VANCOUVER - Political junkies and campaign strategists across British Columbia are paying close attention to more than a handful of electoral districts that could "swing" between the parties and even decide who will form the next government.
With two weeks to go before voters head to the polls in B.C.'s 40th general election, about 50 of the province's 85 ridings have already been decided, predicts Hamish Telford, a political science professor at the University of the Fraser Valley.
Another 20, though, are leaning towards either the Liberals or the New Democrats, and a further 10 or so are just too close to call, he added.
Telford said some of these electoral districts are known as "swing ridings," the opposite of "safe ridings," because they have the potential to flip back and forth between the parties, depending on who is running and the prevailing political winds.
"The parties pay particular attention to these ridings," said Telford. "This is where the elections are won and lost."
Swing ridings can be found across the province.
In the Fraser Valley riding of Chilliwack-Hope, where Liberal Laurie Throness is trying to unseat the NDP incumbent Gwen O'Mahony, the battle is going to be particularly hard fought, said Telford.
Also running in the riding is Conservative Michael Henshall and Independent Ryan Ashley McKinnon.
"If the NDP loses any seats in the province, that will be the one they lose," said Telford.
He said in the last election O'Mahony slipped through, grasping victory thanks to some vote splitting. But the area is not a natural NDP constituency, he added, and has a larger, more conservative electoral base.
About 200 kilometres to the northeast of Hope is another swing riding, Kamloops-North Thompson, said Derek Cook, a political science instructor at Thompson Rivers University.
Liberal Environment Minister Terry Lake is up against the NDP's Kathy Kendall and Conservative Ed Klop.
Cook said vote splitting will not favour the Liberals, especially when it comes to the issue of the proposed Ajax open-pit copper and gold mine, which would be located partially within the city's limits.
With no Green candidate running, mine opponents will likely vote for the NDP because the Conservatives are for the project and the Liberals are "most likely for it."
"That's extremely polarizing because we'll have toxic dust descend on us forever if that goes in," said Cook.
Even farther to the north are two more ridings, where the race between the Liberals and New Democrats could be decided by just dozens of voters, like it was in the last election.
Jason Morris, a political science lecturer at the University of Northern British Columbia, said the Liberal incumbent, MLA Donna Barnett, won by just 88 votes in the last election, and her party brought in some "power-player volunteers" to drum up voter support.
Morris said NDP had a strong campaign team in place the last time, and if the same people are in place for this election, candidate Charlie Wyse should be able to capture many votes.
The race is also expected to be close in Prince George-Valemont, where Justice Minister and Attorney General Shirley Bond is battling the NDP's Sherry Ogasawara.
Morris said Bond has held some high-profile cabinet posts, but Ogasawara has proven to be telegenic and is well liked and respected in the north.
"It's likely that she'll be a formidable contender for the incumbent Shirley Bond," he said.
On the South Coast, Allan Warnke, a political science professor at Vancouver Island University, said there's going to be a three-way fight in Parksville-Qualicum, where Liberal Michelle Stilwell, the NDP's Barry Avis and Conservative David Bernard Coupland are all facing off.
Warnke said he believes the riding will be tightly contested because Premier Christy Clark and NDP Leader Adrian Dix stopped in the riding early on.
"It's one of those situations where the party leader can make all the difference," he said. "I'm sure the riding will be monitored very, very closely."
He said political watchers will also be looking to see if Leader John Cummins stops in the riding, and if Dix and Clark return.
Telford agrees, noting people can get a sense of how campaigns are going by watching the leaders.
If Dix is spending time in a riding not held by the NDP, voters can assume he's trying to make a gain, and if Clark is spending time in a riding held by the Liberals, then she's trying to hold on to a seat.
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