By Balwant Sanghera
VANCOUVER: British Columbia’s politics is always fascinating. Perhaps it is the west coast climate or its location on the Pacific Coast that this province has its own brand of politics. It is not only amusing but also very unpredictable. Take for example the just concluded provincial election. At the outset of the campaign, the polls had the New Democratic Party (NDP) ahead of the governing the Liberal Party by 20 points. NDP was supposed to have a landslide. As the campaign progressed, this gap began to narrow. Only a couple of days before the polling day, the NDP was reported to be still nine points ahead of the Liberals. However, as the polls closed on May 14 and counting began, a completely different picture began to emerge.
Within couple of hours of poll closures, the B.C.Liberals had stunned everybody. They had won 50 seats (five more than they had before the election was called). The NDP had won 33 seats (two seats fewer than they had before). Not only this, the leader of the BC Liberals, Christy Clark, who had surprised everyone by leading her party to victory, lost her own seat in Vancouver Point Grey to NDP’s David Eby.
Furthermore, the Green Party won its first-ever seat to a legislature in Canada. In addition to that, an independent candidate -Vicki Huntington- made history by getting re-elected to the BC legislature for the second time in a row. It can happen only in British Columbia. These developments have caused a lot of soul searching, head shaking and analysis among party brass, media and political junkies. The results have also placed the pollsters under a microscope.
Speaking from the point of view of the Punjabi and larger south Asian community here, this election has proved to be a watershed event. Before the dissolution of the legislature, there were six Punjabi MLAs – two from BC Liberal Party and four from New Democrats.Dave Hayer and Kash Heed represented the governing party whereas Harry Bains, Raj Chauhan, Jagrup Brar and Harry Lali represented the NDP. That number has now been cut in half. Harry Bains (Surrey Newton) and Raj Chauhan (Burnaby Edmonds) have been re-elected as New Democrats and new comer and RCMP inspector Amrik Virk (Surrey Tynehead) has been elected under the BC Liberal Party banner. In a sense, this election has turned everything upside down. Altogether, around 34 candidates of Indian/South Asian origin were seeking election under the banner of different political parties and as independents. Only three made the cut. Three out of 34 is not very encouraging.
The latest statistics have placed British Columbia’s population at 4.5 million. According to Elections BC, there were 3.1 million voters eligible to vote in this election. However, only 1.6 million took the time to vote. Out of these, 45% voted for BC Liberals and 38% voted for the NDP. Though the BC Liberal Party managed to win 50 seats yet when we look at the voting, they received less than 25% of the total eligible voters support. Thus, we have elected a government that has the support of less than a quarter of the eligible electorate. This, in no way, is a reflection on the BC Liberals. They have won fair and square and must be congratulated for that. However, as a province we need to rethink our strategies to get the maximum number of voters out to voting booths next time around.
The part played by the Indo-Canadian community in this election is also very significant. Historically, a vast majority of Indo-Canadians in general and Punjabis in particular have been strong supporters of the provincial NDP. However, the dynamics have now changed completely. A large number of them run fairly successful businesses. As part of its campaign, the BC Liberal Party was very successful in portraying the NDP as anti-business. They were also very successful in defining NDP leader Adrian Dix as anti-business.BC Liberals were very successful in running an aggressive campaign. NDP’s strategy of running a positive campaign didn’t work. The BC Liberal’s negative ads had crystallized peoples favourable attitude towards them and against Dix and the NDP.
Furthermore, the pollsters’ constant message that the NDP is poised to win brought in some complacency on the part of NDP supporters. All of this brought out a large number of voters including Indo-Canadian/Punjabi voters to the BC Liberal camp .Also, the BC Liberal supporters, fearing an NDP government, rushed to the polls in large numbers. Anyway, we have a government in Victoria with a solid mandate. We wish them well. In this context, the role of lone Indo-Canadian as part of the BC Liberal government is going to be crucial. There is every likelihood that Amrik Virk will be appointed to the cabinet. He has a big responsibility to ensure that the issues facing our community are kept upfront and get due attention from the government.
(Balwant Sanghera is a retired school psychologist and community activist based in Richmond, British Columbia)