The leafy neighbourhoods of Oak Bay-Gordon Head are poised to be a key provincial election battleground for Greater Victoria, featuring a potential three-way race between NDP-Liberal rivals from 2009 and a high-profile B.C. Green Party newcomer.
In a region dominated by the B.C. NDP, veteran B.C. Liberal cabinet minister Ida Chong held on to her seat by 561 votes, slightly more than two per cent, in the last election against NDP hopeful Jessica Van der Veen.
The four-term MLA faces Van der Veen again, and Green candidate Andrew Weaver, a headline-making climate scientist from the University of Victoria.
Neighbourhood voting polls from 2005 and 2009 indicate the Liberals and Chong retained support in areas like Ten Mile Point, Uplands, Cadboro Bay and McNeill Bay. NDP support remained strong in Gordon Head and Mount Tolmie, and made inroads into neighbourhoods of Oak Bay. The Greens remained minor players.
The question this election is whether Weaver and the Greens become a factor in this riding, and if they do, where will they draw votes from?
UVic political science professor Jamie Lawson said that dynamic is a hard puzzle in an electoral area that is largely white collar, with some of the wealthiest postal codes in the city and has large population of seniors.
Weaver could play the spoiler for the NDP and split the vote to re-elect Chong for a fifth term – the race could be a “war between the non-Liberal parties and the centre-left,” Lawson said.
On the other hand, Chong could fall victim to the flagging fortunes of a party beset with scandals, and which has seen many of its senior cabinet ministers abandon ship.
“Ida Chong may face a meltdown by the Liberals. If that’s true, those voters may sit on their hands, or will chose between NDP and Greens,” Lawson said. “Voting Green isn’t as scary for a pro-market voter who might usually vote Liberal, but who believes climate change (is a problem).”
It seems less likely for B.C. NDP supporters to migrate to Green, as the NDP vowed to shut down the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline, what Lawson calls the “litmus test” for provincial environmental platforms.
“For what reason would a NDP voter vote Green?” he asked. “They might because they know who Andrew Weaver is, or they like what (Elizabeth) May does federally, but otherwise they’ll get a (NDP) candidate in government to make sure the Enbridge deal doesn’t go through.
“(Van der Veen’s) party is against Enbridge, is going to spread the carbon tax and is a party that is going out of its way to reassure businesses. You could see votes going to the NDP.”
As voters tease out how their own interests mesh with political party promises, Oak Bay-Gordon Head candidates – including B.C. Conservative Party newcomer Greg Kazakoff – officially launched their 28-day campaigns and door-knocking today.
Weaver is banking on recent federal Green Party support spilling over into the provincial election – voters in Gordon Head largely backed the federal Greens in 2011, as did large portions of Oak Bay in last winter’s federal by-election.
“The (2009 provincial) polling is not indicative of reality today,” Weaver said. “We know from our evidence that the race is between the NDP and the Greens. We can’t find people who’d admit they’d vote Liberal.”
Weaver took aim at the NDP’s fiscal platform which he, along with the B.C. Liberals, said would drive the province further into debt. He also called Liberal plans to develop liquid natural gas exports in B.C.’s north a “pipe dream,” which is at least a decade away, if ever, and faces serious competition from places like Russia.
“I think there is a real chance for a Green breakthrough, to build on the momentum of (Donald Galloway) and Elizabeth May,” Weaver said.
NDP candidate Van der Veen doubts the Greens will find footing in Oak Bay-Gordon Head – she said it will be a “squeaker” between her and Chong.
“Ida has a very strong base. She’s been here for 16 years,” Van der Veen said. “I represent the renewal of government. That is where my focus is.
“What I’m hearing is that people are ready for change – they volunteer that word ‘change,’” she said. “They are very concerned about the lack of performance from this government and want a new kind of government.”
Van der Veen said her focus in the riding would touch on health care for seniors, such as improving home care services so seniors can live at home longer.
She said the provincial NDP is a “renewed” party distinctly different from the 1990s, and that it has financial policies that make sense, including minor tax hikes for the wealthiest and an expansion of the carbon tax to the oil and gas sector.
Chong, most recently the Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, characterized this election as a choice between NDP-driven debt and higher taxes, and a B.C. Liberal vision of balanced budgets and economic stability.
“Today’s B.C. Liberals are not the same from even when I first ran. The premier (Christy Clark) has a vision to get the economy back on track and put us in the position to pay off the provincial debt,” Chong said.
“The NDP wants to spend more with no plan on where to increase revenues. They said they wouldn’t balance the budget for four years or pay down debt. It’s a chilling message to investors in B.C.”
Chong agreed that Liberal scandals of the past months and years could hurt her at the polls. She said she’s been effective in government – reading the writing on the wall – and as an opposition MLA.
“I think this is a three-way race. Yes it was hundreds (of votes) between me and the NDP. It might be hundreds between the three of us,” she said.
“This riding is always a swing riding, a close riding. That’s why I don’t take the job for granted and people know they have a representative who is hard working and puts 100 per cent into the job.”
Faces change for Liberals, NDP stands pat
Many pundits are pointing to Oak Bay-Gordon Head as a key battleground riding on the South Island for the B.C. Liberals, in their fight to retain power in the province.
While a lot of water has flowed under the bridge in four years of governing since the 2009 provincial election, a look back at the results from that vote show that two other Greater Victoria ridings had even closer races.
The two Liberal candidates in those races, however, are gone. Murray Coell is retiring after four successive terms as Saanich North and the Islands MLA, and Robin Adair has been replaced by Rishi Sharma in Saanich South.
The NDP’s slate for Capital Region ridings is exactly the same as in 2009. The five reigning MLAs are out to defend their seats and 2009 runners-up Jessica Van der Veen (Oak Bay-Gordon Head) and Gary Holman (Saanich North and the Islands) are back for another try.
2009 general election results for Victoria area provincial ridings
x – running in 2013
r – retiring
x-Rob Fleming (NDP) 13,119
Jesse McLinton (Lib) 5,754
David Wright (Green) 2,628
Robert Savage (Reform) 174
x-Carole James (NDP) 13,400
Dallas Henault (Lib) 6,375
Adam Saab (Green) 4,106
Saul Anderson (Ind.) 319
Oak Bay-Gordon Head
x-Ida Chong (Lib) 11,877
x-Jessica Van de Veen (NDP) 11,316
Steven Johns (Green) 2,330
x-Lana Popham (NDP) 11,697
Robin Adair (Lib) 11,215
Brian Gordon (Green) 1,664
Doug Christie (WCC) 235
Saanich North and the Islands
r-Murray Coell (Lib) 13,136
x-Gary Holman (NDP) 12,878
Tom Bradfield (Green) 3,223
x-Maurine Karagianis (NDP) 11,514
Carl Ratsoy (Lib) 6,579
Jane Sterk (Green) 3,664 (running in Victoria-Beacon Hill in 2013)
Juan de Fuca
x-John Horgan (NDP 11,520
Jody Twa (Lib) 6,866
James Powell (Green) 1,749