Roughly a year ahead of the next provincial election, Premier Christy Clark has called a pair of by-elections for next month that will road-test her ability to maintain the challenged free-enterprise coalition that is the B.C. Liberal Party.
While by-elections in Chilliwack-Hope and Port Moody-Coquitlam will be done by the evening of April 19, Ms. Clark suggested the issues at play – notably taxes, government spending and jobs – will resonate in May, 2013, when Ms. Clark seeks a fourth term for her Liberals.
"It would be true to say the issues will not change," Ms. Clark told a news conference to tout the Liberal candidates in both ridings, who are seeking to hold the seats after the Liberal MLAs separately resigned last year to return to the private sector.
"Today and a year from now, the choice will be the same between a party that believes in low taxes, controlling government spending and creating jobs, and a party that so far has hinted at its agenda, kept secret its budget and won't tell us how it intends to raise the $6.8-billion in spending they propose."
Ms. Clark was referring to the NDP, but the Liberals may be facing a more notable challenge from the B.C. Conservatives, who observers say could split the centre-right vote and give both ridings to the NDP. The Conservatives have no seats in the legislature, but have been energized by their new leader, John Cummins.
Ms. Clark focused her remarks on the NDP and mentioned the Conservatives only when asked.
"We have to make sure our coalition stays together," she said.
Ms. Clark was dismissive of the Conservatives in Port Moody, the riding she held as an MLA before taking a break from politics some years ago to spend more time with her family. She noted they are running a candidate "whose principal qualification" is that she has the same name as the Premier. The B.C. Conservative candidate is named Christine Clarke.
"I think the B.C. Conservative Party is intending to play the spoiler."
Criminologist John Martin, the Conservative candidate in Chilliwack, scoffed at the idea of vote splitting. "[It's]basically fear mongering," he said. "The notion is the Liberals think people owe them their votes."
But Royce Koop, a public-policy professor at Simon Fraser University, said the Conservatives loom larger as a threat to the Liberals.
He said the Conservatives have a shot in Chilliwack. "If [Mr. Martin]does win, it could reshape B.C. politics for the long term. It would provide a toehold for the B.C. Conservatives in the legislature," he said.
"It would be very demoralizing for the B.C. Liberals and be seen as another nail in the coffin of the party."
He said an NDP win in Chilliwack could be good for the Liberals, who have been running behind the New Democrats in the polls. "It would reinvigorate the B.C. Liberal argument that the B.C. Conservatives are a vote-splitting force," he said.
The NDP candidate in Port Moody, former area mayor Joe Trasolini, agreed the by-elections will echo into May, 2013. "While this is a by-election, the pertinent issues will be there in the general election next year," said Mr. Trasolini, who said voters are talking about taxes, fees and postsecondary education, among other issues.
"I am sure these are the same issues that are on people's mind provincewide."
In Chilliwack, the other key candidates are Liberal Laurie Throness, chief of staff to former federal cabinet minister Chuck Strahl, and NDP candidate Gwen O'Mahony.
Mr. Koop said he sees it as a foregone conclusion that the NDP will take Port Moody, where Mr. Trasolini is their candidate. The Liberal candidate is Dennis Marsden.
Population: 45,995 (2006)
Registered voters: 33,487 (2009)
2009 provincial general election
Ian Black - B.C. Liberal: 9,979 (Elected) - 52.15 per cent - Expenditure: $92,290
Shannon Watkins - NDP: 7,614 - 39.80 per cent - Expenditure: $76,297
Rebecca Helps - Green: 1,261 - 6.59 per cent - Expenditure: $1,048
Other: 280 - 1.46 per cent - Expenditure: $1,035
Total valid votes: 19,134
38th Parliament - 2005-2009 - Member: Ian Black - B.C. Liberal
37th Parliament - 2001-2009 - Member: Christy Clark - B.C. Liberal
Previously Port Moody-Westwood; redistricted into Port Moody-Coquitlam in 2009
Christine Clarke - B.C. Conservatives
Ms. Clark volunteers as director and chair of advocacy for the Canadian Skin Patient Alliance. She previously held positions with IBM Canada and A+ Child Development. She was appointed B.C. Conservative critic for municipal affairs and transit on Jan. 25.
Dennis Marsden - Liberal
Mr. Marsden is a branch manager at Westminster Savings Credit Union. He has 23 years of experience in the banking industry representing local credit unions in a variety of positions involving credit, investment, business planning, staffing, business development and branch management.
Joe Trasolini - NDP
Mr. Trasolini was elected to Port Moody City Council in 1996, and elected mayor in 1999, serving four terms. He served as a director of Metro Vancouver, and on the TransLink Mayor's Council. Mr. Trasolini graduated from the BCIT chemical and metallurgical engineering technology program.
Population: 43,720 (2006)
Registered voters: 32,709 (2009)
2009 provincial general election
Barry Penner - B.C. Liberal: 8,985 (Elected) - 53.28 per cent - Expenditure: $67,073
Gwen O'Mahony - NDP: 5,638 - 33.43 per cent - Expenditure: $18,541
Hans Mulder - B.C. Conservative: 1,198 - 7.10 per cent - Expenditure: $250
Guy Durin - Green: 951 - 5.64 per cent - Expenditure: $350
Other: 93 - 0.55 per cent - Expenditure: $260
Total valid votes: 16,865
Chilliwack-Kent: 38th Parliament - 2005-2009 - Barry Penner - B.C. Liberal
Yale-Lillooet: 38th Parliament - 2005-2009 - Harry S. Lali - NDP
Chilliwack-Sumas: 38th Parliament - 2005-2009 - John Les - B.C. Liberal
Previously part of Chilliwack-Kent, Yale-Lillooet and Chilliwack-Sumas; redistricted into Chilliwack-Hope in 2009
John Martin - B.C. Conservatives
Mr. Martin teaches in the school of criminology at the University of the Fraser Valley. He writes an opinion column that has appeared in the Chilliwack Times, the Province and Abbotsford Times.
Gwen O'Mahony - NDP
Ms. O'Mahony is a health-care advocate at a home for adults with developmental disabilities. She has specialized training in biochemistry and microbiology.
Laurie Throness - B.C. Liberal
Mr. Throness served was chief of staff to federal cabinet minister Chuck Strahl. He completed a PhD in history at Cambridge, and holds degrees in public policy and biblical studies. He was a research analyst for Preston Manning, and worked for Stockwell Day and Stephen Harper.