The Liberals’ B.C. challenge

Jane O’Hara August 27 1984

The Liberals’ B.C. challenge

Jane O’Hara August 27 1984

The Liberals’ B.C. challenge

Jane O’Hara

For Michael Hebert, 22, of Surrey, B.C., Sept. 4 will be a personal milestone, marking the first time that he has voted in a federal election. One year ago Hebert lost a job paying about $350 a week as a chef at the Sh-qu-ala Inn resort on Pender Island, between Vancouver Island and the mainland. He sold his 1972 Toyota Corolla and now lives on $560 in monthly unemployment insurance benefits. Hebert plans to vote for Robert Wenman —Conservative candidate in the riding of Fraser Valley West—but not because he expects that doing so will increase his chances of getting a job. Instead, like many British Columbians, Hebert intends to register a protest vote against the Liberals and the legacy of Pierre Trudeau. For Hebert and others, the memory of Trudeau giving a contemptuous single-finger salute to Salmon Arm residents who were protesting high unemployment in August, 1982, is still strong, and that bodes ill for John Turner’s attempt to revive the Liberal party in Western Canada—particularly in British Columbia. Said Hebert: “We still remember Trudeau’s rare trips here. People will take a long time to get over that.”

Lingering resentments aside, jobs and the economy are the paramount election issues in British Columbia. The province’s lustre has faded as its resource-based economy remains mired in the aftermath of recession. And 202,000

workers are idle, giving it a 14.7per-cent unemployment rate—second only to Newfoundland’s. A provincewide feeling that Ottawa has ignored the West, coupled with the sluggish economy, works against Liberal candidates. Indeed, recent polls suggest that the party is trailing in the province, despite Turner’s decision to seek a seat in Vancouver. Equally troubling for the Liberals are local newspaper polls that show Turner and party president Iona Campagnolo trailing Tories William Clarke and Chuck Cook in Vancouver Quadra and North Vancouver-Burnaby ridings respectively.

Recent history has not been on the Liberals’ side. Indeed, the party’s last major successes in British Columbia were in 1968, during the countrywide mania for Trudeau, when the Liberals won 16 B.C. seats.

But since then the province has been increasingly barren territory for the Liberals. The party has not held a B.C. seat since 1979, when former Vancouver mayor Art Phillips won Vancouver Centre. He lost it a year later to Tory Pat Carney, who is seeking re-election next month.

Reflecting the leftright political polarization that marks provincial elections, the battle

for British Columbia’s 28 federal seats will be largely a two-way fight between the New Democrats and the Tories. The NDP, which now holds 11 seats, must retain its strength in Canada’s most unionized province (45.3 per cent of the provincial work force, compared with 30.6 per cent nationally) if it is to avoid becoming little more than a minority prairie party. For their part, the Tories see the New Democrats as their main opposition in British Columbia and predict that they will add at least three NDP seats to the 17 they now hold.

The Tories have been working hard since last November, when Opposition Leader Brian Mulroney appointed three Lower Mainland lawyers—Jim Macaulay, Lyall Knott and Jim MacEachern—to run the party’s campaign in the province. When Turner called the election on July 9 the Tory trio already had done substantial work: candidates had been nominated in each riding, and about 8,000 volunteers were ready to hammer signs into lawns from Tofino on Vancouver Island to Fernie near the Alberta border.

In North Vancouver-Burnaby riding, where Campagnolo is running, Tory incumbent Cook opened his campaign office last September. A former broadcaster, Cook claims that he has canvassed a substantial number of the voters living in the sprawling middleclass riding that nudges the Coast Mountains. Cook, who has held the riding since 1979, appears to have begun with a formidable lead which his nationally known rival may not be able to overcome.

But Campagnolo is trying. She has already worn out three pairs of shoes on the campaign trail, and she makes appearances on local radio and television with such frequency that some Liberals working for other candidates are irritated. Said one Liberal organizer: “Iona is good copy, but every time there is a microphone she grabs it.” But a high profile alone does not guarantee victory.

In a poll conducted at the beginning of August for the Vancouver Sun by Marktrend Marketing Research Inc., Cook had 30.2 per cent of the decided vote in the riding, compared to 17.5 per cent for Campagnolo and 11.9 per cent for NDP candidate David Schreck. Declared Franco Cecconi, Cook’s campaign manager: “Campagnolo has been basking in media x attention and she has z probably not realized t that you have to build 8 from the ground up. Her 3 style may also hurt her.

She has been campaigning for Iona and not for the Liberal party.”

In some ridings the Tories have received help from workers with close ties to the Social Credit administration in Victoria. In Kamloops-Shuswap—a riding that spans the cedar valleys of the North Thompson River and dry farmlands of the Interior, and has a 16-percent unemployment rate—NDP finance critic Nelson Riis faces a strong challenge from Tory candidate Mike Latta, the mayor of Kamloops. Lawyer Doug Smith, Latta’s longtime campaign manager, became Premier William Bennett’s principal secretary just before Latta won his nomination. And Patrick Kinsella, the man he replaced in Bennett’s office, is in Ottawa as campaign plane tour manager. But Latta recruited Jacee Schaefer, a full-time Socred organizer, to run his campaign. Declared Schaefer: “The machine is a group of people who have a common interest toward a common goal, victory.”

The election is unfolding against a gloomy provincewide economic backdrop which colors virtually every threeway race. In Victoria, where tourism usually provides a buffer against hard economic times, the number of visitors to the city has dropped by slightly more than two per cent this year. As well, a nine-week strike by bus drivers—the B.C. government announced plans last week to intervene—has hurt the local economy. In Vancouver, where members of the same bus drivers’ union have been on strike since June 15, the number of unemployed has more than doubled since 1981 to 102,000.

In the northern ridings of Skeena, Prince George-Peace River and Prince

George-Bulkley Valley, the effects of a slumping forestry industry are brutally apparent—in some communities almost 17 per cent of the work force is unemployed. In Prince George-Peace River, Tory incumbent Frank Oberle, who is fighting his fifth election, has been emphasizing a Tory pledge in May to create a federal forestry ministry if the Conservatives form the next government. In Skeena, where about 30 per cent of the population are natives, the Liberals are hoping that Elmer Derrick, a forest management consultant and a native Indian, will draw enough support to defeat NDP incumbent Jim Fulton.

Clearly, Turner and the other Liberal candidates face a difficult task in a province split between the Tories and New Democrats. Outwardly, at least, Turner has appeared remarkably composed for a Prime Minister with a better-than-even chance of losing his bid for election to the Commons. On a recent tour that took him from Cranbrook in the southeast corner of British Columbia to his own riding in Vancouver, Turner was relaxed in shirtsleeves and casual slacks—and he finished the trip by dancing to rock music with his wife, Geills, at a Vancouver Centre rally. Liberal strategists hoped that Turner, out of pinstripes, might appeal to the 30 per cent of the electorate that the Marktrend poll indicated were still undecided. Said Paul Manning, fighting to return Vancouver Centre riding to the Liberals: “There may be some magic finally happening.” But for Turner and a slow-to-organize Liberal campaign it may be too little, too late.

With David Paulson in Prince George and Allan McRae in Kamloops.

David Paulson

Allan McRae