The Battle for the “Left” Coast

Vancouver is a space of political contradictions. The beautiful city is home to some of Canada’s most affluent citizens and stands as the largest city in the country’s most robust provincial economy. As a result, one may expect this urban hub to lean right on the political spectrum, and yet this city is actually one of the most left-leaning, activist parts of Canada.

Downtown Vancouver has been largely dominated by the Liberals and the NDP since the 1930s, with the Conservatives rarely holding a majority of seats in the area. Even with the Liberal downturn in 2011, the Conservatives only picked up one seat with Conservative MP Wai Young in Vancouver South.

This trend is also at play at the provincial level. Looking back to the provincial election results of 2013, the NDP did exceptionally well in the Vancouver core. If you were to look at a map of the Lower Mainland, you would see an orange, donut-shaped chunk in Downtown Vancouver surrounded by a sea of Liberal-won seats. Even Premier Christy Clark was ousted from her seat in Vancouver-Point Grey, sending her all the way to the B.C. Interior to find a seat.

How do we explain the political leanings of this city?

First, Vancouverites are geographically removed from the activities that drive the provincial economy. Unlike other urban areas, where city-based manufacturing drives wealth, Vancouver’s economy depends on resource development taking place thousands of kilometres away, making room for a strong environmentally-focused and anti-energy political culture. Join this with the fact that Vancouverites happen to live in one of the most beautiful parts of the country, and you start to get a better sense as to why environmental issues areas play so prominently in the city.

Second, those living in downtown Vancouver are generally more receptive to government intervention. Living in a densely populated area, these individuals are more dependent on government services, such as public transportation, and see the impacts of government services (or lack thereof) on those who are less fortunate.

Third, Greater Vancouver has two large universities: the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University. As is often the case with universities, these institutions are thought to be left-leaning and carry influence with the local political culture.

So, what can we expect in Vancouver for this election? Arguably, the Conservatives have an uphill battle. Their closure of the Kitsilano Coast Guard Station in 2013, especially in light of the English Bay spill earlier this year, did not earn them many supporters, nor did Bill C-51 or their perceived lack of progress on climate change. Even star candidate Dianne Watts, former mayor of Surrey, is facing a strong battle in her riding of South Surrey-White Rock.

For their part, both the NDP and the Liberals are working hard to appeal to Vancouver’s growing left. Both parties are pushing for the environmental vote and have made promises to help reduce high living costs in the city, including those related to affordable housing, transit, and childcare.

As for the numbers, riding projections put out by Too Close To Call and ThreeHundredEight.com both show the Liberals in a strong lead in four of the six downtown ridings, while the NDP lead in Vancouver Kingsway and their stronghold, Vancouver East. It’s possible that on October 20th, you may have to venture all the way to the distant suburb of Langley to find a Conservative MP.