British Columbia

B.C. Votes 2017: Saanich South riding profile

A look at Saanich South, one of the 87 electoral districts in British Columbia.

Olympic medallist David Calder seeks to upset the NDP in this suburban riding

The riding includes the parts of Saanich to the west of Cedar Hill Road and north of either McKenzie (east of the Pat Bay highway) or Highway 1 (west of the Pat Bay Highway) (Elections B.C.)

In advance of the 2017 B.C. election, we'll be profiling all 87 electoral districts in the province. Here is Saanich South, one of 15 ridings on Vancouver Island — and one that's a nail biter on election night more often than not.

1. To understand the weird dynamics in Saanich South this election, consider this quote in a debate on CBC Radio earlier during the campaign.

"We have a problem, and the problem has been there for a long time. We need to solve this problem for today, but we need to be looking forward as well."

That quote, regarding congestion on the Pat Bay Highway that forms the north-to-south backbone of the Saanich South riding, wasn't from NDP MLA Lana Popham, a long-time member of the opposition, but from her challenger, B.C. Liberal candidate Dave Calder. 

2. Calder, a four-time Olympian who won a silver medal for Canada in the coxless pairs for rowing in 2008, volunteered for Popham four years ago. It's slightly different this time around. 

"We have had a large component of NDP representation for the last 8, 12 years on Vancouver Island, and I think we need to look at our representation. We need to get a strong voice in government, at the table where decisions are being made," said Calder. 

After winning just two of 14 seats on Vancouver Island four years ago, it's a consistent argument Liberal candidates have made this time around: vote for us because the the region needs better representation — which assumes the Liberals will continue to be the governing party.

"You may know, four years ago I volunteered for Lana, because we share similar values," said Calder in a different election debate. "But this riding and this region have been overlooked far too long because our representatives have been in opposition."

3. There's reason for Liberal optimism, however. 

The NDP won this riding by less than 600 votes in 1996, 2005 and 2009.

And while they lost by a substantial margin in 2013, their candidate was a government staffer — and they believe, with some evidence backing them up, that a former Olympian will help change the equation this time around. 

4. The rise of the Green Party also complicates forecasts in Saanich South.

The party received 15.3 per cent here last election, and all polls in 2017 have them above that for the entire Island this time around.

Their candidate is Mark Neufeld, a respected high school teacher at Claremont Secondary who got into hot water at the beginning of the campaign for his less-than-politically correct homage to Martin Luther King Jr. 

But he's campaigning hard, and if the Green Party support on Vancouver Island holds, Saanich South is a riding where unique vote splits could happen. 

There is also a Libertarian candidate running (Andrew McLean), along with a candidate from the Vancouver Island Party (Richard Pattee), which wants the island to become its own province.

5. While Saanich South is commonly thought of as part of the Greater Victoria urban core, agricultural issues play a large role. 

A riding just north of Victoria, it includes all of Saanich that is north of McKenzie when east of the Pat Bay Highway, and north of Highway 1 to the west of McKenzie.

It includes a mix of established neighbourhoods along Quadra and McKenzie Avenue, newer middle-class developments, secluded rural properties around Prospect Lake, Durrance Lake and east of Elk Lake but also large swaths of less-populated land that is under commercial pressures.

"The cost of ALR land has been driven up because of speculation .... speculators buy up farm land, but they're not intending to be farmers," said Popham, criticizing Liberal changes to  Agricultural Land Reserve policy. 

However, Calder expressed a desire to look at new options. 

"There are a lot of people who believe the farmland in Blenkinsop Valley should only be farmed, while there are other people who are really struggling to make ends meets," he said.

"It's not because they don't believe in food sustainability, but they want to be able to find a way to pay their mortgage, and pass their farmlands on to their children. It's important to look both provincially and locally and drive towards solutions that are acceptable to everybody."

6. Where does the NDP do well? 

There's a clear divide in this riding, with the NDP doing best in the older neighbourhoods south of the Quadra-Pat Bay Highway connector, generally getting between 45 to 55 per cent of the vote.

7. What about the Liberals? 

Conversely, they do better in the newer, more secluded neighbourhoods in the Royal Oak-Cordova Bay area, regularly garnering between 45 and 60 per cent of the vote.

8. The debate over the McKenzie interchange may be the best way of looking at the chicken and egg debate not just in Saanich South, but many Vancouver Island ridings.

If you're the Liberals, you look at the fact it's over halfway complete, an example of the government responding to local needs but also a place where more work can always be done. 

"We need to continue to look at it through the chain. If that interchange is going to keep pushing [traffic] further south, we need to make sure we're investing in that full corridor," said Calder. 

If you're Popham and the NDP however, you might look at the chicken-and-egg issue of Vancouver Island funding from a slightly different perspective.

"The reason why we have this congestion is because the Liberals haven't focused on Vancouver Island," she said.