Voters in the Fraser-Nicola riding can expect to see a lot of Premier Christy Clark in the run-up to the election, and can look forward to a race that will likely go down to the wire on election night.
So predicts Keith Baldrey, the legislative bureau chief for Global BC, and a man who has been covering provincial politics for more than 30 years. The Journal had an opportunity to speak with Baldrey briefly in September last year, and on learning where we were based he opined that Fraser-Nicola would be one of the most interesting and closely-fought ridings during this year’s elections.
He has not changed his mind in the intervening months. Last week, during his appearance on a new weekly politics show on Radio CHNL in Kamloops, Baldrey pointed out that the city has one of the most potentially exciting ridings in the province—Fraser-Nicola—right on its doorstep. So The Journal spoke at greater length with the veteran political observer, to get his take on events in the riding since the 2013 election that saw first-time provincial candidate Jackie Tegart (Liberal) defeat four-time MLA and one-time cabinet minister Harry Lali (NDP).
“The Liberals were doing their polling [during the run-up to the 2013 election], and Fraser-Nicola came into their sights about halfway through,” says Baldrey. “The campaign manager said that Fraser-Nicola was in play, and could be won.”
Tegart defeated Lali by 614 votes; one of the lowest margins of victory in the province. “Harry Lali credited his loss to [then NDP leader] Adrian Dix’s change of position on pipelines,” says Baldrey. (Midway through the 2013 campaign, Dix came out in opposition to pipelines, which many feel lost the NDP the election.) “Harry is very pro-natural resources.”
Baldrey says that in this election, Vancouver is not seen as the centre of the universe for the Liberal party. “They’re anchored south of the Fraser, in Richmond and South Surrey, the Fraser Valley, Hope, Fraser-Nicola, Boundary-Similkameen, Prince George, Kamloops, the Okanagan. They’ll have to listen to the attitudes of people outside the usual urban centres.
“Clark constantly mentions the difference of opinion between urban and rural ridings regarding pipelines and development. There’s a big difference between the Liberals and the NDP on natural resources.”
This means, says Baldrey, that Tegart will likely get a boost from the premier, who he suspects will visit Fraser-Nicola more than she will many other ridings. “Clark will go to places [the Liberals] think they can win, or where they need to shore up support. I suspect Jackie will get more than her fair share of attention.”
When asked about the circumstances surrounding the NDP nomination battle in Fraser-Nicola—which pits veteran Lali against newcomer Aaron Sam, a lawyer who is chief of the Lower Nicola Band—Baldrey says it is “very unusual. I can’t remember a leader asking someone of Harry Lali’s stature to stand down.” (Lali announced he was seeking the NDP nomination in May 2016, but his papers were not signed by the party until January 2017, after NDP leader John Horgan asked Lali to step aside in favour of Sam.)
“[The situation] is reflective of the tension that exists within the NDP for various reasons. Harry was one of the ones trying to get rid of [former NDP leader] Carole James in 2010, and the people who took on Carole have been frozen out.
“I think we’ll see a very interesting nomination meeting [on March 18]; probably the most interesting nomination fight in the province. Aaron Sam is obviously a quality candidate, very well-respected.”
Looking ahead to the election, Baldrey says that Fraser-Nicola is on his list as one of the key swing ridings to keep an eye on. “The NDP will face damage from their party position on the Kinder Morgan pipeline. And Jackie has more of a profile now. I suspect she’d best be served by an approach emphasizing industry and jobs.”
That said, Baldrey predicts that Fraser-Nicola is very much a riding that will go down to the wire; so much so that he has already identified it as one of the 10 ridings Global will be paying particular attention to during their election night coverage on May 9.
“I think it’s a riding in play for both parties. It also might be a riding that summarizes the campaign themes of jobs, resources, and industry [for the Liberals] versus more government services and the fight against climate change [for the NDP]. It all might play out in Fraser-Nicola.”