With the backdrop of the ocean behind them, NDP Leader Adrian Dix and Vancouver-Point Grey candidate David Eby pleaded directly to voters Saturday (May 4) to head to the polls with “the future of our coast” on their minds.
Standing in front of a crowd of supporters and NDP candidates, Dix reiterated his opposition to the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline, and to the expansion of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline.
“In this election, we need people not to stay home,” Dix said. “We need the overwhelming majority of people who support the idea that our coasts are for everyone, and that we shouldn’t put them at risk, to have their voice heard.”
The event, held in Vancouver-Point Grey, just on the edge of neighbouring constituency Vancouver-False Creek, wasn’t the first time the NDP have held a major campaign event on Liberal Leader Christy Clark’s turf.
When the premier was visiting Government House in Victoria on April 16 to officially launch the four-week election campaign, the NDP was holding an event at the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. At the time, Dix told reporters the decision to launch the campaign in Point Grey was part of a plan to “campaign everywhere”—a strategy that saw successive announcements made in the constituencies of Liberal cabinet ministers.
The decision to start on the premier’s back yard is one that University of British Columbia political science professor Richard Johnston notes had “symbolic value”.
“I think there was a sense in which it was kind of a statement of confidence, a kind of in-your-face proclamation,” he told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.
But beyond that symbolic step, Johnston believes that Point Grey is not an implausible seat for the NDP to be targeting.
Eby lost by less than 600 votes to Clark in a May 2011 byelection, and according to Johnston, “it’s never been that one-sided a Liberal riding”. It also covers a broad east-west area, covering more income ground than many constituencies, he added.
When Eby addressed reporters at the campaign launch at UBC, he described his bid as feeling “a bit like a rematch”. This time around, the lawyer indicated he’s heard more appetite for change in the riding.
“There’s a lot of frustration at the doorstep around the Liberals,” Eby told the Straight in an interview at his campaign office in Point Grey. “They know that she’s not coming to any of the candidates meetings, that she didn’t come to any during the byelection, and they really feel that she’s absent from the community.”
Duane Nickull, the B.C. Conservative candidate for Vancouver-Point Grey, said he has heard similar feedback.
“I’m not taking a potshot at her for this, because I understand she is the premier, and her responsibility is to engage with the other party leaders,” said Nickull in a phone interview. “But at the same time, I’m hearing people saying, 'I haven’t seen Christy Clark in this riding.' And they’re telling me that it would be nice to be able to have her come around to the door and talk to her or have her attend a debate so we can ask her questions.”
Clark has stated that she plans to focus on debating other party leaders instead of attending all-candidates meetings in her constituency. During the second of two debates organized by the UBC Alma Mater Society, the premier was represented by Vancouver-Quilchena candidate Andrew Wilkinson.
One issue that emerged as a central concern during those two events, and on the Point Grey campaign trail, is the environment—a focus reflected in the NDP’s choice to hold their rally at Kitsilano Beach Saturday.
“When I ask people, 'What issues are you worried about?' [they’re] very worried about the pipeline in the north, very worried about Kinder Morgan, very worried about climate change,” Eby said. “Also, I’ve heard from a bunch of people about childcare, education, but, far and away, environmental issues, climate change is number one.”
Kathryn Harrison, a political science professor at the University of British Columbia, said it’s “quite telling” that Dix chose to take a stronger stance on Kinder Morgan than his previous position to wait and see the company's formal application for pipeline expansion.
“It seemed pretty clear that he sees [tankers] as an important issue for voters, and he is differentiating the NDP from the Liberals on that second pipeline, as well as the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline,” she said. “So to the extent that pipelines and tankers are a salient issue for voters, the NDP has really clarified its position as being very different from those of the governing Liberals.”
Johnston believes the focus on environmental issues in the riding will help Eby, particularly given that Dix has now “staked out the Kinder Morgan turf".
“I think it would be to the advantage of any NDP candidate in a constituency where there is a serious Green element,” he noted. “And so this is the kind of place where you want those Greens to come over to the NDP.”
Both Nickull and Vancouver-Point Grey Green party candidate Françoise Raunet have also been vocal on environmental issues throughout the campaign.
In a phone interview with the Straight, Raunet questioned the NDP’s stance against Kinder Morgan turning Vancouver into “a major oil-export port”, pointing out that Vancouver is already an oil port.
“We already have, like, 80 tankers a year coming through our harbour, so what does major mean,” she said.
The Green party opposes the expansion of both the Enbridge and Kinder Morgan pipelines. Its platform also includes environmental policies such as amending the Environmental Management Act to include reduction targets for greenhouse-gas emissions and increasing the carbon tax to $50 a tonne.
Nickull, who defies stereotypes of a typical Conservative candidate on several levels, including his tendency to skateboard to debates and the fact that he plays in a punk band, is a member of Greenpeace and a strong proponent of geothermal and wind energy.
“I love the outdoors, and I think it’s not really too much of a stretch to say that not many in this province want to see oil on beaches….the reason we all like to live here is because this is a very beautiful place in the world,” he said.
At deadline, Clark had not responded to numerous interview requests.
During a debate at Saint James Hall in Kitsilano on April 25, Wilkinson challenged Eby on the NDP’s position on the expansion of Kinder Morgan, arguing that they “have said they’re concerned about tankers in the Georgia Strait, but they have said nothing about Kinder Morgan taking the same amount of oil to Cherry Point, which is right across the border”.
In their platform, the B.C. Liberals outline five conditions they say must be met in order for B.C. to consider support for heavy-oil pipelines. Those conditions are “the successful completion of the environmental-review process”, “world-leading” response and prevention systems for land and marine oil spills, addressing legal requirements in relation to aboriginal and treaty rights, and that B.C. receive a “fair share” of the economic benefits of a pipeline project.
Those conditions had Dix on the offensive at the rally at Kits beach Saturday, charging that the Liberal government is "prepared to sell out coast...if the price is right".
The NDP leader's appeal to voters to head to the polls over pipelines and tankers also reflects an uphill battle that candidates could face in Point Grey on May 14 against voter disengagement.
In the 2011 byelection, just 38.9 percent of voters cast a ballot, a turnout that worries Eby.
“The reason that people are giving me at the door is that they just don’t see themselves reflected in any of the parties,” he noted. “They don’t feel connected to any of the parties. They say things to me like, ‘Oh, you seem like a nice guy but you’re not going to be able to change this system we have, which is so broken. And so really it doesn’t matter if I vote or not.' ”
“And that is really a corrosive thing that’s happened to our democratic system…that this is not an isolated perception. This is a lot of people that feel this way.”
Raunet said she’s heard some voters say they don’t vote “on principle”.
“I think that there’s a lot of really disengaged voters, and I think that one of the biggest reasons is because people feel like their vote doesn’t count, or like they’re being forced to place their vote with somebody just to prevent somebody else from getting in,” she said, noting the Green party is focusing on the issue of democratic reform.
Eby has been aiming to help counteract voter fatigue by raising awareness among students about their options for voting. He noted the May vote falls during a “transitional time” when many students are away for the summer.
Third-party groups like UBCC350 have also been working to mobilize the vote.
Member Emma Avery said the group has encouraged Point Grey residents and students to vote in the B.C. election to signal to politicians that “we care about climate change, and that their platforms can reflect that”.
With candidates and supporters standing behind him at Kits Beach on Saturday, Dix argued that in this election, “the stakes could not be higher.”
“The last two elections in British Columbia…the Liberal party won by less than four percent, and 50 percent of people didn’t turn out to vote,” he stated.
“It is now…with the advance polls opening next Wednesday, with the election in 10 days, a moment for all of us to talk to our friends, to talk to our neighbours, to talk to people in our workplaces and say this election is too important to sit out.”