Baldrey: Win or lose, Liberals are gaining ground

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau appears to be gaining ground, says Global BC's Keith Baldrey. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Whatever the outcome of the Oct. 19 federal election, it seems likely the party that will see the greatest growth in votes and seats will be the Liberal Party of Canada.

It may not form government, or even take the most ridings, but it appears the Liberals may regain a lot of ground that, in historical terms, it used to own during most elections. And there’s a good chance it may win back some of its turf in B.C.

For years, the Liberals have been the third-place party in this province, which in recent elections has been usually divided up between the NDP and the Conservatives (and the Reform Party before them). But I’m betting the Liberals will be at least a little closer to the other two parties when it comes to winning the 42 ridings in this province.

The party went into this election with just the two B.C. seats that it won in 2011, but a number of political observers have suggested it would be wise to reject the 2011 election as typical of anything. Public opinion about the main parties appears to be returning to historical levels, which will benefit the Liberals more than any other party.

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In fact, the six elections before the 2011 vote elected, on average, six Liberal MPs in B.C. (a high of nine in 2006). The eighties were barren years for the party in this province as it held just one seat for almost 15 years.

I noted in this column last week that the NDP’s popularity was sliding and that its leader Tom Mulcair had his work cut out for him in trying to regain any momentum. I’ve seen nothing since then to suggest he has been notably successful.

Instead, it has been Liberal leader Justin Trudeau who continues to surprise. With less than a week before the vote, everything is trending his way.

Ironically, a key part of the NDP’s strategic message — that it and it alone was best positioned to defeat the Harper government — may be coming back to haunt the party, much to the apparent benefit of the Liberals.

The underlying theme of that message was that voters had to flock to whoever had the best chance of beating the Conservatives. If people are buying into that message — and I think they are starting to — it’s reasonable to assume that they are headed the Liberals’ way more so than the NDP.

So how can this play out in B.C.?

If we go back a few years, we can see the Liberals used to routinely win seats in Richmond, the North Shore, South Vancouver, Surrey and Victoria. We can forget Victoria — the party’s candidate dropped out of the race — but the other cities have ridings where the Liberals have to be given pretty good odds of winning.

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If they do, they will pick up seats at the expense of the Conservatives (although the NDP’s hopes of winning two new ridings — Vancouver Granville and Burnaby North Seymour — may be dashed if a Liberal freight train does indeed materialize). And they may pick up “soft” NDP voters from the past, who now just want to beat Harper.

The Liberals have never been particularly popular outside of the Lower Mainland or the capital region, and that is likely not to change. But while it’s far from certain that the party will return to the heady days of seven to nine seats, it’s logical to suggest they are going to win more than their current allotment of two B.C. ridings.

Of course, things are very unlikely to return to the Liberal party’s golden days in the modern era of this province. And those days didn’t last long.

That would be 1968, of course, when the party won 16 of the province’s 23 ridings. It had averaged winning just six seats in the seven elections previous to that year.

Things have changed a lot since then. But one thing hasn’t: in that year the party was led by someone named Trudeau. Just like this time around.


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