By Malcolm Baxter
When the final tally of votes for the Skeena riding election comes in, it could just be that supporters of the BC Conservative Party will be able to claim victory.
Given that the Cons are not even running a candidate, what prompts such an outrageous suggestion? Pure numbers.
In the 2013 election NDP’s Robin Austin garnered 5,609 votes, Liberal Carol Leclerc 5,087 and BC Conservative Mike Brousseau 797 – NDP win by 512.
Assuming that in the absence of a candidate the Conservative voters back then this time switch to the Liberals, the Libs win comfortably.
Okay, that is a huge assumption given we have no idea how many voted for Brousseau as a person rather than the party he represented and who this time will decide not to vote period. But let’s say half of the 2013 Conservative votes go to the Libs this time: that cuts the gap to just 112 votes. Can the Libs close it?
There are three main voting blocs: Kitimat, Terrace/Thornhill and the First Nations.
Last time NDP incumbent Austin won Kitimat but only by 23 votes, a dramatic reduction from his 886 margin in 2009. That sea change was understandable given in the interim Eurocan had closed and the aluminum smelter had been steadily reducing its workforce, both significantly reducing the NDP voter base.
Four years later the only change has been a further reduction in the now Rio Tinto smelter – by about 200 – so it seems reasonable to suggest that Liberal candidate Ellis Ross might be able to win that community, albeit narrowly. In Terrace last time Liberal Leclerc won by just shy of 300 and I see no reason to think that margin won’t be the same this time.
So the math says the Libs will win Kitimat/Terrace/Thornhill by about 350 votes.
Enter the First Nations. Last time, as always, the Liberals got slaughtered in each and every First Nations voting area. The result was a victory by 522 votes despite the Libs’ close loss in Kitimat and a victory by 300 votes in Terrace/Thornhill.
Can we expect that to change with the combination of a First Nations candidate – Ross is Haisla – and all the agreements signed recently that see First Nations receiving substantial money if LNG projects go ahead?
I don’t believe so.
The First Nations got those deals with an MLA who was NDP, so why change? And while the Libs may have picked up a few brownie points with those deals, the fact is that when it comes to social issues the First Nations recognize the NDP are the better place to park their votes.
Fearless prediction: Skeena stays NDP.
As for the province, after getting it all wrong four years ago I am super reluctant to call it. Especially since I am writing this 12 days before the election and a lot can change in that time.
But whichever side wins it will be tight.
Retired Kitimat Northern Sentinel editor Malcolm Baxter lives in Terrace, B.C.