~ By Malcolm Baxter
As British Labour party prime minister Harold Wilson famously said, a week is a long time in politics.
So by that standard I would normally be chancing my arm trying to predict the outcome of the provincial election seven weeks ahead of polling day.
But this time only the most diehard – and delusional – Liberal would anticipate anything other than a New Democrat victory.
The Liberal death spiral began with the HST fiasco, an extraordinary episode even for British Columbia where a government was returned to power and then almost immediately committed political suicide.
It steepened when, following the resignation of premier Gordon Campbell, the Liberal party members declined an opportunity to repair the damage and voted for Christy Clark as its new leader/premier.
While the terminally enthusiastic Clark has a winning smile and looks better in a hard hat than any politician I’ve ever seen, it didn’t take long for voters to discover there wasn’t a lot going on under that head gear.
And the opinion polls have faithfully chronicled her descent into the abyss.
So, the question is not who wins but by how much.
I don’t expect a repeat of the near obliteration of the NDP in 2001 or annihilation of the Socreds a decade earlier: it just doesn’t have the same feel.
By my count there are 15 seats where the Liberal margin of victory last time was less than 10 per cent and it’s pretty much a gimme all those are going NDP.
And I would expect the Libs to lose about half the seats where the margin was 11-20 per cent. That equals eight seats, give or take.
So take those 23 seats, add it to the 35 that were NDP last time and you have my fearless prediction: the NDP will win 58 seats.
Much easier to predict are the three northwestern ridings: all are NDP today and will be on May 15, the day after the election.
The Stikine riding was newly created in 2009 when Doug Donaldson beat out Liberal Scott Groves. The margin of victory was only 445, slim enough to give the Libs hope in a normal year – but as I said, this isn’t one of those.
On the North Coast Gary Coons unseated Liberal incumbent Bill Belsey in 2005 by just short of 1,700. Four years later and facing a credible Liberal opponent in former Prince Rupert mayor Herb Pond, he increased that margin to near 1,900.
But Coons has decided to call it a day and the New Democrats have given the nod to first term City of Prince Rupert council member Jennifer Rice.
Coons appeared to do a good job representing his riding, especially on big ticket issues such as BC Ferries. So there could be some slippage of votes that belonged to him.
Plus Rice has a history of working for environmental groups that have had a nasty habit of opposing economic development.
And economic development is something Prince Rupert, like all the northwest, would welcome.
That said, she should win handily but I’ll be interested to see the margin.
Which takes us to Skeena where Robin Austin is seeking the hattrick.
Here I am going to be looking for how many people even voted.
To explain, in 2005 Austin unseated one-term Liberal Roger Harris by 359 votes. In 2009 Austin’s vote dropped by 301 but at the same time his majority shot up to more than 1,500 when the Lib vote crashed by 2,000.
Since that election the Eurocan pulp and paper mill in Kitimat closed with the loss of more than 500 jobs with a good number of those employees leaving town and taking their NDP votes with them. Austin also faces a tougher opponent this time in Liberal Carol Leclerc.
None of that will change the result – an Austin victory – but I suspect his majority will be sharply reduced.
See you at the polling booth.
Malcolm Baxter is the retired editor of The Northern Sentinel in Kitimat and now lives in Terrace.