How do you stop an Independent like Jody Wilson-Raybould?
That’s the big question plaguing all the federal parties running in the MP’s riding of Vancouver Granville — particularly the Liberals, who won the seat in 2015 with Wilson-Raybould as a star candidate and, later, attorney general and justice minister.
Now, after the SNC-Lavalin affair changed the narrative, what could have been a safe re-election run has become the must-watch race in B.C., if not the entire country.
Wilson-Raybould is trying to buck decades of trends and win the race without a party infrastructure behind her. But she says whether or not she has one of those labels doesn’t make a difference to who she is as a candidate.
“I’m the same person I was when I decided to run for the last election,” she said as she took a break from knocking doors. “I believe in equality and inclusion and justice and approaching social justice issues in a manner that ensures that everybody can play their role in a community. That’s who I am.”
WATCH: (Aug. 15) Jody Wilson-Raybould reacts to SNC-Lavalin ethics report
She also has qualities few Independents have had before her, particularly the name recognition that came with being at the centre of arguably the largest scandal that plagued the Liberal government this term.
Her testimony to the House Judiciary Committee and subsequent ouster from the Liberal caucus has made her a local celebrity, with people stopping in the street just to get a chance to meet with her.
At the doors, however, Wilson-Raybould says voters quickly want to shift the conversation to local issues.
“The same issues are coming up on the doors that came up when I started knocking on doors 15 months before the last election,” she said. “Issues around climate change, affordability, housing, health care and Pharmacare.
“These are issues that are incredibly important to the people here and I am committed to ensuring they have a strong voice.”
Wilson-Raybould says her record standing up for those issues in Parliament since 2015 will serve her well in October, arguing her ties to constituents in the diverse riding will earn her a win.
“I’ve had the benefit of forming really deep relationships here, and I don’t take those relationships for granted,” she said.
The Liberals’ gambit
The question Justin Trudeau and his party are now testing is whether voters will see that record as a Liberal one or Wilson-Raybould’s alone.
The party has put their weight behind someone who has proven himself loyal to the Liberal brand: 42-year-old tech entrepreneur Taleeb Noormohamed, who worked behind the scenes for former prime ministers Jean Chretien and Paul Martin.
WATCH: (Aug. 13) Wilson-Raybould’s Liberal opponent acclaimed
He then ran for the party in North Vancouver in the 2011 election, which he lost to Conservative Andrew Saxton. Most recently, he cut short a mayoral bid in Vancouver after suffering a health scare.
Noormohamed says he is working hard to ensure the riding stays red, hoping to talk to every available voter before election day to talk about what’s most important to them.
“If you want to earn the trust of folks in this riding, you have to to put in the time here, you have to be here and you have to listen to their concerns,” he said.
“If we work hard, if we communicate our message and we can show the people that we are going to be there for them as we have been, we’ll take this home.”
The challenge for Noormohamed and the Liberals is whether they can overcome some voter resentment over how Trudeau handled both the SNC-Lavalin issue and the fallout.
The prime minister refused to apologize for what Wilson-Raybould classified as inappropriate pressure to consider avoiding criminal proceedings against the Quebec firm, which a report from the ethics commissioner said broke federal laws.
WATCH: (Aug. 16) JWR reveals RCMP interviewed her about SNC case
But Noormohamed says he’s not facing too much criticism on the doorstep, instead hearing from voters they want to see politicians live up to their promises.
“I think we’re hearing from voters that they expect much more from everyone in public office,” he said.
“The government had a very ambitious agenda that they set forward in 2015. And you’re going to see a lot of success and some things that were not done. I think that people want to see those things followed through on.”
The affordability factor
While Andrew Scheer doesn’t want anyone to forget what happened with SNC-Lavalin, his candidate for Vancouver Granville wants to stay focused on local issues.
The redistributed results from the 2011 election for Vancouver Granville, which was created the following year, would have earned the area a Conservative MP.
Zach Segal is now hoping to capitalize on the right-leaning views in some pockets of the riding, while reminding voters the election is about far more than scandals.
“I’ve knocked on thousands of doors already myself, and what we’re hearing from people is that they want a government that will help them get ahead and not get by, and that is their primary concern,” he said.
Segal describes himself as a fourth-generation Vancouver Granville resident, giving him strong ties to the community even as he worked as a staffer for the Conservative government in Ottawa.
WATCH: Scheer promises universal tax cut for lowest tax bracket if elected
He says that history has given him deep concerns about affordability in the area he feels neither the Liberals nor Wilson-Raybould will be able to solve.
“I hear from seniors they’re concerned their children can’t live here, and I’ve heard from their children that they feel that they’ll have to leave,” he said.
“I want to talk about how we can actually solve housing. I want to talk about how we can address the cost of living. And I want to talk about how we can enable our businesses to have higher paying jobs. So this is a place where you can live work and get ahead.”
Housing and climate crises
The NDP and Green parties, meanwhile, are both banking on the younger generation’s fears about housing and climate change for votes.
NDP candidate Yvonne Hanson got her start as an environmental campaigner, and says those issues are forming the backbone of her candidacy.
“The people of Vancouver Granville on the doorstep have told me two main problems: the housing crisis is affecting all of us, and the climate crisis is scaring all of us,” she said. “So we want to be able to address both with interconnected solutions.”
Hanson says she wants to make transit fares cheaper while connecting it further to less expensive housing, helping to solve both issues at once.
The NDP are promising to build 500,000 units of affordable housing across the country, something Hanson herself could benefit from.
WATCH: Jagmeet Singh says young people most worried about ‘catastrophic climate change’
“I’m personally a renter, so I hear from a lot of renters the same thing that I’m experiencing right now, that they are paying over 50 percent of their income in rent,” she said. “That’s something that I’m experiencing as well and it’s not fun, and it’s a result of federal mismanagement of our housing policy landscape.”
Local realtor and Green candidate Louise Boutin agrees, adding she’s hearing lots of concerns about being able to live where they work.
“It’s very difficult to keep on top of the costs of living, and that is something else we want to look at: having a livable wage for people that are below the wage level,” she said.
Most of all, Boutin says the Liberals have not proven themselves able to properly address environmental issues.
“The Liberal government said that they would do more, that they would meet the requirements, and unfortunately this has not been happening,” she said. “So I’m hoping that we hear a lot more and that we actually have a debate just on the environment with all the parties.”
WATCH: May says this election is about telling Canadians climate change is ‘serious’
Both Hanson and Boutin said they haven’t heard much mention of Wilson-Raybould or SNC-Lavalin as they knock on doors, but say the issue has made people more aware about the importance of having a strong voice in the riding.
“I think what she did was very brave,” Hanson said. “But she doesn’t have much about climate action in her platform, she doesn’t have much about addressing the housing crisis in her platform. And we do.”
—With files from Sonia Deol and Richard Zussman