What British Columbians need to know about the federal election
The federal election takes place on Monday, Sept. 20
The federal election is on Monday, Sept. 20, 2021.
If you live in British Columbia, here's what you need to know as you head to the polls.
Why is there a federal election happening right now?
This is the second time British Columbians are heading to the polls during the pandemic — after a provincial election on Oct. 24, 2020 — and a lot of people aren't too happy about it.
Trudeau's Liberals — which formed a minority government in 2019 — are hoping to duplicate what B.C. Premier John Horgan was able to do in his 2020 election that swept the B.C. NDP into a strong majority.
The Liberal justification is that they need a strong mandate to help the country rebuild from COVID-19. Critics see it as a power grab.
According to a Nanos poll, three out of four Canadians don't believe a federal election should be happening in the middle of the fourth wave.
Gerald Baier, a political science professor at the University of British Columbia, says there's a mix of apathy and anger. The latter evidence by security concerns at all candidates meetings in this province.
"Governments in power prefer majority governments, and that's really what the Liberals have been after," said Baier.
How many seats does British Columbia have?
B.C. holds 42 of the 338 seats in the House of Commons.
In the 2019 federal election, the Conservatives won 17 of those seats, and the Liberals and NDP each had 11. The Greens had two and one seat was held by an independent.
The Green seats were held in former party leader Elizabeth May's riding of Saanich–Gulf Islands and in the Vancouver Island riding of Nanaimo–Ladysmith, where incumbent Paul Manly faces tough competition from the NDP and Conservatives.
Independent Jody Wilson-Raybould is the outgoing MP for Vancouver-Granville and that riding is up for grabs.
Overall, is there a chance for change?
In a short answer, yes, says Kimberly Speers, a public administration teaching professor at the University of Victoria.
"It's an election where I've never seen so many undecided voters, even at this point. … People will be staying up late in Ontario and watching what happens in B.C.," said Speers.
Baier says the NDP — whose leader Jagmeet Singh is running in the Burnaby South riding — could prove to be a wild card.
"The Liberals are holding steady at that 2019 number. … The Conservatives have dropped a little bit. But the seat projections might still be about the same for them. The only real big difference is the NDP surging in the province."
What are some races to watch in B.C.?
There are a couple of tight races in British Columbia.
One of the closest races in the country during the 2019 federal election was in Port Moody-Coquitlam. Only 153 votes separated the Conservative and NDP candidates, and both are running again. The Liberals finished in third last time, but by only about 1,000 votes.
New Democrat MP Fin Donnelly had represented the riding from 2009 until deciding to leave federal politics before the 2019 election.
Three-term Coquitlam city councillor Bonita Zarrillo is back competing against Conservative incumbent Nelly Shin, while former journalist Will Davis is running for the Liberals.
A key issue in that riding is affordable housing as the benchmark price for a single family home has risen significantly in recent years.
Then there's Vancouver-Granville where Wilson-Raybould has held this seat since 2015. She had originally been a justice minister in Justin Trudeau's cabinet but she was booted from the party after the SNC-Lavalin affair. She won her seat in 2019, but as an Independent.
Now that she is out of the race, the Liberals' hopes of reclaiming the riding have hit some snags after their candidate, Taleeb Noormohamed, was found to have flipped multiple houses in recent years — undermining the party's pledge to introduce a house flipping tax.
The city riding has now tightened into a tight race among the three main parties.
On Vancouver Island, the Greens are hoping to maintain their two out of three seats in Parliament. May is expected to win her riding again, but Manly's riding has become a battleground.
In 2019, Manly became the second MP elected under the Green banner, securing 37.3 per cent of the vote in Nanaimo–Ladysmith.
This time around, the Conservative candidate is Tamara Kronis, a lawyer who recently moved to the Island, while the NDP candidate is local school trustee Lisa Marie Barron.
"The Conservatives and NDP are really, really putting a lot of energy and money into that riding. They want that Green seat," said Speers.
Of the nine electoral districts in British Columbia's North and Interior, six have stayed with the same party in every election the past 20 years. The other three have only changed parties once in that time.
What are the top issues in B.C.?
One key issue in British Columbia is the environment, especially during a summer that saw the third worst wildfire season on record, a record-smashing heat dome, and continued protests against logging old growth forest at Fairy Creek.
"I think a lot of people are still thinking, well how come we haven't met our targets and how come we're still behind other G7 countries in terms of our reductions? I think that is the issue for the Liberals," says Sanjay Jeram, a senior lecturer of Political Science at Simon Fraser University.
Housing affordability is another big issue. Each party is making its own pitch: the NDP is emphasizing renters and social housing, while the Conservatives and Liberals are catering to homeowners and those wanting to enter the market.
"It's difficult to say that one party has come out on top in that particular debate in B.C. It's about certain demographics being targeted by each of the parties," said Jeram.
Another key — and controversial — issue is mandatory COVID-19 vaccines. The Liberals have mandated vaccines for federal employees and are promising to spend $1 billion to help provinces and territories bring in proof-of-vaccination credentials in their jurisdictions. The NDP stance also supports mandatory vaccinations for federal workers.
The Green Party has said it wants to see more details on the Liberals' plan and how the party would deal with people who have religious reasons for not getting a shot. Leader Annamie Paul has criticized the Liberals for hastily rolling out their program before the election.
The Conservatives are not demanding federal employees get vaccinated and are proposing daily rapid testing instead.
The polarizing subject has helped the right-wing People's Party of Canada (PPC) increase its voter share due to its opposition of vaccine mandates and lockdowns. While polls suggest some PPC support is coming from first-time or infrequent voters, there's no question the party is drawing some support from former Conservative voters.
Reconciliation and Indigenous concerns including missing and murdered Indigenous women, traumatic residential school findings and an opioid crisis that disproportionately impacts Indigenous people are also important topics for British Columbians headed to the polls.
A week prior to the election, the leaders of the NDP, Conservative and Liberal parties all declined invitations to speak to these issues at the B.C. Assembly of First Nations annual general meeting with representatives from over 200 Indigenous nations.
Regional chief Terry Teegee said delegates would have liked to hear how the three parties plan to make concrete changes in terms of their relationships with Indigenous people, including when and how they plan to implement all 94 recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
British Columbians have also been under a state of public health emergency since 2016 due to the opioid crisis, which has killed more than 7,760 people in the province since then. During that time, advocates and government critics have called on the federal government to do more, including providing a safe supply of illicit drugs.
Health-care issues, ranging from seniors' support in long-term care facilities to substance use treatment for vulnerable youth, will definitely factor into some B.C. voter decisions.
How can you vote?
There are three ways to vote.
1) Advanced polls were open between Sept. 10 and 13. Elections Canada also allowed voting at its offices up until Sept. 14.
2) You can vote by mail-in ballot. If you'd like to vote by mail but haven't requested your ballot yet, you can apply online at this web site. (The deadline to request a mail-in ballot is Tuesday, Sept. 14 at 6 p.m.)
Note, once the mail-in special ballot application is approved, you won't be able to vote with a regular ballot at advance polls or on election day. The only way you can do this is if you swear an oath and fill out a form of declaration that says you haven't previously voted in this election.
3) On voting day on Monday, Sept. 20. Double check your voting card to see your assigned location and bring an ID. If you don't have any ID, you can still vote as long as you have someone to vouch for you, who can provide their identity and address.
When will we find out the results?
It might take longer than usual, says Speers, because of the mail-in ballots.
"Depending on how close the race is as well, you know, we might not be able to call a winner on election night. We might have to wait a few days until all of the mail-in ballots are counted."
With files from Alex Migdal, Ethan Sawyer and John Paul Tasker