Will the close race in the 2013 provincial election contest in the Saanich North and the Islands constituency repeat itself in 2017?
Three candidates who have been selected to run in the election next May are betting that it will — especially since they are the same trio who fought it out three years ago.
Two of them — the BC Liberal Party’s Stephen Roberts and the BC Green Party’s Adam Olsen — are already working rooms and households to try to improve their election outcomes.
During the last provincial contest, Olsen came within 379 votes of the eventual winner and current MLA Gary Holman, who took the seat for the New Democratic Party. Roberts was a close second by 163 votes. The race was one of the tightest in the province and all three are anticipating a repeat. That’s why Olsen and Roberts have started early.
Holman, the MLA for Saanich North and the Islands, says he’ll start campaigning when the writ is dropped next year. He does admit, however, that his non-partisan job as MLA puts him in a visible position.
“I was elected to do a job,” Holman said in an interview, “and I have to wait to start campaigning until the writ is dropped.”
The three-way race in 2013 could very well happen again next spring, he said.
Holman said he thinks general dissatisfaction with the BC Liberals led to his election win, taking the riding for the NDP after the Liberals held it for more than a dozen years. Holman said the riding is heavily influenced by the presence of federal Green Party Leader and MP Elizabeth May — giving the BC Greens solid support here. That dynamic, Holman said, still exists and could play a role in 2017.
Roberts, who was officially nominated on June 18, said the 2013 result was influenced by polls and pundits that claimed the NDP was heavily favoured to win the provincial election outright. While that didn’t happen and the Liberals came away with another majority government, Roberts said Saanich North and the Islands reflected how voters thought at the time.
“Now, however, there’s no guarantee at all for any party,” Roberts said.
He admitted he got off to a late start in the 2013 race, nominated as the party’s candidate with only six or seven weeks to campaign. Holman and Olsen, he said, had a lot more time.
“That’s the big change for me this time. We have a far more organized campaign and over the next nine months, there are a lot of opportunities to hear from people.”
Olsen said he officially launches his campaign on September 8, with his nomination announcement coming later this month. He was, however, named the BC Green candidate for the riding earlier this summer.
“It looks like it’s going to be a similar race,” Olsen said, “and we all know one another better.”
Olsen said the 2013 result was good for the Green Party — placing third and only by those 379 votes. Saanich North and the Islands was seen at the time as a riding where the Greens could elect another MLA to Victoria. Olsen said they were disappointed with the final result, but learned from it.
“This time, we’re going to look to draw clear distinctions between the candidates.”
Like Roberts, Olsen said he has more time to connect with people in the riding, following on to his stint as the BC Greens’ interim party leader. During that time, Olsen traveled the province, seeking inroads into areas where the Green Party might not have had a strong showing in the past. That experience and provincial perspective, he said, should help him in 2017.
“In 2013, we saw the only three-way race in the province,” he said. “It was the only place where all three candidates got over 10,000 votes. We have a switched-on electorate here.”
The candidates will be looking into what voters think are the top issues in the riding. On the Saanich Peninsula, all three candidates agree on some of the main concerns — issues that have been simmering here for years.
“Housing affordability,” said Roberts. “It’s not so much about needing jobs on the Peninsula, the economy seems to be doing well.”
Holman agreed, noting his work on a housing affordability task force that is currently awaiting a report on the demand and the supply of attainable homes.
“We are facing some of the same issues that we faced (in 2013),” Holman said, noting however there has been some progress, including a proposed five-storey condo building in Sidney that will include a majority of its units as affordable homes.
Part of addressing that issue, said Olsen, is tackling land use planning, targeting development concerns.
Taking aim at his Green Party counterpart, Roberts said balancing the environment with building the economy will be a theme during the campaign — as will be transit and traffic challenges, another area all three hopefuls will want to address on the hustings.
Roberts said the voters will have a chance to elect someone who will be part of the next Liberal government. He said the riding has traditionally supported the Liberals — one of the only areas on the south Island that does. Much of Greater Victoria is an NDP stronghold — apart from the Greens’ Andre Weaver taking his Oak Bay riding.
For Olsen, he said he’s working on specific goals this time around and anticipates a long campaign in Saanich North and the Islands.
Holman said he’s tried taking a non-partisan approach to the MLA’s job — especially considering the widespread voter support of all three parties in the riding. He’s banking on the fact that as sitting MLA, he has had the most visibility since 2013.