04/25/2013 06:16 EDT | Updated 06/25/2013 05:12 EDT

BC Election 2013: Vancouver Liberal Strongholds Could Shift


VANCOUVER - Daniel Bruce feels it — a trend being bucked, common wisdom being abandoned, past patterns being rejected.

Bruce, who lives in the affluent Kitsilano neighbourhood that's part of Liberal Leader Christy Clark's riding, says he plans to vote for the provincial NDP candidate for the first time in his life.

"(Vancouver-Point Grey) was Christy Clark's riding, but now a lot of people distrust her for many reasons," he said. "Christy Clark's not trying to help them, so they're going, 'Well, the NDP are trying to help older people, which this area is starting to see. It has the younger group and people getting much older, and the older people do not trust Christy Clark."

It is true that the more affluent, high-earning neighbourhoods of Metro Vancouver have always tended to vote for the centre-right, Liberal or Conservative. The working class and unionized types have typically leaned towards the B.C. NDP.

That trend is expected to remain fairly consistent in the May 14 election, according to political watchers. But for people like Bruce, that common wisdom can no longer be taken for granted.

With 44 ridings in Metro Vancouver, two of which are held by Independents, the east-west gradient currently sees the Liberals holding eight more seats than the NDP. But strong anti-Liberal sentiment, plus recent scandals that have mired the party in controversy, could turn the ridings that the Liberals currently hold by small margins into NDP territory.

Vancouver-Point Grey, a Liberal hold for more than a decade, is considered one of Metro Vancouver's most important swing ridings in the May election. In 2011, Clark won by less than 600 votes in a byelection against NDP candidate and former high-profile civil liberties lawyer David Eby.

Prior to that, the riding was held by former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell. But the NDP's Darlene Marzari held it in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and the riding itself has always been a microcosm of Metro Vancouver, said University of British Columbia political science professor Richard Johnston.

"The name of the riding is misleading, it magically makes you think of the big houses towards UBC," he said. "But it is a riding with more of an east-west axis than a lot of ridings in Metro Vancouver. As you go east, you get into Kitsilano, which is a heavily rental population, and also younger people."

But University of Fraser Valley political scientist Hamish Telford suggests it would be a mistake to focus primarily on the swing ridings in Vancouver. Currently, two of four ridings in Burnaby are held by the Liberals. However, Burnaby-North and Burnaby-Lougheed are expected to be areas where the NDP can gain momentum, as both Liberal incumbents faced tight races in 2009.

NDP leader Adrian Dix announced this week his opposition to the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline that goes through Burnaby to the Burrard Inlet off Vancouver. Telford suspects Dix's position has less to do with shoring up credentials with green voters than it has to do with winning all four Burnaby seats.

"I don't imagine there are many people in Burnaby clamouring for expansion of pipelines in their community," he said. "Whether they're generally pro-business or not, they don't want that development in their backyard."

Telford also points to ridings such as Langley, which has seen an influx of young families in recent years, and where Liberal Mary Polak has been MLA since 2001. But while she won the 2009 election with nearly 60 per cent of the vote, B.C. Conservatives leader John Cummins is expected to make a dent in her stride, possibly creating an opportunity for the NDP to take a seat that it otherwise wouldn't get, said Telford.

"Most of those people who have moved in are young families who have moved out from the city because of affordability reasons," he said. "They're struggling to make ends meet, they've got concerns about day care, they're concerned about schools, they're trying to find family doctors. These are sorts of issues where the NDP are generally thought of better than the other parties."

Nonetheless, Johnston says Metro Vancouver is not the particular battleground that most would expect for the B.C. Liberals, which is treading behind the NDP by 17 points according to the most recent poll by Angus Reid Public Opinion (margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 per cent). Swing ridings in the Okanagan such as Boundary-Similkameen and Vernon-Monashee have just as much swaying power as the ones in Metro Vancouver, Johnston says.

"In some cases these are ridings where there's already a Conservative presence, there even was in 2009," he said. "So even if Conservatives are unlikely to win a seat, these are also places where they can do a lot of damage.

"If there's a tide that's going to overwhelm anybody, the problem from the point of view of the Liberals is the ridings in question are everywhere," he added. "I don't think there's a simple geographic strategy that is obvious for them."

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