The personal and political ties that unite the three major candidates running in Saanich South run deep.
B.C. Green Party candidate Mark Neufeld taught the son of incumbent New Democratic MLA Lana Popham, while B.C. Liberal David Calder used to serve on the executive board of Popham’s constituency association.
In fact, Neufeld spoke at the start of the campaign about a “wonderful moment in democracy” for people who knew each other well to talk about policy. “I’m not convinced that politics needs to be about personality,” he said. “It needs to be about policies and ideas,” said Neufeld.
Neufeld, who actually consulted Popham before running, appeared to live up to this promise during Wednesday’s all-candidates hearing. When some audience audibly mocked Calder for comments calling for a balance economic growth and environmental protection in answering a question about provincial plans to expend the liquefied natural gas industry, Neufeld singled the audience to hear out Calder.
Neufeld, of course, opposes such plans, but his intervention on behalf of Calder offered no obvious political upside.
This said, the race in Saanich South has a distinct personal dimension thanks to Calder’s political past with Popham, for whom he volunteered. This past came up during last week’s debate on CFAX 1070, when Calder acknowledged this history, while trying to distance himself from it at the same time.
“You may know, four years ago I volunteered for Lana, because we share similar values,” said Calder. “But this riding and this region has been overlooked far too long because our representatives have been in opposition.”
Popham for her part tried to draw attention by linking Calder’s personal past with his currency candidacy for the B.C. Liberals. “In 2013, you were personally opposed to expanding the KinderMorgan pipeline,” said Popham. That project, she said, would increase the number of super-tankers “floating past Cordova Bay” seven-fold. “Now you are running for a party that is promising to do exactly that. What changed?”
Calder for his part acknowledged personal reservations about the project and said later that the job of a Member of the Legislative Assembly is to listen to the concerns of constituents.
Calder said in an interview Tuesday after the CFAX debate that he did not become a B.C. Liberal overnight.
“As I said before, for me, it has always been about our community and community issues first…I don’t think it is this dark, nefarious switch. It is actually quite consistent. It’s important to stand up for the things you believe in and that is what I feel like I’m doing.”
Calder said he has stood up for the community and its values when he was with the New Democrats and now as a B.C. Liberal. “I believe that we need to do more for people in crisis,” he said. “I believe that we need to bring more heart to the table and those are the things that I want to do. I believe that we need to do more for climate action and we need to do for more the environment. Those are values I own, not a political party.”
So if Calder’s values are consistent across party labels, why not run as an independent? “How successful are candidates who run independently?” he replied. “We are operating in a political system that I didn’t create. You need to be elected and to take that a step further, in order to be really able to affect political change, you need to be in the governing party. The strength of the B.C. Liberal on the economy makes this party that I want to park myself in.”
As for Popham, she enters the race as the prohibitive favourite for a number of reasons, including name recognition, having served eight years, and her status as the NDP’s agriculture critic in a riding with significant rural areas.
Current polling favour Popham’s New Democrats, but Popham said in an interview before various debates that she is not concerned about polling. “We really had confidence in the polls in (2013) and it was a devastating loss for us,” she said.
Her focus, she said, rested on talking to voters in Saanich South and their issues such as housing affordability and health care.As for running against Calder, Popham tried to sound matter-of-fact. “If he wants to champion the B.C. Liberals, that is fine,” she said. “I want to champion the NDP and the people of Saanich South.”
Popham said Calder’s decision to leave the NPD surprised her, but “I don’t consider it a sense of betrayal,” she said. “I think you can find value in very candidate that is running,” she said.
Also running are Richard Pattee for the Vancouver Island Party and Andrew McLean of the B.C. Libertarian Party.