Party leaders target B.C. in big way

While our provincial politicians slumber (with several notable exceptions) on the summer barbecue circuit, our federal party leaders have been busy in this province.

The past couple of weeks have seen Prime Minister Stephen Harper, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair and Liberal party leader Justin Trudeau all visit B.C., an indication perhaps that all three see winning certain seats here as critical to forming government come the next election.

Of course, conventional wisdom is that southern Ontario and Quebec hold the keys to winning a federal election, but in a close race a number of B.C. ridings could spell the difference between forming a majority government and a minority one.

This province will have six additional ridings (giving us 42 in all) come the next election, which makes B.C. even more coveted by federal political parties.

Recent opinion polls suggest Trudeau and his federal Liberals are tops in popularity across the country, with the NDP running slightly ahead of the ruling Conservatives. But, as everyone in this province is well aware, polls don’t have a spotless track record in predicting election outcomes.

And in this province, it would take a significant shift in voting patterns to deny the Conservatives a majority of B.C. seats in the 2015 election. The party currently holds 21 of 36 seats, and the additional ridings, coupled with the redrawing of electoral boundaries, favours that party more than the others. In fact, transposing the votes from the last election over the new ridings would give the Conservatives 28 of 42 seats.

And most of the Conservative-held seats were won by large margins. Those transposed results show the party has support of more than 50 per cent of the voters in 17 ridings.

But if the polls are correct and the Conservatives are indeed losing support, the party could be vulnerable in four of the new ridings and perhaps a couple of others.

The party most likely to benefit from any Conservative slippage is the NDP, as it finished well ahead of the Liberals in the ridings that may become competitive in 2015. This will explain why Mulcair may spend a disproportionate amount of time in this province in the run-up to the next campaign.

The federal NDP has some challenges in other provinces, notably Quebec, where it unexpectedly won most of the seats in the last election. One of its Quebec MPs has quit the caucus over Mulcair’s position on Israel, and polls suggest the Liberals have surged to even strength with the NDP in that province.

Mulcair’s problems over his Mideast policy threaten to expand beyond losing a Quebec MP. Many left-wing ideologues in his party strongly oppose Israel on any issue, and back policies that favour Palestine.

In fact, the further left side of the party is uncomfortable with Mulcair’s push for more pragmatic and centrist policies designed to expand the party’s appeal. They point to the party’s dismal results in recent byelections in Ontario and the recent provincial election as proof that such an approach doesn’t work.

But for all his troubles in Quebec and Ontario, Mulcair would seem to be on firmer ground in B.C., and his party has a reasonable chance of building on the 12 seats it currently holds.

As for the federal Liberals, it will take a complete re-enactment of Trudeau-mania for the party to find much success in this province. Justin Trudeau may visit this province many times in the next year or so, but his party’s dismal support among B.C. voters has got to be discouraging for him.

His party holds only two B.C. ridings, and those transposed results suggest the party is competitive in just three others.

Of course, Trudeau has improved his party’s fortunes a great deal according to those national opinion polls, and it stole a seat from the NDP in Trinity-Spadina in a federal byelection in impressive fashion.

Trudeau’s youth is no doubt appealing to many people, particularly younger ones. But as the BC NDP painfully learned in the last election campaign in this province, most young people don’t vote.

Nevertheless, Trudeau will be visiting B.C. quite a bit in the year ahead, as will Mulcair and Harper. There are about 15 or so ridings that stand a chance of swinging from one party to another in 2015.

And winning those seats may determine whether one of those leaders forms a majority or minority government.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.

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