If there is one place in Canada where the ground war at mid-campaign is not only fierce, but also remarkably personal on a number of levels, it is the province of British Columbia.
There may have been election nights when the ending was known before its B.C. chapter had even been written, but Oct. 21 is not lining up to be one of those.
The four-way battle unfolding in the province could well determine the shape of Canada’s next government.
With the Bloc Quebecois on the rise in Quebec, it could be hard for the Liberals or the Conservatives to form a government, and virtually impossible to secure a majority, without a solid complement of B.C. seats.
Stephen Harper’s Conservatives did poorly here in 2015, winning only 10 of 42 seats.
The Liberals finished first with 17 MPs.
Polls suggest the Conservatives could do better this year, not so much because of a stellar campaign, but because this is a province where the Liberals cannot count on a moribund NDP to replenish their support and where the Green party could upset their calculations.
B.C. is the place where the ambitions of the Green party and the survival needs of the NDP come to clash.
Both Elizabeth May and Jagmeet Singh hold seats in the province. More importantly, in the big picture, the kiss of death that the New Democrats are scrambling to avoid could very much be the kiss of life the Greens are looking for.
With Quebec looking like a lost cause, the NDP leader’s save-the-furniture campaign cannot possibly succeed without salvaging the party’s place in the Pacific Coast province.
In the last Parliament, B.C. accounted for the NDP’s second-largest regional caucus. In the last election, the party came second to the Liberals with 14 seats.
But last spring, the New Democrats got an ominous taste of a potential deterioration in their fortunes when they lost a Vancouver Island seat to the Greens.
The result of the Nanaimo-Ladysmith byelection – the last to be held during the most recent Parliament – was not even close. Green candidate Paul Manly took 37 per cent of the vote. The NDP finished third with 23 per cent.
On Oct. 21, May and her party are looking to replicate that success in other B.C. ridings, and do so at New Democrat and Liberal expense. The province is the party’s main springboard to a brighter and more influential future on Parliament Hill.
Because the province is where shovels are set to hit the ground on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion over the next government’s term, the federal vote has been cast by some as a plebiscite on the controversial project. Part of the NDP and the Green narrative revolves around the issue.
In separate opinion pieces, Conservative luminaries such as former federal finance minister Joe Oliver and former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall have warned that the advent of Liberal minority government would mean the death of the expansion.
It may be good politics for the Conservative talking heads to sow fear in the hearts of pro-pipeline voters, the better to drive them to cast a ballot for Andrew Scheer this month, but whether their prediction is a sound one is at the very least questionable.
Should the Bloc, the Green party or the NDP – or any combination of those parties – wake up on the morning after the election with the balance of power they all covet, it will not be in the interest of any of them to force a swift return to the polls.
But if they won’t dance with the Liberal party unless the latter kills Trans Mountain. It is not as if they had an alternate partner in the Conservatives.
Even the threat of a vote of non-confidence designed to force the hand of minority government of either stripe on the expansion is essentially an empty one.
Under such a scenario, the Liberals and Conservatives together would have the numbers to crush any attempt to topple a minority government over Trans Mountain.
There is no doubt the Liberal decision to nationalize the pipeline to ensure its expansion is part of the mix of the B.C. campaign. Anecdotally though, two consecutive campaign visits to Vancouver suggest Trans Mountain looms at least as large – if not larger – in the election rhetoric in Quebec than in the province where it is actually scheduled to be expanded.
Finally, the most viscerally personal election battle of all is taking place in former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould’s Vancouver-Granville riding.
The Liberals are determined not to let their former minister secure her seat as an independent without a fight and they have been deploying big guns – including former prime minister Jean Chrétien – on the Vancouver campaign trail.
For some Liberals, a national victory on Oct. 21 would not be quite complete without a win in Vancouver-Granville.
Chantal Hebert is a columnist with Torstar Syndication Services.