Trudeau and May in B.C. on first day of 2019 election campaign

By Shannon Waters September 12, 2019

The 2019 election campaign could be B.C.’s time to shine. Or not.

With 42 federal ridings, the country’s westernmost province has more seats up for grabs than any province other than Ontario and Québec, yet B.C. voters are often still casting ballots when the winning party is announced on election night.

“In 2015 … the election was called before they hit Manitoba and that was it. There was no chance that B.C. was going to play a significant role,” political scientist David Moscrop told CBC. “This time around it might be different. If it’s meant to be a close election, it might in fact come down to British Columbia. 

Pollsters are currently predicting a relatively tight race between the federal Liberals and Conservatives, meaning B.C. could be a focal point for the parties during this campaign.

The province also has connections to two other issues likely to play a major role during the campaign. The first is the SNC Lavalin scandal. 

Independent MP Jody Wilson-Raybould, who served as minister of justice and attorney general in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet, was kicked out of the Liberal caucus earlier this year amid allegations that Trudeau and his staff put inappropriate pressure on her to intervene in an ongoing criminal case against the Québec construction company. Wilson-Raybould will attempt to hang onto her Vancouver Granville seat against four challengers: Liberal Taleeb Noormohamed, Conservative Zach Segal, NDP candidate Yvonne Hanson and Green Party candidate Louise Boutin.

The second issue is the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, which terminates in the riding of Burnaby—North Seymour where former NDP MP Svend Robinson is running against Liberal incumbent Terry Beech.

In the adjacent Burnaby South riding, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh will again be fighting for a seat, after winning a byelection there in February. Singh will face off against Liberal candidate Neelam Brar and Conservative Jay Shin, who lost to Singh in February.

On Wednesday, Singh launched the NDP’s campaign in London, Ontario, while Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer kicked off his party’s campaign in Trois-Rivières, Québec. 

Both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and federal Green Party Leader Elizabeth May launched their 2019 campaigns in B.C. May held a rally in Victoria on Wednesday morning while Trudeau, fresh from his visit to Governor General Julie Payette, headlined a Liberal event in Vancouver in the evening. 

Trudeau is hoping this year’s election will be a repeat of 2015, when the Liberals won 17 seats in B.C. — the party’s best showing in the province in 50 years.

A province that plays no favourites
While federal Liberals typically dominate in B.C.’s southern and urban ridings, the NDP and conservative parties are favoured in rural and northern ridings while the Greens do well on Vancouver Island. 

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May has held her Saanich-Gulf Islands seat since 2011 — in 2015, May won more than 54 per cent of votes in the riding, nearly 35 per cent more than her closest challenger, Conservative candidate Robert Boyd.

May’s husband, John Kidder, will be on the campaign trail with her this year; Kidder is the Green Party candidate in Mission—Matsqui—Fraser Canyon, which stretches from Vancouver-adjacent Abbotsford to the Interior village of Cache Creek.

The fortunes of the provincial Green Party, in its current role as partner of the governing NDP, could bode well for its federal counterparts. And Green MP Paul Manly emerged victorious from the federal byelection in Nanaimo—Ladysmith in February, becoming the party’s second member in the House of Commons. 

However, some off-the-wall comments from party members — including May’s muddled statement on abortion and the party’s Montreal area candidate Pierre Nantel’s support for Québec separatism — could make some prospective voters think twice. Manly has also made comments that have been interpreted as support for 9/11 trutherism.

Over the past year, B.C. has registered some of the highest levels of support for the federal NDP countrywide, according to polls, but the party has shed a number of high profile MPs as well. Former MPs Sheila Malcolmson and Kennedy Stewart left the federal party to seek their political fortunes in other arenas — Malcolmson is now the MLA for Nanaimo, while Stewart is mayor of Vancouver.

Popular Skeena—Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen — last year’s Maclean’s Parliamentarian of the Year — is not seeking re-election. In Skeena, Smithers Mayor Taylor Bachrach is running for the NDP against human-skull-gifting Conservative Claire Rattée and Liberal Dave Birdi, an economic development councillor with the Binche Whut’en First Nation.

In an inauspicious start to the official election campaign, the NDP candidate in Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo announced the withdrawal of his candidacy just before the election was formally called. Dock Currie said the party asked him to step down for telling a journalist he would “like to break his jaw” on social media when he was a graduate student.

“The comments I made then were flippant and aggressive, and do not reflect who I am today, nor do I stand by them in the form in which they were made, and I understand completely that they would be an unnecessary and unwarranted distraction from the vital message and campaign of the NDP across the country,” Currie wrote on Facebook.