The federal New Democrats have a huge problem on their hands. It's fairly obvious from the ThreeHundredEight.com website.
The site, which tracks various federal polls, shows the Liberals with an average four-percentage-point lead on the Conservatives and 16 percentage points ahead of the NDP across the country.
Here in B.C., the Liberals under Justin Trudeau average 35.1 percent support, whereas the Conservatives are at 29.8 percent. The NDP trails with 23.4 percent in B.C., where the party is supposed to be a major player.
Most Canadians who want to drive Stephen Harper and the Conservatives out of power have decided that the Liberals are the best vehicle for accomplishing this.
If these numbers remain in place on Election Day, the Liberals will likely capture several more seats in this province, including two to four more Vancouver ridings. The Liberals also pose a major threat in Surrey and Richmond, and on the North Shore.
Liberal support puts Vancouver East in play
Once a generation, the NDP loses Vancouver East, which should be one of its safest seats in the province. But even this is in doubt with the looming retirement of NDP MP Libby Davies.
That's because the gentrification of the city's East Side, its growing population of people of Asian descent, and the rising number of homeowners all bode well for the Liberals. There's a reason why Vision Vancouver has done so well in recent elections. Its federal Liberal–NDP sheen resonates with voters in Grandview-Woodland.
If Trudeau could lure a high-profile candidate such as Mayor Gregor Robertson to run in Vancouver East, this could pose a major challenge to the NDP's hope of keeping the seat unless it attracts someone with equally high name recognition.
Expect Coun. Raymond Louie to be encouraged to enter the nomination race for the New Democrats or even for the federal Liberals in Vancouver East. By next year, he'll be president of the Canadian Federation of Municipalities, which will give him a national platform from which to advance the interests of local governments.
However, as chair of the Pacific National Exhibition's board of directors, Louie hasn't endeared himself to some Hastings Park–area residents of Vancouver East, who feel that the annual fair is gobbling up too much real estate for their liking.
In addition, Louie doesn't have a long history fighting on behalf of the dispossessed in the Downtown Eastside, unlike the area's NDP MLA, Jenny Kwan. And in the past, Louie has played footsie with the federal Liberals, endorsing Ujjal Dosanjh's candidacy in Vancouver South in 2011 and appearing at an election-oriented event with then-Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff at Langara College. This may not endear him to left wingers who backed Davies so strongly.
Jenny Kwan offers some advantages
That's why I feel that Kwan is likely the federal New Democrats' best bet for retaining Vancouver East in the next election. She has the highest name recognition and a loyal cadre of supporters in the riding, and she's sufficiently experienced to avoid making mistakes during the campaign.
After 21 years in municipal and provincial politics, Kwan is extremely knowledgeable about housing issues. In addition, she was instrumental in the development of the Vancouver Agreement, which brought the feds, province, and city together in the late 1990s to advance more humane policies for addressing drug addiction in the Downtown Eastside. It showed that she can work cooperatively with people from other parties, which will be important if the NDP supports a Liberal minority government after the next federal election.
Admittedly, she was hurt politically by the Portland Hotel Society scandal, in which she repaid $35,000 for trips expensed by her ex-husband. But most observers, including former political rivals, believe that she was blindsided by her former spouse. Until that point, she had a reputation as one of the most honest politicians in the legislature.
Those who criticize her public stance against former NDP leader Carole James don't understand what motivated her to take the bullet on behalf of the rest of caucus dissidents. The best analysis of the notorious yellow-scarves affair came from NDP elder statesman Corky Evans, who was on Kwan's side at the time. He described the incident as a setup by James's supporters to out those who had privately expressed concerns about the way the party was being run.
Moreover, Kwan remains popular with her constituents, winning the 2013 election in a landslide. She's also a respected figure within the Chinese-language media, which is increasingly important within the region.
Most crucially for the country and her constituents, Kwan recognizes the importance of harm-reduction policies for addressing drug addiction. She understands the science as well as any politician. And if the Liberals end up running marijuana-legalization activist Jodie Emery in Vancouver East, Kwan can credibly state that she's been advocating against the war on drugs for nearly two decades.
New Democrats have other options
It's true that Kwan has some enemies, mostly within her own party. But anyone who fights injustice for as long as she's been in politics is likely to attract some criticism along the way.
NDP members in Vancouver East have other alternatives to consider. NDP Leader Tom Mulcair may prefer a candidate with a greener hue, such as environmentalist Ben West, to offset the growing influence of Green Leader Elizabeth May in B.C. Or there will be a temptation to find a candidate who's more agreeable to the party establishment, like NDP MLA Shane Simpson. An out-of-the-box candidate could be Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, who's admired by social activists and environmentalists.
But none of them can appeal to as broad a swath of the electorate as Kwan. Whoever wins Vancouver East would be representing a riding that extends from the poorest area of the Downtown Eastside, through the business and residential districts of Chinatown and Gastown, along the East Hastings corridor (which includes a large aboriginal population), and up Commercial Drive. The riding also encompasses a largely multicultural area between Nanaimo Street and Boundary Road, extending south to Grandview Highway.
Federal politicians are often called upon to help constituents with immigration and student-loan issues, something Kwan is well suited for.
As things stand now, Kwan doesn't have a great future within a B.C. NDP caucus headed by John Horgan. He was openly scornful of her opposition to James.
This means that despite Kwan's insights into economic issues and municipal governance, the former caucus chair is an underutilized asset on the Official Opposition benches.
She's capable of accomplishing a great deal more at the federal level, particularly in advocating for better housing and a scientific approach to addressing drug addiction, which are two of the most pressing issues facing her constituents.
If New Democrats favour her with the nomination, they're likely to beat back any challenge by Trudeau's Liberals. That's not necessarily going to be the case if the NDP picks another candidate.