With the return of a B.C. Liberal government and the toppling of stalwart MLA Ida Chong, south Vancouver Island’s interests could face dark days ahead, warns one political expert.
Only two of the 14 seats on Vancouver Island are likely to be represented by B.C. Liberal MLAs, with a near-sweep of the south Island by the B.C. NDP (New Democrat Gary Holman’s razor-thin lead over Liberal Stephen Roberts in Saanich North and the Islands is likely to trigger a judicial recount).
“The Liberals have won a solid majority government without anybody on the (south Island),” said Dennis Pilon, associate professor of political science at York University and a specialist in B.C. politics.
“Unless the Liberals figure they could gain back that support, there’s really not much incentive for them to work very hard to woo those voters.”
Former B.C. NDP leader Carole James, re-elected in Victoria-Beacon Hill on Tuesday, said a lack of Liberal MLAs on the south Island means her party will “work with ministers and within the system” to ensure regional interests are addressed.
“We’ve gone to bat for our constituents in the past and I think they can count on us to do that again and to work both ways, as a strong opposition but also as a strong team to propose solutions,” she said.
While the Liberals attained a 50-seat majority in the legislature, they only captured 44.4 per cent of the popular vote.
“It will be very tough for the government to ignore a very strong message (of NDP support) in the Capital Region and on Vancouver Island,” James said.
She and fellow south Island MLAs Rob Fleming, Maurine Karagianis, Lana Popham and John Horgan are accustomed to working in opposition, James said, and will work with the fourth-term B.C. Liberals on regional issues as transit, affordable housing and child poverty.
“We’ve had four wasted years of the government, between the HST and leadership campaigns and all that. It’s been a bit of a write-off, as far as a term of government,” Karagianis said. “Hopefully … we’ll get on with governing with the province of British Columbia.”
The lack of B.C. Liberal representation on the south Island means the regional business community will have to work harder to attain needed infrastructure spending on projects such as light rail transit and the Victoria airport runway expansion, said Bruce Carter, Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce CEO.
“Ida (Chong) was an incredibly valuable representative (for the Island) and provided balance and regional representation at cabinet and caucus tables.
“Now, when discussions happen, we’re going to have to rely on non-resident MLAs to represent our needs,” Carter said, referring to Liberal MLAs Michelle Stilwell (Parksville-Qualicum) and Don McRae (Comox Valley).
The global economy is likely to improve in the coming years, Carter added, allowing the B.C. Liberals to continue to expand their natural resource exportation policies.
“Certainly LNG will happen and the two pipeline projects will receive full consideration.”
Pilon said an NDP government would likely have bolstered the Capital Region economy by hiring more public servants and making changes to B.C. Ferries, issues the Liberals likely won’t feel pressured to address anytime soon.
“Politicians think, ‘Why should I be nice to you? What are you going to do for me?’ If they don’t think they need you, there’s no need to keep throwing stuff at you,” he said.
Preliminary voter turnout for the province was 52 per cent, slightly above the record-low 2009 turnout of 51 per cent. Voter turnout was down, however, in all seven Capital Region electoral districts.
–with reporting from Kyle Slavin and Kyle Wells