19
Aug
battlegroundBC2

“Battleground British Columbia”?

B.C. is a land all on its own. Separated from the rest of Canada by the Rocky Mountains, the residents of “Lotus Land” often think and act differently than the rest of the country. B.C. was the first to elect a member of the Green Party. B.C. was the first to enact a tax on carbon. And B.C.’s wacky politics have provided the rest of the country with water cooler fodder for generations.

But something is shifting. Canada’s western-most province is becoming a significant player on the national stage – with one of the country’s only provincially balanced budgets, the best economic growth forecast, and home to some of Canada’s fastest growing cities.

Most importantly, commentators (especially local ones) and politicians (especially the party leaders) love to say that B.C. is now a critical political force on the national stage. In fact, in Conservative Party Leader Stephen Harper’s first pitch to British Columbians at a rally on August 11, Harper told supporters, “British Columbia may well now choose who will form the national government in Canada.”

With six new seats, Ottawa appears to be acknowledging B.C.’s growing size and influence. But will voters in British Columbia actually have any impact on the final result?  Let’s take a look at the facts.

How about the speed with which all four party leaders visited the province after the writ dropped?

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May both launched their official campaigns in British Columbia. Stephen Harper and NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair chose Quebec, but were in B.C. within the week. Is this an unusual amount of attention for B.C. so early in the campaign?

Well, no. Based on their activities in previous elections, it appears making quick trips to B.C. early in campaigns is fairly standard for all the parties. While Trudeau broke the Liberal mold of late by launching in Vancouver, it may also have been his commitment to attend the Vancouver Pride celebrations that determined the location that day. Both Harper and Mulcair were in British Columbia within the first week – much longer than it’s taken the parties to get their Leaders out west in the recent past… more like 48 hours.

How about what they’ve been announcing in the province? What can we learn about how significant the parties think B.C. will be in their fortunes based on their comments and commitments?

When Trudeau officially launched his campaign in Vancouver he reminded citizens that he considers the city his “second home.” Trudeau has used the “second home” messaging frequently in the past few months, referring to his family roots in B.C. and the fact that he attended university and worked as a teacher in Vancouver.

Harper announced that, if re-elected, his government would spend $500,000 next year collecting data on foreign real estate investment, which has been a topic of debate as local housing prices sky rocket. Meantime, Mulcair is promising an affordable housing strategy and improved funding for transit improvements.

The attentions of the party leaders is well warranted. Given recent polling numbers, the NDP stands to make large inroads in the province, and both the Liberals and the Greens are hoping to improve upon their small seat holdings with a number of star candidates. Although Harper’s Conservatives remain strong in rural B.C. and are likely to benefit from at least some vote splitting among the other three parties, their support in the province is on the decline. The Conservatives will need to double their efforts if they want to hold on to their seats in B.C.

But will B.C. be the ultimate deciding jurisdiction in the upcoming election?

As a numbers game, Ontario and Quebec’s 199 seats combined far outweigh the 42 seats up for grabs in B.C., and logistical issues, such as the lack of a campaign airplane, may force Mulcair and Trudeau to make some tough decisions about where to focus their time.

And in previous elections, similar claims of B.C.’s importance have been greatly overstated, with the outcomes of these elections generally called before B.C. votes were even tallied.

Keep in mind, B.C. has indeed been a battleground when it comes to active three or four-party races, an exciting scenario we could see heating up as the election date closes in.

But as for the term “Battleground B.C.”? Sounds like a lot of lip service.