The House

B.C.'s choice: The House goes to British Columbia

British Columbians are heading to the polls next week. Will the 16-year Liberal dynasty continue? Will the NDP manage to avoid a repeat of their 2013 election collapse? This week, The House is British Columbia to take the pulse of the campaign and look at critical national issues such as the economy, energy development, housing and the opioid crisis, that have been in the spotlight in this province. Chris Hall talks to B.C. Liberal leader Christy Clark, NDP leader John Horgan, Green Party leader Andrew Weaver, and Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson.
B.C. Liberal Leader Christy Clark's bus is seen outside Grey Monk Winery during a campaign stop in Kelowna, B.C., Wednesday, May 3, 2017. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)
Listen to the full episode49:59

Welcome to the Wild West of Canadian politics.

Things are just different in British Columbia. There are no limits on campaign donations and the party affiliations don't always mirror those in the rest of the country.

A Liberal in B.C. could don Conservative blue in Ottawa and a Green Party member could cast a ballot for the federal Liberals.

In just a few days, British Columbians will choose their next provincial government in an election with national implications. The province has been a canary in the coal mind on a number of issues including the economy, housing affordability, energy projects and the opioid crisis. 

This week CBC Radio's The House travelled west to get a better sense of how having incumbent Liberal Christy Clark or hopefuls John Horgan, the NDP leader, and Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver, in charge could impact Justin Trudeau's federal Liberals.

The economy and affordability 

Liberal Leader Christy Clark talks to The House from her campaign bus heading to the Vancouver airport. (CBC)

The provincial Liberals and the NDP are locked in a tight race in B.C.

The Liberals are putting a 16-year dynasty on the line, and Clark is vying for a second term as premier. If successful she'd be the first female first minister in Canadian history to do so.

Meanwhile, the NDP and Greens are running on change.

On her campaign bus, Clark stood by what's become her calling card in this election: the most successful economy in the country. 

"I think people don't feel warmly about politicians in general... but I think what people will ask themselves when they go to the polls on Tuesday, or the advanced polls any time this week, is who is going to do the best job of fighting for British Columbia in the face of rising U.S. protectionism? Who is going to make sure my taxes stay low and who is going to create jobs? When you look at the record we've got for my first term as premier, we've worked really hard to improve people's lives," she said.

"A lot of time people do want change, but I think people are smart and they also say what kind of change am I going to get?"

When it comes to living affordability, "we need to build on the work we've already done," she said.

"The next step for our future government is improving supply, to work with cities, grow the amount of rental housing that is out there, and then just grow the amount of housing overall for people that want to purchase so you don't get into these massive, ugly bidding wars where everything goes for way more than it's worth because so many people want it," she said. 

The leader of the B.C. Liberal party, Christy Clark, discusses her campaign to get re-elected. 15:36


Kinder Morgan's proposed expansion would see the number of tanks double to 26 at its Burnaby storage facility. (CBC)

The province has been home to one of the country's bitter debate over pipelines with the approval last fall to expand the Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain project.

It would triple the line's capacity to nearly 900,000 barrels a day.

NDP Leader John Horgan talks to CBC's The House host Chris Hall after an election stop in Vancouver. (CBC)

As premier, Christy Clark approved of the project, but the NDP Leader, John Horgan, has a different stance. 

"The consequences for our environment, the consequences for our economy are too grave and I believe it's the responsibility of the premier of British Columbia to defend our coasts and to defend our interests and that's what I intend to do," he told host Chris Hall.

Not only would that put him at odds with Ottawa, but also with his neighbour, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, who heads the only NDP government in Canada at the moment.

"Rachel and I are friends, we worked together many years ago. We've met on this question and we agree to disagree. There's a range of issues we support each other on but on this one we just disagree. Her responsibility, absolutely, is to defend the interests of Alberta and she does that very effectively. My responsibility, should I be successful on May 9, is to defend B.C.'s interests and that's what I intend to do," he said.

"The notion that our political cards, our, party affiliation extends right across the country doesn't apply. British Columbia is unique, as is Alberta, as is Quebec, as is Prince Edward Island."

The leader of the B.C. NDP, John Horgan, talks about his campaign to return his party to power after 16 years in opposition. 12:14

Balance of power to the Greens?

Andrew Weaver talks to a Green candidate on Thursday May 5, 2017. (CBC)

The potential spoil in the election could be the Green Party.

With some pollsters suggesting a minority government is possible, whoever is crowned premier would have to work with leader Andrew Weaver to push through legislation. 

"British Columbia, no one can tell what's going to happen here," he said. "I've always said since day one B.C. Greens will work with anyone because the grand challenges of our time require us to step across partisan boundaries and actually work together."

His deal breakers are corporate and union donations and proportional representation, but after that Weaver says he's happy to negotiate to get some of his platform proposals through.

"People always ask the question of me, and I would say turn that around and ask the question to them. Can John Horgan work with the B.C. Greens?" he asked.

"My challenge to Mr. Horgan was do you want to work with us, if so your behaviour is actually something to be considered... I say this to anybody, I say look, if I'm sitting across the table from you and I'm screaming at you and I'm cursing you and I'm making things up about you it's kind of tough to kind of go in there after the fact [and say] want to work together?" 

B.C. Green party leader Andrew Weaver could end up holding the balance of power if British Columbians elect a minority government. How would he approach that? 10:25

When is a crises no longer a crises? 

Vancouver firefighters Jason Lynch and Jay Jakubec try to revive an addict who has already had two doses of Narcan after overdosing on fentanyl in Vancouver’s downtown eastside. (CBC)

Vancouver's Downtown Eastside isn't too far from where the various hotel conference rooms the three leaders have been making announcements are located.

But here the spike in fentanyl-related deaths isn't just a campaign talking point, it's an urgent reality.

Minutes into our tour of the Maple Overdose Prevention Site a man starts convulsing and gurgling. 

"OK, that's an OD," says frontline worker Jonathan Orr before kicking into high gear, inserting an airway and stabbing the man with a dosage of Narcan.

It feels like a massacre of the population we serve. It feels like genocide.- Coco Culbertson

It's a scene he's repeated almost 300 times since MOPS opened in December in response to the 931 deadly overdoses in 2016. 

That number is on track to double in 2017.

"I think that we trivialize it when we call it a crises, because people think 'Oh it's a crises it will be end. There is an end in sight.' We don't see an end in site," said Jennifer Breakspear executive director of PHS.

"It feels like a massacre of the population we serve. It feels like genocide" added Coco Culbertson, programs manager with PHS.

Staff at the Portland Hotel Society (PHS Community Services Society) discuss the daily realities of dealing with the fentanyl crisis. 31:23

Fentanyl addiction isn't just a problem on the bleak sidewalks and alleyways of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. It's an equal opportunity killer, blind to race, age or social status.

It's reached the bedroom communities outside Vancouver and spread to the province's interior where privately run, unregulated treatment programs are often the only option.

Michelle Jansen and her son Brandon the day before he died of a fentanyl overdose. (Michelle Jansen)

Michelle Jansen lost her son, Brandon, to a fentanyl overdose when the drug was smuggled into the treatment centre where he was staying back in March 2016. He was 20 years old.

She's part of a group of mothers who sent an open letter to the three party leaders last month, arguing more resources are needed to respond to the opioid crisis.

"There are no good options to receive treatment," Jansen says in the dining room of her home in Coquitlam, a 40-minute drive east of Vancouver.

Jennifer Woodside and Deb Bailey are also at the table. They're all from different towns in the Lower Mainland, but they're each linked by the loss of a child to a fentanyl overdose.

"You know, what really makes me angry is that there is such a stigma, that people think people want to be addicted to a substance," says Woodside, as Jansen nods in agreement.

The leaders replied to their letter, but the women say all three fell short of the kind of specific financial commitment they believe is needed, including a pledge to earmark the taxes raised from legal pot sales in the future for opioid prevention, and enough regulated treatment centres to address the massive scope of the problem.

"It is a stigma issue," Jansen repeats. "For our political leaders, to support the necessary funding and the resources, they aren't willing to jeopardize their political platform. It's disgusting."

Michelle Jansen, Jennifer Woodside and Deb Bailey all lost a child to the fentanyl crisis. They discuss what they think should be done avoid future tragedies. 22:21

Who will speak for Vancouver?

Rapidly rising real estate prices in Vancouver are cited as a top priority in the upcoming election. (Christer Waara/CBC)

The opioid crises is also wearing on Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson.

He says the critical shortage of affordable housing in the city, the number of people living in poverty and the challenges posed by opioids just aren't being addressed.

"They aren't getting as much attention on the front lines of the election as they should be," he said.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson tells Chris Hall what he thinks some of the election issues should be. (CBC)

"The province is doing well economically. Certainly Metro Vancouver is booming… For a lot of us it doesn't sit well that we can be economically successful yet we have such vulnerabilities."

It's just one of the issues he believes isn't getting enough attention on the campaign trail.

"I would certainly say there's a lot of frustration in Metro Vancouver around a provincial  government that has not focused on supporting the city. Their agenda in recent years has been very much about LNG and trying to make that industry happen in the north, [it] has been about rural ridings where a lot of their political support is," he said. 

We talk to Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson about the issues being discussed, and ignored, during the B.C. election campaign. 9:48

What to watch for on election day

B.C. NDP leader John Horgan, left to right, Liberal Leader Christy Clark and B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver pose for a photo following the leaders debate in Vancouver, B.C., Thursday, April 20, 2017. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

If the B.C. election of 2013 taught political watchers anything, it's to leave room for surprises.

That year, the Liberals were several points behind the opposition New Democrats in every public opinion poll leading up to the election.

Not only did they end up winning a majority government, the NDP lost seats.

But what should people be looking for May 9?

"The campaigns really need to pivot to go from a place of trying to lock in votes to convince people to take the folks that they have and get them out to the ballot box," said Angus Reid Institute executive director Shachi Kurl.

The NDP has support amongst younger voters, and their turnout will be crucial in the political math.

"For John Horgan to do well in this election it's a little bit like a playoff series. You're down three to two, you've got to score on this power play or it's done." 

We look ahead to next week's vote in British Columbia with Shachi Kurl from the Angus Reid Institute. 6:20