Canada’s National Observer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Forestry and fish are playing out as pivotal B.C. election issues in the North Island, as two party leaders paid a visit to the riding in the final week of their campaigns.
Three political positions
The Vancouver Island riding is an NDP stronghold where tourism and forestry, along with fishing and aquaculture, are the region’s economic pillars. And two of the riding’s candidates are heavily invested in some of those sectors.
BC Liberal candidate Norm Facey is a former forestry executive who worked for the region’s pulp mills and logging companies.
His challenger on the opposite side of the spectrum is BC Green Party candidate Alexandra Morton, a fierce critic of open-net pen salmon farms in B.C. waters.
Attempting to walk the line between the two is NDP candidate Michele Babchuk, an experienced municipal politician favoured to win the riding. But Babchuk’s victory is only assured if she stems the loss of resource sector or environmental votes to the other two parties.
The NDP is grappling with the challenge of casting itself as a friend to forestry while still presenting itself as more environmentally progressive than the Liberals — a tactic that doesn’t tend to wash with most Greens.
Both the BC Liberal and NDP leaders tried to capitalize on the political tension between the economy and environment to snag votes during visits to the North Island over the weekend.
Party leaders visit Campbell River
Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson’s arrival to pitch the party’s forestry plan was heralded by a convoy of logging trucks during his second visit to Campbell River within three weeks on Saturday.
NDP Leader John Horgan visited the city the following day to announce he’ll redouble the party’s commitment to protect and revitalize B.C.’s dwindling wild salmon stocks — likely as a means to counter Morton’s reputation as a wild salmon defender.
The extra attention from party leaders, as well as the backgrounds of the North Island candidates, reflect how the environment and economy are intersecting as election issues in rural, resource-based ridings across the province, says Will Greaves, a political scientist at the University of Victoria.
“I see this tension between them as being a major fault line that runs through the NDP coalition and poses a pretty significant political risk to them,” Greaves said.
It’s still likely the NDP will take the majority of the seats in the upcoming election, but the party’s weak spot is likely to grow over time, said Greaves, especially as the NDP moves forward with liquefied natural gas development and is forced to stickhandle technical issues linked to the construction of the Site C hydroelectric project.
Recent poll results show the NDP losing a handful of points to the Liberals and Greens in the last leg of the election.
Since last week, NDP support dropped four points to 45 per cent, while the BC Liberals gained two points and sit at 35 per cent. The Greens also gained two points and sit at 16 per cent.
Polls suggest that people who have already voted, mostly in Metro Vancouver and on Vancouver Island, largely supported the NDP.
But among voters that still have to cast their ballot, in the province’s rural Northern and Interior ridings and the Fraser Valley, support appears to be closely split between the NDP and Liberals.