British Columbia

B.C. Votes 2017: Victoria-Beacon Hill riding profile

A look at Victoria-Beacon Hill, one of the 87 electoral districts in British Columbia.

Former NDP leader Carole James seeks a 4th term in the riding that contains the provincial legislature

(Elections BC)

In advance of the 2017 B.C. election, we'll be profiling all 87 electoral districts in the province. Here is Victoria-Beacon Hill, one of 15 ridings on Vancouver Island — and one where provincial issues are very local.

1. For most MLAs, it takes hours to get to the legislature from their home. But, for Carole James?

"I can make it in about three minutes if I walk fast," she says.  

Her riding includes all of Victoria south of Bay Street, including the downtown core and provincial legislature. Like most government towns, it means residents are more well-versed in provincial politics than most.

"It's probably the constituency that knows the most about the legislature, that is aware when MLAs are in town ... and they engage in politics. They let you know when they're happy and unhappy. It's not a riding where you wonder what the voters think." 

2. And like many government towns in Canada, the riding is friendly to progressive parties.

Centre-right or right-wing parties hold none of the 10 seats across Canada that contain provincial legislatures, and the B.C. Liberals' worst result in 2013 came in Victoria-Beacon Hill, finishing third behind the Green Party.

"It's an activist community. I think out of all the MLAs, I have more walk-in traffic, more correspondence, and more individuals who come into my office with a passion for every issue you can imagine," said James, who has held the riding since 2005. 

"My husband jokes he doesn't come grocery shopping with me, because all the food thaws by the time we get to the checkout."

3. Victoria wasn't always so left-leaning in politics, however. 

Victoria elected MLAs from all mainstream parties in its first 100 years of existence, and federally the Progressive Conservatives held the riding for much of the 60s, 70s and 80s. 

But the city hasn't elected a Conservative MP since 1984, and provincially the NDP has held both ridings since 1979 — with the exception of the 2001 election, where the Liberals won both seats by less than 100 votes.

Norman Ruff, longtime political scientist at the University of Victoria, said the changing nature of the public service played a large role in the city's political culture.

"It became much more professionalized, and outward looking ... it's now regarded as an NDP stronghold. It reflects the preponderance of mid-rank public service and their sentiment," said Ruff. 

4. These days though, the biggest split in Victoria isn't right vs. left, but NDP vs. Green.

"It is a phenomenon. You talk about the culture of Vancouver Island, the contemporary culture is the strength of environmentalism on the southern part of the island," said Ruff. 

The Greens finished runners-up in both provincial ridings containing Victoria last election and were also runners-up the last two times in the federal riding of Victoria.

And, the provincial riding is also close to both of the party's representatives in government: MLA Andrew Weaver (Oak Bay-Gordon Head) and MP Elizabeth May (Saanich-Gulf Islands).

Their candidate in this riding is Kalen Harris, owner of Shatterbox Coffee Bar — though he has a much lower profile than the 2013 candidate, Jane Sterk, who was Green Part leader at the time. 

The Liberal candidate is Karen Bill, a longtime legislative staffer for Liberal MLAs and cabinet ministers, who ran here in 2013.

5. Where does the NDP do well? 

It does well throughout the riding, but traditionally has had the most support in James Bay, Fernwood (particularly direction south of Bay Street), and the low-income apartments on either side of Cook Street.

6. What about the Liberals? 

The party didn't win a single polling station here in 2013, and received less than 10 per cent of the votes in Fernwood, but in past elections has had success in the wealthy Rockland neighbourhood.

7. And the Greens?

Last election it finished a strong second in most ridings in Fernwood, and won a number of polling stations in west Farfield between Beacon Hill Park and Ross Bay Cemetery. 

8. James was first elected in Victoria 27 years ago — but says she still gets a kick out of campaigning. 

"It's a real honour to represent a community you've grown up in," said James, who served as a Victoria School Board trustee from 1990 to 2001.

"I've been invited in by my past grade 3 teacher when knocking on doors, I've met friends that I went to elementary school with that I've never connected with again ... I get to have all-candidate meetings in the schools I attended. 

"It makes door knocking unique, and certainly a longer experience." 

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