Why Stephen Harper needs B.C. voters

Experts say Harper has shifted his political centre of gravity to Western Canada, but now stands at risk of losing his support in B.C. 

Stephen Harper, federal election 2015, Conservative, polling
Experts believe Harper's support has buckled in B.C. as a result of bad energy policy, lack of federal response to oil spills, and controversial resource development decisions. Photo by Canadian Press.

The outcome of the 2015 federal election may be decided in Ontario and Quebec, but according to academics and pollsters, Stephen Harper needs B.C. voters if he wants to win a majority government. 

The NDP currently leads in federal election B.C. polls, and averages show Conservative support in the province is slowly slipping.

According to projections by polling aggregator threehundredeight.com, if the federal election were held this week the NDP would win 24 seats from B.C. voters, the Tories would win nine, and the Liberals would win eight.

Harper has invested in building relationships with Western Canada, said UBC political science professor Maxwell Cameron, but flubbed federal response to the English Bay oil spill and controversial energy and pipeline politics have threatened Conservative strongholds in B.C.

“Those are really important pillars of their base of support, and for the Conservatives to retain a majority government, they’re going to have to hold those voters,” he said.

“The success of Harper has been not only understanding rural voters and urban voters in Alberta, but also being able to connect with suburban voters in major cities like Toronto and Vancouver.”

Support slipping in Conservative ridings

Recent riding-level polling commissioned by the Dogwood Initiative shows the party is already at risk of losing three key Vancouver-area MPs in ridings where Conservative support has traditionally been strong. 

Liberal and NDP leaders Justin Trudeau and Tom Mulcair have been selected as early favourites in North Vancouver, Vancouver South, West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country, and the newly-created South Okanagan-West Kootenay.

Dogwood Initiative, Harper, Conservative, polling, federal election 2015

“B.C. is a really tricky province for the incumbent Conservatives,” Cameron explained. “There’s a real potential here for strong backlash against them for the way in which they have pushed an agenda of resource extension and pipelines.”

The three-way party race in the province is tight, he continued, which means the Tories have their work cut out for them if they hope to win over any undecided or environmental voters. 

“They’re going to be critical in this election and that’s going to be a tricky issue for the Conservatives to navigate because they so publicly stake the future of the country on the development of these resources,” he explained.  

Targeting undecided B.C. voters

Insights West Public Affairs Vice-President Mario Canseco, whose company did the polling for the Dogwood Initiative, agreed with Cameron and said B.C. voters who haven’t made up their minds pose great threat to Harper’s targeted majority government. 

“If they're consistently in second place, it makes a much tougher sell for an undecided voter who may be thinking it’s time for change,” he told the Vancouver Observer. “We’re still more than 70 days from the election and we’re having discussions about whether Mulcair could be the next prime minister.”

In order to maintain whatever support he has left in B.C., Canseco believes Harper will stay away from the environment in local campaigning, where voters are concerned about energy policy and climate change action. 

Campaign strategy

Instead, the current prime minister will focus on economic development to try and win over the undecided voters as the country slides further towards a recession.  

“We might already be in a recession, so it’s a much tougher sell for the Conservatives to focus their campaign on whether they’ve been handling this well,” said Canseco. “When they show up here, they will try to talk more about job creation and economic management.

So far, their strategy has included publicity stunts he said, and engagement in areas where Conservative support is strong. 

"They’re just going in and out of ridings and cutting ribbons over the last few weeks as a way to remind people they are the ones making these decisions," he explained. 

“It’s quite complex particularly because of the numbers for the Conservatives at the national level — there’s not the same level of support for Harper being the best prime minister."

Keep checking the Vancouver Observer for local coverage of the federal election. 

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