In the past two federal elections, Vancouver Island has been a stronghold for the NDP, and one campaign observer predicts that it will remain so largely after September 20.
But there are some cracks in the island’s orange armor given the strength of voters’ concern over the climate crisis and Erin O’Toole increasing the popularity of the Conservatives, the NDP’s historic nemesis in the region.
There is no question that the recent infighting of the Green Party offers the NDP some advantage in this election with voters concerned about the weather, said Mark Williams, president of political studies at the University of Vancouver Island.
But the advantage the NDP could enjoy could be undermined by the anger environmentally conscious voters feel toward the BC NDP government over protecting primary forests and the controversial Fairy Creek blockades, he said.
Regardless, the NDP should not underestimate the green vote, which has been on the rise in Vancouver Island’s southern constituencies during the past two elections, Williams said.
“In the south, I think there is a large contingent of people (who) are really seeing everything through the climate crisis,” he said.
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This force of environmental concerns has created a series of four-way races in the region, particularly in Victoria and the Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke drive.
But if there is any chance of a disruption in the NDP, it would be in Victoria, where the race is particularly close, Williams said.
“It’s very possible, although I don’t think it’s going to happen,” he said.
“But he probably would have if the Green Party leadership were in better shape.”
However, many experts predict that the NDP will actually increase its grip on the island by retaking the Nanaimo-Ladysmith leadership won by the Greens in 2019.
“The NDP is dedicated to environmental policy, but it has done so … within this context of economic security, which I think still resonates with many voters on the island,” says Mark Williams, VIU president of political studies. # elxn44
NDP leader Jagmeet Singh certainly looks forward to it. He has visited the riding twice in recent months in an attempt to unseat incumbent Paul Manly, who won the last election by a comfortable margin over his closest conservative competitor, while the NDP came in third. But Williams disagrees, citing the deep roots and individual support that Manly enjoys in driving.
“I imagine Paul Manly will win at Nanaimo-Ladysmith,” he said, noting that the incumbent enjoyed a 10 percent advantage over the second-place candidate.
“I really don’t see that neither the Conservatives nor the NDP really have the forces at play to allow them to overthrow him.
“The Green Party leadership is in disarray, but I think Manly’s support is still pretty strong.”
While the NDP should be wary of the Greens in the densely populated south, where voters are no longer as committed to the resource economy, the Tories are the main competition in the central and northern regions of the island, Williams said.
“Especially in the (north) there is a feeling that we need to support the extractive industry,” he said.
“So that’s where the Conservatives are pretty strong and a serious challenge to the NDP.”
But the support of conservatives in individual constituencies largely depends on the personality and profile of the candidates, he said.
The rise of the NDP at the expense of conservatives, who used to sweep Vancouver Island, is likely due to a growing sense of inequality and the party’s commitment to socially progressive ideals that benefit workers, Williams said.
“There is growing disillusionment with approaches that seem too laissez-faire, or too free market, and there is a sense that economic activity really needs to benefit society more broadly,” he said.
“This backlash against the Conservative Party is that (voters) are not entirely convinced that their policies will actually create jobs and improve the quality of life.
“Where it seems that the NDP and its focus on workers’ rights seem to connect with a lot of people on Vancouver Island.”
While each mount has specific issues of importance in this election, many of the key concerns on Vancouver Island mirror those on the national stage, Williams said. Health care, housing, affordability, climate change and indigenous issues are the most important things on the island, he said.
Lack of family doctors or access to healthcare, housing prices coupled with a rental crisis and rising cost of living are problems across the island, in urban and rural communities, he added.
“Affordability is one of those things that seems to be resonating across the country,” he said.
“Even a relatively small city like Nanaimo has seen real estate prices rise by $ 300,000 for homes in the last … six years.”
And with a large number of First Nations communities on the island, people are more aware of the importance of indigenous rights and reconciliation, he added.
In the end, it is likely the breadth of issues of concern in the elections that gives the NDP an advantage over the Greens on Vancouver Island, Williams said.
“The NDP is dedicated to environmental policy, but it has done so … within this context of economic security, which I think still resonates with many voters on the island.”
Rochelle Baker / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada National Observer