In advance of the 2017 B.C. election, we'll be profiling all 87 electoral districts in the province. Here is Cariboo North, one of 5 ridings in the Thompson-Cariboo — and one that may be the hardest to handicap in the B.C. Interior

1. Geographically and politically, Cariboo North is right in the middle.

Situated roughly between Williams Lake and Prince George, the riding contains a number of mid-sized and small communities in the heart of the B.C. Interior. 

It's only existed since 1991, when the larger Cariboo riding was split in two, but has switched party allegiances four times during that period — tied for the most in the province — going from the Socreds to the NDP in 1991, to the B.C. Liberals in 1996, back to the NDP in 2005, before being retaken by the Liberals in 2013.

2. Quesnel is both the largest centre in the riding — and the reason it's always so close.

It's rare that a riding outside of Vancouver Island or Metro Vancouver is close on election day, but Cariboo North has been decided by less than 800 votes in every election but 2001. 

Bob Simpson, who represented the riding from 2005 to 2013, says it's because the main city of Quesnel leans to the left, while the rest of the riding—which has around the same population—leans to the right.

"You have a population in Quesnel that was a unionized workforce, with respect to the pulp mills and the sawmills, and the predominant economy from an employment standpoint today is public sector workers, who are also unionized," said Simpson, contrasting the city to Horsefly, Likely, and many other smaller communities in the riding. 

"They're not unionized, they're not urban in their thinking, they're getting their paychecks from entrepreneurial activities and resource extraction facilities, and tend to want a government that isn't going to over-regulate and overtax them."

3. The NDP are optimistic they can retake the riding for two reasons.

One, the boundaries of the riding have slightly changed, as the northern edge of Williams Lake has been put back into the Cariboo-Chilcotin riding. 

Those polling stations tended to support the B.C. Liberals, and in a riding so close, that change could make a big difference.

But the biggest change for the NDP is that Bob Simpson isn't running.

He was booted from the NDP caucus in 2010. Simpson ran as an independent in 2013, but narrowly lost to the B.C. Liberals, with the NDP candidate finishing a distant third.

The Liberals won with just 41.4 per cent of the vote, but Simpson believes that without him splitting the vote, the NDP stand a much better chance. 

"No, I'm not running again. How's that for unequivocal?" said Simpson, who is now the mayor of Quesnel.

"Based on previous historical results, the numbers I would suggest favour an NDP win, if they field a candidate that can capture the people's desire for good nomination."

4. That candidate is a Quesnel city councillor.

Scott Elliott, who finished with the second most votes in the 2014 municipal election, was announced as the NDP's candidate on Jan. 22. 

He'll go up against B.C. Liberal Coralee Oakes, who is seeking re-election and is currently minister of small business, red-tape reduction and minister responsible for the Liquor Distribution Branch.

The Green Party candidate is Richard Jacques, a teacher and former volunteer firefighter who ran for the federal party in Cariboo-Prince George in 2015. 

Cariboo North stats

5. Where does the NDP do well? 

Prior to last election, the party did extremely well in the majority of Quesnel, getting up to 70 per cent in some polling stations in the neighbourhoods of North Quesnel and Riverview. 

6. What about the Liberals? 

It does well in the exurban area to the north of Williams Lake, and the South Hills area on the eastern edge of Quesnel. 

7. How much voters value Oakes's position as a cabinet minister may be the great X factor in the race.

While conventional wisdom says a cabinet minister gets a bump at election time because of their position, there's no agreement how large that bump is.  

"Whether they can convince voters that having a sitting cabinet minister is beneficial to the riding is key," said Simpson of the B.C. Liberals. 

Oakes, who was previously minister of community, sport and cultural development, has announced funding to keep Quesnel schools open, and there have been significant improvements to Highway 97 during her term.

How voters perceive those actions will go along way in deterring whether this swing riding swings back to the NDP come election day.  

MAP: Every polling station in the riding last election