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An election like none other

Greens projected to win West Vancouver-Sea to Sky; pundits urge caution
The Sea to Sky polling station on Election Day.
The Sea to Sky polling station on Election Day.

It could be a fall of a decades-strong dynasty.

At the close of election night, Green Party candidate Jeremy Valeriote was leading in the initial ballot count, showing that a once-underdog party had a real shot at cracking a Liberal stronghold.

However, with at least two weeks before mail-in ballots can be counted, there will be a lengthy delay before the final results of the vote can be posted.

Politicos stress caution in putting too much stock in the current tally.

Kaija Belfry Munroe and partner Doug, both Quest University professors and consultants with Politikos Research, told The Chief in an emailed statement that the mail-in ballots could definitely change things in our riding.

“With so many more people voting by mail in this pandemic, we really don’t have any certainty about whether those who voted by mail-in ballot are a representative slice of the overall population of B.C.,” they said.

“The election result could change if the types of people who voted by mail differ substantially from the types of people who voted in person. In other words, if mail-in voters were generally older than the population as a whole and in-person voters were generally younger than the population as a whole, then we would also expect that the parties that do better with older voters would win more votes among the mail-in ballot than on Election Day. If that is true, then mail-in ballots might tilt towards the BC Liberals, while in-person voting might tilt towards the Greens or NDP — likely the Greens in our riding.”

Locally, an unprecedented number of people registered to vote by mail because of the pandemic, meaning up to 7,704 votes — the number of mail-in ballot packages issued in this riding — won’t be counted for some time.

This year, mail-in votes account for about 18% of the 42,786 voters registered in West Vancouver-Sea to Sky, a massive increase from the 2017 election where only 114 ballots — 0.46% of the vote — were mailed in for this riding.

Provincially, major outlets such as CBC, Global News and The Canadian Press have projected the NDP to form a majority government.

West Van Sea to Sky
Source: Steven Chua

However, locally, the NDP’s chances have dwindled, leaving it to become a race between the BC Liberals and the Greens — with the latter having a realistic shot at toppling a local dynasty.

The current count shows that Green candidate Valeriote is leading with 7,019 votes, about 40% of the vote.

Incumbent BC Liberal candidate Jordan Sturdy has 6,415 ballots to his name, about 36%

The NDP candidate, Keith Murdoch, trails with 4,309 votes — 24%.

If the tally holds, a Green win would be a major upset.

The thought of this seemed to electrify Valeriote, who spoke to The Chief on election night while his family and friends were watching the election coverage on TV.

“I feel fantastic,” he said, over cheers and whoops in the background. “I’m still pinching myself. I feel great, I’m really very happy.”

Valeriote said he believed that the message of the Green Party was resonating this time around.

“People are concerned about the environment, climate change and social equity and I think they’re interested in a collaborative voice at the table,” he said.

For him, getting the Sea to Sky regional transit will be top of mind, should he enter the Legislature.

“The plan is to get to, ‘Yes’ on a funding model and get it up and running and help the government understand why it’s essential for the Sea to Sky for economic development, for quality of life and for affordability for the people who live here,” he said.

Valeriote also added he wanted to prioritize giving economic aid to the tourism industry and small businesses, which have taken a substantial hit from COVID-19.

He said that while the NDP may have a majority government this time, an environmental voice is still needed.

There have been concerns raised with Valeriote’s relationship with the Resort Municipality of Whistler, as he is married to its chief administrative officer, Virginia Cullen. In this case, it  may be argued there is at least a risk of perceived conflict of interest. But if elected, the conflict would be “minimal” due to the different natures of the roles (elected versus administrative), Valeriote said in an email to Pique Newsmagazine when asked about possible conflict of interest.

“We are both professionals and are bound by the confidentiality and conflict of interest requirements of provincial legislation, and will follow these requirements to the letter,” he said.

Whistler Mayor Jack Crompton offered a similar response to Pique, noting it is mayor and council’s job to interface with elected counterparts.

“CAOs perform their roles in accordance with time-tested and robust provincial legislation like the community charter,” Crompton said.

“When viewed through that lens, I don’t see a conflict of interest here.”

The Sea to Sky riding has been a stronghold for the Liberals, with that party having held the area since 1991. Sturdy has been the MLA since 2013. Last provincial election in 2017,  he won by a comfortable margin, with 10,449 votes, about 43%.

The 2017 Green candidate, Dana Taylor took about 28% of the vote with about 6,947 cast in his favour. He was second place, beating out NDP candidate and fellow rookie Michelle Livaja, who amassed about 27% of the vote with 6,532 ballots.

While the Valeriote has a strong shot at de-throning Sturdy, it’s unclear how much sway he’ll be able to have in government.

polling station at Don Ross.
More people than ever avoided voting on Election Day by instead mailing in their ballots or heading to advance polls. - Steven Chua

The previous government relied on a power-broking agreement between the Greens and the NDP, giving the former party a big voice in governing despite having only a handful of seats.

Most major networks are projecting an NDP majority, so Valeriote and his Green colleagues would be unlikely to enjoy the same amount of influence.

In the meantime, as there are still thousands of mail-in ballots that need to be accounted for in this riding, the BC Liberal candidate said that he’s holding off on conceding the election.

However, Sturdy acknowledged that the NDP will almost certainly be forming the new government.

“I’ll just hope they will eventually have some sort of economic plan for British Columbia,” said Sturdy. “But that remains to be seen, and I’m otherwise — naturally — disappointed.”

He said that it appeared as if the pandemic worked in the government’s favour.

“If you made it a science-based, data-based set of policies and articulated them well, then incumbent governments have tended to get a bump out of that, and I think that’s probably what happened here,” said Sturdy.

“I’ve heard how many times, ‘I think John Horgan’s done a good job,’ but I don’t know what he’d done honestly other than to...respect [Dr. Bonnie Henry’s] jurisdiction, which is what should’ve happened, regardless.”

However, Sturdy did commend Adrian Dix, who has been the health minister throughout the pandemic.

“I’ve known him for a number of years now, and I have a lot of respect for Adrian, so the two of them [he and Henry] made a great combination for Premier Horgan to really just stand behind,” Sturdy said.

While he noted it may have been a surprise to some to see a BC Liberal riding flip, there have been a number of factors that changed things.

First, Sturdy said the riding was redrawn a few elections ago, axing out a chunk of West Vancouver. That, plus an increasingly younger demographic in the Sea to Sky, changed things steadily over the years.

LNG politics was also a major deciding factor, he said, with the Greens being the sole choice for those opposed to liquefied natural gas projects.

“Regardless of the outcome, it’s certainly been my privilege to serve the people of  West Vancouver-Sea to Sky,” said Sturdy.

The NDP candidate, Murdoch, also said he would hold off on a concession until the final result was in, though he acknowledged a victory for him would be quite unlikely.

He said he wasn’t surprised with the projected Green win, given the amount of activism that’s been happening in the Sea to Sky.

However, he did express excitement with the prospect of an NDP majority government.

“It’s exciting that the NDP will be able to roll out a platform that is focused for everyday people and focused for small and medium sized businesses,” said Murdoch. “I think this is a huge win for everyone who is in the province.”

He said that if he doesn’t win the election, he’ll be resuming work as a labour advocate for the United Food and Commercial Workers in the Sea to Sky.

The mayor weighs in

Mayor Karen Elliott said while all the candidates did a good job reaching the local electorate safely, she called the election itself “unfortunately timed” in a Monday email to The Chief.

“It has delayed progress on recovery initiatives and proposals as we wait for new ministers to be appointed,” she said,

In terms of the outcome, she acknowledged that the wait, while mail-in ballots are counted, must be tough on candidates.

Looking at preliminary results, Elliott said she was “somewhat surprised” to see a Green projected win, but the party has been growing in support, she noted.

“I believe the vote reflects this corridor’s heightened awareness of the impacts of climate change, that bold environmental and climate action can lead to economic opportunity, and that the Green Party is increasingly seen as a voice of collaboration and sound progressive policy,” she said.

“I will look forward to working with our new or returning MLA to further our interests on regional transit, increased health and aged care investment, support of our economic development strategy and investment in childcare and non-market housing. There is no shortage of big issues that we face in Sea to Sky.”

Totem Hall polling station on Election Day.
Totem Hall polling station on Election Day. - Jennifer Thuncher

 Squamish Nation perspective

“The historic re-election for John Horgan and the BC NDP is exciting for the Squamish Nation,” said Khelsilem, Squamish Nation councillor and spokesperson.

“We look forward to continue to work together on areas like housing, healthcare, education, employment and training, childcare, and Indigenous rights. Our Nation is willing to work with all levels of government based on mutual respect and affirmation of Squamish Nation’s rights and we hope the BC NDP can live up to their many promises.”

In terms of the possibility of Valeriote as the new MLA for West Vancouver-Sea To Sky, Khelsilem said the Greens were a strong voice in the Legislature to defend Indigenous rights and people.

“And we look forward to working together with Jeremy and the Green caucus to represent our Squamish People in this riding.”