VANCOUVER—The victories earned and losses suffered in battleground B.C. decisively sealed the loss of the Liberals’ majority government.
Monday’s election, which saw the Liberals edge past the Conservatives to win the most seats but lose their majority, exposed how neither party managed to get the wave of B.C. support they would have needed to form a majority government, experts say.
The 17 seats won by the Liberals in B.C. in 2015, a 15-seat gain over their 2011 performance, were key in pushing the Trudeau Liberals over the threshold to the majority the party enjoyed over the last four years, said Hamish Telford, a political science professor at University of the Fraser Valley.
The Liberals lost a total of six seats in B.C. on Monday compared to the 2015 election.
“They’re about 14 seats shy of a majority, and half of that is the seats they lost in B.C.,” Telford said.
Overall, the numbers shook out like this: the Conservatives won 17 seats while the NDP and Liberals tied at 11 each. The Greens won two seats.
The Liberals’ losses in B.C. were in the predictable areas: outer suburb ridings such as Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon and South Surrey—White Rock.
But the B.C. riding loss Telford thinks is most significant for the Liberals happened before the writ even dropped.
“The whole story of this election now boils down to what’s happening in Vancouver Granville,” Telford said.
That’s where Trudeau’s former attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould — who was ousted from the Liberal party after she raised ethical concerns about the prime minister’s handling of a criminal case against SNC-Lavalin — won her seat as an independent candidate, besting the party — and by extension the party leader — that left her behind.
“It’s clearly a significant setback, and I think it does go back to the story of SNC-Lavalin,” said Stewart Prest, who teaches political science at Simon Fraser University. “SNC-Lavalin torpedoed and put (them) in the fight for their lives.”
As for Wilson-Raybould herself, the only independent candidate to win a seat this time around, she will have limited power in Parliament without the backing of a political party, Prest said. But she may still wield influence in other ways.
“Her stature affords her some other opportunities,” he said. “She talks about being a truth-speaker — I wouldn’t be surprised if she starts to talk along those lines, the way we hear Elizabeth May trying to interject a different perspective.”
The Liberals failing to make inroads in B.C. didn’t come as a surprise to either Telford or Prest, who both said the Liberals fought an uphill battle with the SNC-Lavalin and Trudeau brownface/blackface scandals, both of which had roots in the province.
Prest said they performed as well as could be expected under those strained circumstances. The Conservatives, meanwhile, didn’t necessarily walk away with a clear victory, analysts said.
“The Conservatives needed to make bigger inroads here than they did,” Telford said. “It really speaks to part of the weakness of their campaign: their very weak position on climate change.”
Telford said the party’s campaign message on cutting the carbon tax was clearly aimed at suburban car commuters, and that message seemed to work in the outer-suburb ridings they picked up in B.C.
But that message didn’t resonate with other voters the Conservatives needed to go after in order to form government — such as those on the three ridings on Vancouver’s north shore, all of which remained Liberal red despite having previously elected Conservative members of Parliament.
Instead, the Conservatives’ seat gains were concentrated in the Prairies: with Alberta and Saskatchewan almost entirely awash in Conservative blue (one Edmonton riding went to the NDP).
That leaves a different kind of problem for Trudeau: how to represent the entire country in government when he’s missing elected MPs in two provinces. It’s a problem sometimes framed as “western alienation” to describe the divide between Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada with the provinces west of Manitoba.
But Telford said the notion of western alienation in Canada needs an asterisk.
“That asterisk is B.C., particularly the Lower Mainland around Vancouver,” Telford said. “This part of B.C. doesn’t appear to be as alienated from the rest of Canada.”
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Telford said the support in Vancouver may come in handy for Trudeau as a way of demonstrating the Liberals have cross-country appeal.
But Prest pointed out Trudeau was also shut out in Monday’s election from B.C.’s interior, and in any case will still need to find a way to bring the prairies into the fold — especially as conversations about pipelines and energy get increasingly polarized.
“In this country we’re having two conversations right now: within progressive circles (on how to tackle climate change) and within the Conservative party there’s a much different conversation (on helping the oil and gas industry),” Prest said. “Something will have to change structurally in order for those conversations to merge back together again.”