For the first time in more than two decades, a third political party appears poised to potentially play a critical role in determining the outcome of a B.C. election.
The B.C. Green Party, buoyed by a strong performance by their leader Andrew Weaver in the televised leaders’ debate, seems ready to flex some electoral muscle not seen by a third party since the 1996 election.
That election saw the B.C. Reform Party win two seats, and more importantly it took enough votes in enough seats from the B.C. Liberals to deny that party victory.
The Green Party, which already has one seat, may replicate the showing of the B.C. Reform Party back then, except this time it is the NDP that may be hurt the most by any boost in Green support.
As I have noted here before, the Greens have an actual political party at work in this campaign. It has more than a dozen staff, a war chest much larger than ever before and a leader who has some charisma.
The Greens appear to be strongest on south Vancouver Island, which has been an NDP stronghold. To have any realistic chance of winning the general election, the NDP must hold onto pretty well all of its ridings on the Island.
But the Greens almost won Saanich North and the Islands outright in 2013, and could very well win the riding this time around. However, the party’s rise in popularity may shape the election outcome in almost a half dozen other NDP-held seats.
And the Greens know this. During the televised debate, Weaver hammered away at NDP leader John Horgan in a way that seemed to take Horgan aback and which showed Weaver knows full well his party’s strength lies in NDP territory.
On the weekend, the party bought a wrap-around front page advertisement in the Victoria Times-Colonist newspaper, which has a fairly high level of market penetration in the capital region.
The ad, the type of which the party has never been able to fund before, featured eight capital area candidates and attacked both the NDP and the B.C. Liberals on the issue of taking money from corporations.
The Greens could win other seats outright, or it could attract enough support to turn some seats into three-way races. That could allow say, the B.C. Liberals, to win some of these seats without even greatly increasing their share of the vote from 2013.
Take the riding of Saanich South, which has been held by the NDP for a dozen years. The party’s Lana Popham beat her B.C. Liberal opponent by about 2,700 votes in 2013.
That’s a healthy margin of victory, but if the Greens can build on their respectable showing of 15 per cent of the vote last time around, this riding could suddenly come into play and what should be a safe NDP riding could genuinely be up for grabs.
It could be a similar story in Cowichan Valley and perhaps even North Island, where the Greens failed to even run a candidate in 2013 but will this time around and they could eat into the NDP’s 2,000 vote margin.
Then there are two ridings that have been NDP fortresses for years but which a Green surge could threaten.
Take Esquimalt-Metchosin, which the NDP won by 4,500 votes in 2013. But the Greens are strong there: it took 22 per cent in that election, a good base to build on.
The B.C. Liberals’ candidate is a popular local mayor and if she can boost her party’s vote by a modest amount while the Greens do likewise, this riding may be up for grabs as well.
It could be the same situation in Victoria-Beacon Hill, where the Greens took 34 per cent of the vote last time. If the B.C. Liberal vote collapses there and goes Green (a not unheard of prospect that is being whispered by a number of B.C. Liberals themselves) this one-time fortress may be in trouble.
The Greens won’t win the general election.
But for the first time in a long time a party other than the B.C. Liberals and the NDP may be a relevant political force on election day.
Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC. Keith.Baldrey@globalnews.ca
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