British Columbia

B.C. Votes 2017: North Island riding profile

A look at North Island, one of the 87 electoral districts in British Columbia.

The B.C. Liberals hope a well-known Indigenous leader will help them take this traditional NDP riding

The riding includes all communities on Vancouver Island north of Saratoga Beach, including Campbell River, Gold River, Woss, Port McNeill, Port Hardy and Port Alice. (Elections B.C.)

In advance of the 2017 B.C. election, we'll be profiling all 87 electoral districts in the province. Here is North Island, one of 15 ridings on Vancouver Island — and a place where the B.C. Liberals hope to reverse traditional voting patterns.

1. In Metro Vancouver, the NDP's promise to stop the current policy towards raw log exports might seem a bit abstract and not focused on daily issues that voters focus on. 

That isn't the case in North Island, however. The riding, broadly consisting of everything on the Island north of Campbell River, is dotted with small towns founded because of their role in the forest industry. 

"We are a forest-based community, the forest sector is very important for our community, and actually making sure we will have jobs and healthy forests and people will continue to have this as their base and their grandchildren will have this as their base," said NDP candidate Claire Trevena. 

As communities shrink, local residents become more and more perturbed over what happens after a tree is cut down more, making it more of a political issue — at least if you believe the NDP.  

"They're simple things: How do small mills get access to the logs that are being harvested? How do we ensure we get other manufacturing created on northern Vancouver Island?" asked Trevena.

"We see lots of logs going down the highway or being shipped onto barges and booms down the coast, but people want to see how we can use them for jobs right here." 

2. North Island tends to be a riding that elects NDP MLAs but is seen as attainable for other parties. 

The northernmost riding on Vancouver Island has had different names over the years, but has gone to the NDP in every election outside 2001. 

Trevena was elected in 2005 and has won three straight elections, but the Liberals have been within 3,000 votes each time. And while there was no Green Party candidate here in 2013, they have a candidate this time Sue Moen, owner of an in-home dog care company and federal candidate in Vancouver Island North in the 2011 election.

3. The Liberals are making a stronger effort to win the riding this time around. 

In 2009, their candidate was a 25-year-old father who was the former manager of a local mill. This time around, their candidate is Dallas Smith, the former president of the Nanwakolas Council and one of three Indigenous leaders running for the party.

"There's fear that government doesn't' understand First Nations issues, because there haven't been enough First Nations in there to talk pragmatically about how we deal with those solutions, as opposed to just using them as a political football," said Smith, who got a visit from Liberal Leader Christy Clark in the first week of the campaign. 

"To have a First Nations candidate that understands the First Nations dynamic but also the symbiotic nature of their relationship with the non-First Nations communities like Campbell River, Port McNeill and Port Hardy, puts us in a prime opportunity to really make change on northern Vancouver Island."

4. Still, there are significant obstacles to a Liberal upset.

One is the area's economic health: in the last decade several mills have shut down, and many of the region's small communities have continued to decline: last year Gold River lost its only grocery store, while Woss' only elementary school shut down.  

And of course, the issue of BC Ferries comes up from time to time. 

"Time to time is definitely putting it mildly," says Trevena, bringing up the corporation's decision to reinstate ferry routes between Port Hardy and mid-coast communities. 

"I think it was a very cynical move by the Liberals, to announce before the election that a route they cut would be reinstated next year. The ferry system is vital, and to play politics with it is systematic of this government."

5. Where does the NDP do well? In the last election, the NDP got 212 votes on Malcolm Island, north of Port McNeil, compared to just 48 for the Liberals.

That sounds impressive — but consider that next door, in Alert Bay, the NDP got 319 votes, compared to just 47 for the Liberals.  

6. What about the Liberals? It does best in the southern suburbs of Campbell river, along with the polling stations directly on the city's waterfront. 

7. Whoever wins the election will have to contend with the most onerous travel schedule of any Vancouver Island MLA.

"It's the life of being the representative for a large rural constituency: you are on the road a lot," said Trevena. 

"You have to get out into the communities, to get on the boats or ferries to the smaller more remote communities, because you're representing those people as much as you are the people in the large communities."