Rachel Blaney (far right) is heading back to Ottawa after winning 37.8 per cent of the vote in North Island – Powell River. Photo by Marissa Tiel/Campbell River Mirror

Familiar battle fought in North Island-Powell River

North Island–Powell River stays NDP as Blaney returns to Ottawa

As the sun set on a grey and stormy election Monday, the political fate of the country was murky. In B.C.’s North Island–Powell River riding, things were a little more clear. It would be a familiar contest between the Conservative Party of Canada and the New Democratic Party (NDP).

Just after 7:30 p.m. Monday, a handful of NDP supporters were gathered inside the Campbell River Courtenay & District Labour Council hall watching the poll results come in. It was a small group – not more than five – but would soon grow as the riding picture got clearer. The NDP, now with leader Jagmeet Singh at the helm, were hoping to hang onto a number of ridings on the Island – including the North Island–Powell River riding, which they won back from the Tories in the 2015 election.

North Island–Powell River is one of Canada’s newest ridings, created after the 2011 election. It’s similar to the Vancouver Island North riding, which existed from 1997 through 2011. The newest iteration of the riding encompasses more of the mainland and less ground south of Comox than the Vancouver Island North riding. It was held by Conservative John Duncan for the majority of the last 20 years before Rachel Blaney of the NDP won it in 2015.

While climate action dominated much of this election’s conversation about issues federally, locally, voters were most concerned with the retention of industry – how parties would manage forestry, oil and gas, and aquaculture, taxes – what services voters would receive, and housing – including affordability, mortgages and stock.

Voter turnout appears to be down in the riding. Unofficial Elections Canada data suggests that 61,126 of the 89,561 registered voters cast ballots this time around, which equals 69.37 per cent. However, the registered voters number doesn’t take into account electors who registered on voting day.

In 2015, 60,713 people cast votes compared to the 81,377 eligible voters, according to Elections Canada data. However, voters are able to remove their names from the eligible voter list and still be able to vote.

As Monday night progresses, it becomes clear that incumbent Blaney is going to be late for the planned 8:30-8:45 p.m. departure in the party bus; destination: Church St. Taphouse in Comox.

She arrives at the labour hall shortly before 9 p.m. Several news organizations have called the riding in her favour and she’s here to make a speech. Unofficial results will later show she has earned 37.8 per cent of the vote.

Addressing the room, she thanks her volunteers and supporters and looks ahead to Ottawa. Blaney specially mentions the youth in the room: 15-year-old Diego Christiansen, who helped run Blaney’s social media channels; 14-year-old Aiden Mitchell; and 17-year-old Lokman Wong.

Both Mitchell and Wong said they became involved in Blaney’s campaign after her engagements speaking with local youth.

Wong, who has been a member of youth councils in the past, found Blaney to be personable and every time they crossed paths, Blaney remembered her name.

“She really made an effort to engage with the youth,” said Wong.

The trio was involved throughout the campaign doing typical volunteer duties, said Mitchell.

He felt a sense of pride in being part of Blaney’s campaign.

“Here we are. We’ve done it,” he said. “Proud to be NDP.”

Meanwhile, at the 50th Parallel Tap & Grill, runner-up Shelley Downey was surrounded by about 20 supporters watching the results on TV. Downey earned 32.4 per cent of the vote in unofficial Elections Canada results. While disappointed by those results, she said she was proud of her team and their campaign.

“We ran an excellent campaign,” she told the Mirror. “We knocked on a lot of doors and we had a good response. We had a great group of volunteers who spent a lot of hours on the campaign and you can’t ask for more than that.”

She’d had high hopes for her campaign.

“Right at the get-go we were hearing about affordability, and then in the latter part (of the campaign) it kind of shifted to having jobs, so I’m quite surprised at the results,” she said. “We have a lot of people here whose jobs are dependent on the resource sector, and if we’re going to shut down our resources – such as aquaculture – and mess around with our fisheries like they did this past summer with the chinook fisheries, not support the oil and gas sector, what’s going to be left?”

This year, there was a surge of support for the Greens’ Mark de Bruijn, who earned 14.3 per cent of the vote, up from 8.2 per cent in 2015.

RELATED: Rachel Blaney ‘humbled’ as NDP incumbent earns second term

Compared to 2015, the votes for the Greens nearly doubled in the riding.

De Bruijn said the results were bittersweet.

“I’m extremely pleased and proud of what we have done, but I did think we would do better – I think we all did,” he said. “I think this riding as a whole is just not quite ready to take that really courageous step toward soemthing that is unknown and really out of the box.”

Faced with waning support, the Liberals’ Peter Schwarzhoff has announced that this was his final election. He earned 13.1 per cent of the vote, down from 25.5 per cent in 2015. While he’ll remain a party supporter, he won’t return as the Liberal candidate next election. This was the second time his name was on the ballot locally. He noted that on the campaign trail this time around, climate change and affordability were on the minds of voters.

RELATED: Liberal return with minority government in Election 2019

“It’s an important mandate and (voters) want bolder actions, but they may not be sure they know what’s required,” he said. “(A Liberal government) is working for answers. Things that got me into policies such as environmental protection and climate change are on the agenda.”

Despite low support for the new People’s Party of Canada federally, local candidate Brian Rundle, who earned 1.7 per cent of the vote, still believes in the party’s future.

“We believe we offer something very different and I think there is a place in [Canada] for us to have a say and from my experience, there are a lot of people who agree with our vision,” he said.

Independent candidate Glen Staples, who took in election night scrutineering results, said he was disappointed.

“Unfortunately, the system is still broken and I’d like to see some changes to the way parliament works,” he said. “I’m going to keep working on it. Hopefully, we make some progress.”

But he will be working on things without putting his name forward. Staples said by phone Tuesday that this was his final election. Staples earned 350 votes, or 0.6 per cent.

He is, however, buoyed by the one independent candidate who was voted to parliament – that’s former Liberal Jody Wilson-Raybould, a member of the We Wai Kai First Nation, who won her seat in the Vancouver Granville riding.

RELATED: ‘Colouring outside party lines’: Wilson-Raybould pledges non-partisan approach at campaign rally

“We got one free MP in Ottawa now, so we only have 337 to go,” he said. “She will vote according to her conscience and the other 337 will vote exactly as they’re told to.”

Marxist-Leninist candidate Carla Neal did not respond to requests for comment for this story. She earned 48 votes.

So the North Island–Powell River riding remains orange. For Blaney, who spent a lot of time knocking on doors, this campaign was a little different from the last, as they all are.

“It was good to go and knock on doors and see reflected back to me the feeling that I had in the riding of connecting with people feeling that we are listening to their voices and bringing those issues to Ottawa,” she said. “It was amazing to knock on doors and have people say well, I’m not going to vote for you, but I think you’ve done a great job. That meant a lot to me.”

She has a number of priorities to work on when she returns to Ottawa, chief among them: housing and moving to a more sustainable future in the riding.


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