B.C. swing ridings could aid Tory majority

A number of swing ridings in B.C. could hold the key to a Conservative majority in the May federal election.
With five key swing ridings in the province, the upcoming federal election fight could be decided in B.C., the CBC's Eric Rankin reports 2:25

A number of swing ridings in B.C. could hold the key to a Conservative majority in the May federal election.

The Conservative Party needs to pick up an additional 11 seats to win a majority — and 10 of the 36 ridings in B.C. are considered swing ridings.

Paddy Smith, a political science professor at Simon Fraser University, said those 10 seats are evenly split between the Conservatives, the Liberals and the NDP.

"There's about 10 seats in play and the Conservatives, I don't think, have a reasonable expectation of taking all 10 of them," Smith told Rick Cluff, host of CBC Radio One's The Early Edition.

"But if they pick up a few seats in Newfoundland, a few around Greater Toronto and a few here [in B.C.], that could be their magic number as they go for their dreamed majority."

Tight races

Smith said some of the most hotly contested seats are ridings won by just a few percentage points in the last election — where Conservative candidates came in a close second.

A map of the 2008 federal election results in B.C. (CBC)
In Vancouver South, Liberal Ujjal Dosanjh won over Conservative Wai Young by just 20 votes in 2008.

New Democrat Bill Siksay won Burnaby—Douglas with just 798 votes more than Conservative Ronald Leung. Siksay is not running for re-election, which Smith said will further shake up the riding.

Liberal Keith Martin won in Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca by just 68 votes over Conservative Troy DeSouza. Martin, who has represented the riding since 1993, is not running for re-election.

"There are a few other races that are within two or three per cent," Smith said.

Another riding to watch, he said, is Saanich—Gulf Islands, where long-time Conservative MP Gary Lunn won by just over 2,000 votes in 2008.

"[The riding] was won by about four per cent, but the equation may have changed," Smith said.

"The Conservatives won with 43 per cent, the Liberals were second last time, but the Liberal candidate that ran last time is not running this time and [Green Party Leader] Elizabeth May is."

Smith said May's arrival in the riding makes the outcome much less certain, even though Lunn has held the riding since 2000.

"You'd have to think this is one of the possibilities where the Greens might actually make that dramatic breakthrough to actually have representation in the House of Commons."

B.C. is also losing three veteran Conservative MPs — Chuck Strahl, Stockwell Day and John Cummins — who are all retiring.

However, all three candidates represent solid Conservative ridings, Smith said, and won by a large margin in the last election.

"These are not seats that the parties would have a strong expectation that they're gonna change, despite the fact that they don't have incumbents."

Building support

Gerald Baier, an assistant professor of political science at UBC, said those swing ridings influence the way leaders campaign during visits to B.C.

"Part of it is the way that they are kind of signalling certain kinds of ridings," he said.

"The Prime Minister's visit to B.C., for example, demonstrated an interest in the typical suburban voter that the Conservatives have been successful with. They're demonstrating that in the ridings they want a chance at in B.C., but that's a message for the 905 region of Toronto and in other parts of the country where similar kinds of voters exist."

Baier said even though Canadians don't vote directly for Prime Minister, party leadership will likely influence the outcomes in some of those ridings.

"It is inevitable. The leadership does become a kind of core issue of any campaign just because the parties choose to make it."

However, Baier said the biggest determining factor for the federal party leaders is building local support.

"I think the bigger concern for the parties is probably the on-the-ground organization … and so they really want to make sure that the campaign is properly conducted at the local level so that all the voters who can support you get out," he said.

"I mean, in the riding where the vote difference was 20 last time, you just gotta really make sure you get every person possible that you have identified as a supporter to the polls that morning."