

Inequality is rising and the environment is being damaged with little reward for most people, he said. The Liberals want to keep on the same path and the NDP is running on a pitch that they would be better, he said.

“Better than the worst is still really bad,” Weaver said.

He pointed out that 45 per cent of registered voters failed to cast a ballot in the last election and that only 25 per cent of British Columbians who could have voted supported the winning Liberals. “That is the sad state of our democracy and that’s an opportunity for the BC Greens,” he said.

In an interview, Weaver said he’s serious when he talks about electing enough MLAs to form government. “I don’t go into a race to be third. You don’t do that.”

Polls have been encouraging, he said. “We’re polling at 35 per cent on Vancouver Island. We’re in the lead. Our trend is up. Look at the leader popularity.”

A party spokesperson said Weaver was referring to a Mainstreet/Postmedia poll. The latest from Mainstreet, released April 12, shows the party with 35 per cent support among leaning and decided respondents on the Island, tied with the NDP and ahead of the BC Liberals at 26 per cent.

The polls also suggest many voters are still undecided, Weaver said. “When they start to wake up and look at our policies, these are the most progressive policies British Columbians have seen on the table in I don’t know how long.”

Positions include a promise to raise income assistance rates, which have been frozen since 2007, by 50 per cent.

“We’ve always been triple bottom line,” Weaver said. “Sure you can’t as an individual live without clean air and clean water, but you’re not even thinking about that if the first thing you’re trying to do is actually feed your children.”

Everything different this time, says Olsen

Olsen said it’s not unreasonable for the Greens to run to form government. “You set the goals big,” he said. “There have been earthquake elections in Canada, there have been third parties going to first, there’ve been last parties going to first, there’ve been unlikely candidates get elected in the United States.”

Compared to the 2013 election, everything is different for the Greens, Olsen said. There’s more support from the party’s head office, the team has more experience campaigning, the leader is passionate and outspoken, and the volunteers are motivated, he said.

Asked why he wants to be an MLA, Olsen said, “We need to seriously change the approach we’re taking to governing. I’ve got two young children who are the source of my inspiration and want to leave them a world that they’re going to be able to thrive in.”

The NDP’s Holman said that while the candidates in Saanich North and the Islands are the same as in 2013, this campaign feels different to him as well.

Last time around Roberts wasn’t nominated until March, Holman said, not long before the official campaign began. This time Roberts was nominated last June, his campaign is “awash in money” and it’s been under way for many months, Holman said.

“In my view that’s who I’m competing against for the seat,” Holman said.

Strong NDP platform helps, says Holman

The NDP has a stronger platform than it did in 2013, Holman said. “I think this is the strongest platform I’ve run under.”

It includes a promise to review ferry fares, reinstate the seniors’ discount and roll fares back by 15 per cent on the minor routes. “The 15 per cent is something that rings a bell around here,” he said.

The Liberal platform includes a proposal that would require ferry users to save their receipts and submit them at tax time to get a credit, he said. The NDP proposal would give everyone a discount at the toll booth, he said. “It’s actually a key issue here.”

Holman said he and others in the NDP caucus pushed to have a strong platform on ferries. “After complaining for years about fare increases, we had to have something substantive.”

On another big issue in the riding, Steelhead LNG’s proposal to build a floating plant on the Saanich Inlet at Bamberton, Holman said the NDP is opposed although it supports LNG development in principle. Olsen and the Greens have been campaigning against the proposal.

“It’s a stupid location,” Holman said, noting that four local First Nations oppose the project.

The NDP also has a stronger climate action platform than in 2013, will work towards $10-a-day childcare, fund affordable housing and raise the minimum wage to $15, he said. It would ban corporate and union donations to political parties and hold a referendum on reforming the electoral system.

Holman contrasted the NDP platform with a BC Liberal record that has balanced budgets by raising fees, including Medical Service Plan premiums, BC Hydro rates and ICBC rates. “They’ve balanced their budget on the backs of the most vulnerable,” he said. “They’ve created a huge social deficit.”

“Another lone voice in the wilderness complaining about another Liberal government is not what we need,” he said. “We need to change government.”

That’s far from a sure thing, he said. “My overall sense is the election is going to be close both provincially and here in Saanich North and the Islands.”  [Tyee]

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