The geography of Canada’s west Coast is more fitting than ever: when you look at a map of the country, you find Vancouver Island on the far left. As the Oct. 21 federal election demonstrated, that’s where the Island sits politically as well as geographically.
For the second consecutive national election, voters in the seven ridings that make up Vancouver Island’s share of B.C.’s 42 federal seats handed the same five seats back to the New Democratic Party and the other two back to the Green Party, including national Green Party leader Elizabeth May’s seat in Saanich-Gulf Islands.
These copycat results between the 2015 and 2019 elections shouldn’t surprise anyone because Vancouver Island’s blue- collar, labour union, left-leaning roots reach back to the mid-1800s, when coal and lumber barons regularly locked horns with Island workers.
Today, this left-leaning Island penchant has morphed into a strong sense of environmentalism that has spread to other parts of B.C., including portions of the Lower Mainland and into some northern and eastern rural regions.
This viewpoint also goes hand-in-hand with B.C. voters’ strong mistrust of government – especially the federal government in Ottawa. This explains why B.C. voters sometimes march to the beat of their own drummer while ignoring how other Canadians vote. This, in turn, can make B.C. voters highly unpredictable.
And because B.C. has the third-largest number of seats among the provinces, there was no coincidence behind Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh (who subsequently won his seat in Burnaby South) and May spending the final few days of the recent election campaign in B.C.
Even Trudeau’s family, university and teaching-career roots in Metro Vancouver gave him little comfort about this vote – correctly, as it turned out – because the Liberals dropped to 11 seats from 17 this time. The Tories jumped to 17 from eight. The NDP fell by one seat and the Greens maintained its two in B.C., which dashed their dreams of growing.
Clearly, the major B.C. shift to the Conservatives was a backlash against Trudeau for past sins in his first term, including the SNC-Lavalin affair. Reaction to those sins also catapulted high-profile ex-Liberal justice minister and now independent Jody Wilson-Raybould, a key figure in the scandal, to victory in the Liberal stronghold of Vancouver Granville.
But, unlike Alberta or Saskatchewan, where the Tories dominated, the B.C. results reflect the province’s diverse electorate by sending a mixed bag of MPs to Ottawa.
Now that Trudeau has blown his majority government advantage, dealing with British Columbians who now distrust him will be difficult and risky. As Gerald McGeer, a flamboyant mayor of Vancouver in the 1930s, once quipped: “Ottawa is 2,500 miles from Vancouver – but Vancouver is 25,000 miles from Ottawa.”