We are more than a week into a federal election and no one in British Columbia has seemed to notice.  All three party leaders have visited the province but a lawn sign or billboard is hard to find.

Political fatigue appears to be the malady of the day – especially from those that usually volunteer on campaigns. The BC Liberals have just gone through a leadership contest and the provincial NDP have one underway.

Also of note is the fact that the governing BC Liberals are a coalition of federal Conservatives and Liberals, which always causes some friction during federal campaigns as those that were side-by-side during previous elections and the recent leadership are now on opposing teams.  The BC Liberal government has taken great pains to stay away from federal politics given the coalition nature of BC politics.

That said, there are still four weeks to go so anything can happen.  The federal parties need to secure British Columbians’ attention.  The only issues that have gained traction so far are oil tanker traffic off BC’s coast and the harmonized sales tax.  Both the NDP and the federal Liberals oppose any tanker traffic and the NDP is trying to use the HST as a wedge issue.  The HST is subject to a provincial referendum by mail-in ballot in June, so this could very well be the sleeper issue in this campaign in the west.

BC has 36 ridings and 24 are expected to be foregone conclusions with the Conservatives holding 18 ridings and the NDP holding the remaining six.  Most ridings are a race between the Conservatives and the NDP with the Liberals being competitive in fewer than ten.  All five currently held Liberal ridings are considered swing however, it would be difficult to imagine Hedy Fry not holding the Vancouver-Centre riding that she has held since 1993.

Former provincial NDP Premier turned federal Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh is in a fierce race to get re-elected in his Vancouver-South riding.  Even though he was brought in as a “star” candidate in 2006, he won by a very slim margin in 2008 so both the Liberals and the Conservatives will be focused on his riding.

The spotlight will also be on Gary Lunn, Minister of State for Sport, who is in a tough spot, with Green Party leader Elizabeth May challenging him in his Saanich-Gulf Islands riding. May’s political future is dependent on a good showing … as is that of her party.

Other key races to watch in British Columbia:

  • Burnaby Douglas – long-term NDP MP Bill Siksay is not seeking re-election so watch for a battle between the NDP and the Conservatives here.
  • Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca – former Conservative MP turned Liberal Keith Martin is not seeking re-election.  Conservative candidate Troy Desouza narrowly lost in 2008 but it should be a three-way race between the Conservatives, Liberals and NDP.

Several high profile MPs are not seeking re-election including Conservatives Stockwell Day and Chuck Strahl and the Liberals’ Keith Martin.  Maverick Conservative MP John Cummins has decided not to seek re-election and has decided to run for leader of the now somewhat obscure provincial Conservative Party which is in the political wilderness.   This has caused a strange dynamic with both Stockwell Day and Jay Hill coming out strongly against an energized provincial Conservative Party and have thrown their support behind the BC Liberal Party as the only viable option to defeat the NDP.

However BC voters stand ready to offer the deciding votes to the government’s majority/minority position.  With four – five close races, this could make election night and BC key ridings that will influence the election outcome.

Sarah Weddell is Vice President, Public Affairs in Hill & Knowlton Canada’s Vancouver office.