British Columbia

B.C. Votes 2017: Oak Bay-Gordon Head riding profile

A look at Oak Bay-Gordon Head, one of the 87 electoral districts in British Columbia.

4 years after making history as the first ever Green Party MLA in B.C., Andrew Weaver seeks re-election

The riding contains all of Oak Bay and a western boundary that starts at Cedar Hill Road in the north, goes to Shelbourne Street and Cedar Hill Cross Road and Richmond Road and Newton Street. (Elections B.C.)

In advance of the 2017 B.C. election, we'll be profiling all 87 electoral districts in the province. Here is Oak Bay-Gordon Head, one of 15 ridings on Vancouver Island — and one where the Green Party is hoping to make less news this time around.

1. It may seem counterintuitive, but when explaining why voters in Oay Bay-Gordon Head became the first people in B.C. to elect a Green Party MLA, Andrew Weaver brought up the past success of the B.C. Conservative Party in his riding.

"They were the last riding to elect a Conservative MLA," he said, referencing George Scott Wallace and Victor Albert Stephens, the final two MLAs of the once-dominant party, who served in the riding of Oak Bay from 1972 to 1979. 

There are a lot of reasons why Weaver made history in 2013, but one of them is that Oak Bay, despite its wealth and social stability, has rarely been politically predictable. 

"The electorate is very engaged. They've spent a lot of time at all-candidates meetings and really consider all candidates before coming to decisions," said Weaver.

2. Consider this: In B.C.'s modern political era, it has elected MLAs from more political parties than any other place in the province. 

From a Liberal riding (when the party was still linked to the federal organization) from 1952 to 1969, to the Conservatives from 1972 to 1979, and in between and then from 1979 to 1989 to Social Credit, to the NDP from 1989 to 1996, to the B.C. Liberals under Ida Chong from 1996 to 2013 and now Weaver, voters have chosen people across the political spectrum.

This despite the fact that the riding has stayed about as stable as possible in the last 65 years: an affluent, predominately single-home enclave on the eastern edge of Greater Victoria, with mixtures of the super-wealthy (Uplands), retirees (sprinkled throughout the region), middle-class families (Gordon Head) and university students (clustered around UVic and Camosun College). 

But that combination creates a dynamic, informed mix of voters. 

"There's lot of strategic voting in Oak Bay-Gordon Head, which explains why it's moved back and forth," said longtime UVic political scientist Norman Ruff. 

3. Weaver was particularly well positioned to break the longtime Liberal hold on the riding.

As a high-profile UVic professor, he certainly had name recognition in the riding. His impressive environmental credentials — including being on the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — were appealing to a riding where many voters had just contributed to Elizabeth May becoming the first elected Green MP in 2013. 

But Weaver, a 1979 graduate of Oak Bay High School, credits a lot of his success to his history in the riding.

"When you have deep roots, you know a lot of people. They knew who I was, they knew what I stood for, and they knew I was running out of principle instead of making it a career path," he said.

"The people who canvassed with me last time, they'll tell stories of me, pointing out everyone I know on the trail. I'd say 'there's my son's hairdresser, that guy I played soccer with. There's my daughter's friend.' When you've spent a good chunk of your 55 years living in a riding, you know a lot of people."

4. Like so much of the South Coast, housing affordability continues to grow as an issue.

The benchmark price of a home in Oak Bay was $552,000 in 2005, but has grown to $1.13 million, the highest in Greater Victoria.

"It's a destination of choice for people who are living Vancouver," said Weaver, who wants to make sure younger families who grew up in Gordon Head in the 70s and 80s can continue to own property there. 

"We've seen upward pressure in our properties as a direct consequence of them saying 'well, I can sell my home in Vancouver for $3 million, what's a million in Victoria? It's a beautiful home right near the university on a bus route downtown."

5. Both the NDP and Liberals aren't conceding the riding to Weaver.

The Green Party is doing well in Vancouver Island polls, but there's still no precedent for pundits on Green MLAs running for re-election anywhere in Canada.   

"Weaver has certainly consolidated his position. He's shown himself very comfortable in the house," said Ruff, alluding to a number of bills he's introduced that have been picked up in the Legislature.

"But I think in 2013, he gained votes from not only the NDP but the Liberals as well and I sense the Liberals are no longer seeing him so much as a fellow traveller. He's become much more critical of them than when he initially ran."

The Liberal candidate is Alex Dutton, a lawyer at a local law firm and deputy chair of the College of Speech and Hearing Health Professionals.

The NDP candidate is Bryce Casavant, a former conservation officer in the northern part of Vancouver Island, who is known for refusing to kill a pair of orphaned bear cubs in 2015. He originally sought the party's nomination closer to home in the Comox Valley but decided to run in the Greater Victoria area instead. 

6. Where does the NDP do well?

The areas directly west and north of the University of Victoria have plenty of students and are therefore often areas of NDP support. It also does well in the working-class areas south to the southeast of Lansdowne Middle School.

6. What about the Liberals? 

Uplands, Uplands, Uplands: the Shaughnessy of Victoria reliably gives the party a majority of its votes. It also does well in the homes close to the water north of Arbutus and Ash Road.

7. And the Greens?

Weaver didn't have one base of support last election, instead winning between 35 and 50 per cent of the vote in most areas but did quite well in southern Oak Bay and the far east side of Cadboro Bay.

9. One thing Weaver won't be able to do this election is spend as much time campaigning in his own riding. 

Last election, former leader Jane Sterk spent much of her time campaigning in the ridings immediately in and around her Victoria-Beacon Hill constituency — a race she eventually lost. 

If the election campaign goes as hoped for the Greens, Weaver will be spending scant time in the area of the province he knows best. 

"I still am doing a bunch of meet and greets. But I can't do the same as I did before. This week I was in Kamloops, in Nelson, in Creston, in Vancouver. I'm away a lot more," he said. 

"But you always have your pulse on what's going on in a community, when you grew up there."