B.C. Votes 2017: Skeena riding profile
B.C. Liberals hope to steal riding that has gone NDP in 5 of the last 6 elections
In advance of the 2017 B.C. election, we'll be profiling all 87 electoral districts in the province. Here is Skeena, one of eight ridings in Northern B.C. — and one that was decided by fewer than 600 votes last time.
1. Skeena will have a new MLA after the 2017 election.
After 12 years of representing Skeena, B.C. NDP MLA Robin Austin is not running again. Austin tended to cut things close: he won for the first time in 2005 by just 259 votes, beating out Liberal MLA Roger Harris. His 2009 victory was a bit more decisive, with more than 1,500 votes over his closest competitor, but in 2013 Austin was returned to office with just a 522-vote win. The 58-year-old says he is quitting to take a job closer to home.
2. History is on the NDP's side ...
The margins may not have been big, but Skeena has typically been an NDP foothold. The riding has gone NDP orange in eight of the last 11 elections. The northwest B.C. ridings surrounding Skeena have also favoured the NDP since 1972.
3. ... but the BC Liberals have set their eyes on winning Skeena.
Liberal leader and premier, Christy Clark, was dispatched to the riding to take part in unveiling Ellis Ross as the party's candidate for 2017. The elected chief councillor of the Haisla First Nation has a provincewide profile because of his opposition to the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline — but more importantly for the premier, he is supportive of the LNG industry.
"This is the 21st century for Aboriginals too. There is no law that says I have to support the NDP. I have the freedom to join any party I want because I have objectives for my people too," said Ross at the recent B.C. Liberal convention.
4. Unlike some ridings, the NDP's equity policy didn't cause controversy during candidate selection.
Its own policy dictated the party had to appoint a replacement for Austin who isn't a white, able-bodied, straight male.
All four of the candidates seeking the NDP nomination met those requirements, and Bruce Bidgood, a hearing-impaired social work professor at the University of Northern B.C.'s Terrace campus, defeated three others to get on the ballot.
5. The riding of Skeena is a tale of two cities.
In the 2013 provincial election, the area in and around Kitimat — including the Haisla First Nation — preferred the NDP, with 1237 votes compared to 1083 for the B.C. Liberals.
However, in the larger community of Terrace, the B.C. Liberal candidate took 1635 votes compared to Austin's 1329.
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6. Indigenous areas have tipped the riding to the NDP in past elections.
Austin received 80 per cent of the votes at the Kitamaat Village polling station last election, 88 per cent in the Kitsumkalum First Nation polling station, just west of Terrace, and a whopping 90 per cent of the vote in some polling stations in and around Aiyansh.
7. The spectre of LNG looms large in this riding.
Ross worked with Alta Gas to try to bring a first nation-owned project online in Kitimat. That project fizzled because it failed to secure customers, and there still isn't a single project in northwest B.C. where a final investment decision has been made.
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But Ross isn't giving up on the dream.
"It was just unfortunate that the markets collapsed the way it did. Not really collapsed, it's just that there was such a glut. And mainly why? Because we just spent too much time talking. Meanwhile, everybody else in the world, beat us to the market."
Bidgood hopes the perceived oversell will be the defining local issue of the campaign.
"The promises had no valid grounding in reality. And she promised 100,000 jobs. A trillion dollars in economic activity. And a $100 billion prosperity fund. None of those things have come to fruition," he said.
With files from Justin McElroy and George Baker