Canada Votes: Preview – The West

by on 16 September, 2015

FrontWith the Canadian election now almost exactly one month away, it is time to start looking at the possibilities on a riding by riding level and how they will stack up on election night.



Manitoba (14 seats) MB_Wiki MBdet

Manitoba sits on Ontario’s western border and was the first province to enter the new nation of Canada after the original members at Confederation. Manitoba is the beginning of the West, or what is known more commonly as the prairie provinces (excluding British Columbia), with agriculture dominating thanks to large snowfall, fertile lands and being the centre of the Hudson Bay drainage Basin. Churchill, in Northern Manitoba, is known as the global polar bear capital, with activity most prevalent around October.

Manitoba is known for its extreme climate, such that it makes Melbourne seem like a paragon of consistency in the weather stakes. Temperatures regularly climb to the mid 30s in summer, often exceeding 40 degrees with a record high of 53, while winter temperatures can easily drop to the -20s, with a record low of -40. The southern portion of Manitoba, which contains the capital Winnipeg, sits slightly north of the American ‘tornado valley’, making southern Manitoba a prime candidate for strong wind gusts. Becoming a British territory in 1763 after the Brits defeated France, it took until 1812 before settlers entered the unforgiving land. Manitoba eventually entered Canada in 1870 as part of a compromise struck by Prime Minister Sir John MacDonald.

Manitoba’s economy is focussed on agriculture, tourism, energy, oil, mining, and forestry. More than ten percent of all farms are located in Manitoba and, of those, roughly a third are cattle farming operations. However, natural resources are the biggest sectors in terms of economic output, while the biggest employers in the province are government funded and government itself. Manitoba is also home to one of the largest Canadian military forces bases in the nation, with CFB Shilo housing over 1600 soldiers.

Manitoba, on a provincial level, is a two horse race between the Progressive Conservatives and the NDP, the Liberals last having held office in the province when Eisenhower was in the White House. The New Democrats have held a comfortable majority since 1999, prior to which the PCs held power for 13 years. Manitoba, on a national level, is most famous for having scuttled the constitutional agreement known as the Meech Lake Accord thanks to a single member of Parliament using procedural rules to destroy the new proposal from then PM Brian Mulroney.

There appears little to interest election watchers in Manitoba at this election, with all except one, perhaps two if you’re lucky, ridings pretty much locked away already. In saying that, the Liberals are set to pinch three ridings from the Conservatives, while the NDP will stand still on probably both of theirs. The only two ridings to create any real interest are Churchill-Keewatinook Aski, where former NDP leadership candidate Niki Ashton has had her early lead gradually whittled away by the Liberals all the way down to one percent, the Conservatives way back on 17%.

The other riding of interest has a real contest in Elmwood-Transcona, in eastern Winnipeg. Since its inception in 1988, a non-NDP member has only won the riding once, and that was in 2011 with Conservative Lawrence Toet getting up. Toet has little national profile and, with the Liberal vote all but dead at 19%, Toet really only has to stop his support leaking to the NDP, with polls putting the NDP up four percent at the time of writing. Thomas Mulcair is pinning his hopes on an eastern strategy with the hope (against reality) of converting provincial success in Alberta to federal results, but the NDP appear to be finding a way to coax voters in Elmswood across to the orange tide even if their efforts in Alberta are less than spectacular.


Lib: 24 (+4)     Con: 15 (+7)     NDP: 10 (+3)     BQ: 0     Grn: 0     Oth: 0



Saskatchewan (14 seats)SK_Wiki SKdet

Saskatchewan is one of just two land locked provinces in Canada, and entered Confederation in 1905 alongside its western neighbour, Alberta. Saskatchewan is known as the home of Canada’s social democratic movement, being home to the first NDP (then CCP) Premier in Tommy Douglas, whose legacy involved the introduction of medicare. For a province with a history that involves effectively giving birth to Canadian socialism, Saskatchewan is a surprisingly conservative province, which we will get to in a moment.

In a rarity, Wikipedia perhaps gives the best quick lesson on SK history:

In 1803 the Louisiana Purchase transferred from France to the United States part of what is now Alberta and Saskatchewan. In 1818 it was ceded to the United Kingdom. Most of what is now Saskatchewan, though, was part of Rupert’s Land and controlled by the Hudson’s Bay Company, which claimed rights to all watersheds flowing into Hudson Bay. In 1870, Canada acquired the Hudson’s Bay Company’s territories and formed the North-West Territories to administer the vast territory between British Columbia and Manitoba. s more settlers came to the prairies on the railway, the population grew. On September 1, 1905, Saskatchewan became a province, with inauguration day held September 4. The Dominion Lands Act permitted settlers to acquire one quarter of a square mile of land to homestead and offered an additional quarter upon establishing a homestead. Immigration peaked in 1910, and in spite of the initial difficulties of frontier life – distance from towns, sod homes, and backbreaking labour – new settlers established a European-Canadian style of prosperous agrarian society.

Agriculture used to form the backbone of Saskatchewan’s economy, with grain farming leading the way. However, professional industries such as finance, real estate and insurance now make up the bulk of Saskatchewan’s economy, with mining and resources not far behind, agriculture well back on the list in modern times. SK actually became the centre of Australian economic interest for a brief period, with the province home to the Potash Corporation.

In terms of its politics, though, Saskatchewan is a province of contrasts to put it mildly. The PCs formed a coalition with the Liberals (go figure) during the depression and then held government for the first time in SK history on its own from 1982 to 1991… and haven’t been heard from since. Their place as the conservative option in the province has been usurped by the Saskatchewan Party, in power since 2007 and led by Premier Brad Wall, often spoken of as a potential successor to Stephen Harper. Outside these years, SK has been dominated by (until World War Two) the Liberals, and (since) the NDP/CCF. Federally, though, it’s a different story, with the Conservatives (in their different forms) dominating the province since 1962, the left only showing glimpses of life during the late 80s and early 90s.

The NDP look set to take two ridings from the Conservatives, and are in with a shot at two more in Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River and Saskatoon-Grasswood. However, once again, the Liberal vote in these ridings is also flatlining as it is in certain Manitoba ridings, meaning the NDP has to winch away votes from the Tories directly. However, SK-Grasswood looks safe. D-M-CR, on the other hand, is an expansive northern riding which has the potential to do anything.  Conservative Rob Clarke held on against an insurgent NDP in 2011 but only leads by a fraction over one percent in current polls. Once again, though, as the NDP looks set to scrap for more votes in the east, the west looks set to be ignored policy-wise, meaning the Conservatives should hold on in D-M-CR.


A late entry into the interesting stakes is Saskatoon University, with the NDP surging ahead recently to be 0.3 percent ahead of the Conservatives at time of writing. However, the Liberals hold a relatively healthy 23% of the vote and, unless the Liberals run dead, it is easy to see a last minute blue surge to get back in front on polling day.


Lib: 25 (+1)     Con: 26 (+11)     NDP: 12 (+2)     BQ: 0     Grn: 0     Oth: 0



Alberta (34 seats)AB_Wiki ABdet

Alberta joined Canada in 1905 alongside Saskatchewan and, as far as conservatives are concerned, is the promised land. Well, until this year. Alberta is home of the famous oil sands, most prominently mined at Fort McMurray. As such, it is a province which relies enormously on the royalties generated by its resource sector for economic prosperity. This is why whenever a Liberal comes to town to talk energy, memories of Pierre Trudeau’s infamous and unashamedly socialist National Energy Program are always front and centre, and said Liberal is usually chased from town (metaphorically) by Albertans waving stakes, crucifixes and cloves of garlic.

Alberta is Canada’s fourth largest province, by land mass and population, and is the other landlocked province alongside Saskatchewan. Alberta’s capital city, Edmonton, is located approximately in the geographic centre of the province. It is the most northerly major city in Canada, and serves as a gateway and hub for resource development in northern Canada, where Canada’s largest oil fields are located, and where most of the refinery capacity for the nation is also located. As a result, much has been made of oil pipelines which have been derailed by either Barack Obama pandering to his Hollywood Greenie friends, or by Premiers in British Columbia and Quebec wanting more cash.

Economically, Alberta is the envy of the world, with a per capita GDP which outstripped the USA, Norway and Switzerland until the recent fall in the Canadian dollar. Alberta also leads the way on per capita GDP among provinces, at just over $84,000. As if their wealth based on natural resources wasn’t enough, Alberta raises approximately half of all Canadian beef and is also among the wealthiest provinces in terms of bison meat exports (and if you ever get a chance to try bison meat, DO NOT turn it down). Alberta is also the leading beekeeping province in Canada, and we haven’t even got to the booming tourism sector, dominated by the Columbia Icefield, the largest national park in Canada in Wood Buffalo, the Calgary Stampede, the Rocky Mountains, and Banff. Oh, and for good measure, West Edmonton Mall is the largest shopping mall in North America. So, yeah, Alberta’s got it made.

Politically, Alberta is conservatism’s production line. The best non-conservative federal result, going back to 1953, was the 1993 PC implosion, when the Liberals took four seats, compared with Reform’s 22 seats. Yep, that’s it. Since 1953, the best ever result for non-right parties has been four seats out of 26, for a grand percentage total of 15%. Provincially, well, I’ll just quote my earlier article (accurate until the NDP was elected earlier this year):

Yes, FOUR Governments in 110 years. 16 years of Canadian Liberals, 14 years of United Farmers, 36 years of Social Credit, and 44 years of Progressive Conservativism

For the record, the Liberals were left leaning, but the Feds effectively installed them (it’s a long story), United Farmers were populist, as was Social Credit, and the PCs started as C but became far more P by the end.

Now, to the election. In 2011, the NDP won Edmonton-Strathcona. That was it. Everything else went Conservative. However, there are six new ridings being introduced at this election, which makes things a little more interesting, along with the Notley Government’s election.

Polling currently suggests that the Liberals are set to pick up three seats, with the NDP in line for three seats. However, there remains the wildcard factors at play: the decline in oil prices, and the performance of the NDP Government. If the oil price continues to decline, and it probably will, there will be no appetite among those dependent on the sector for any more environmental regulation of the oilsands. Yet, that is exactly what the NDP and Liberals are proposing. Further, if the Notley Government starts to tank, then the NDP will start to release a nasty odour. Thus far, Notley has tried to walk both sides of the street on climate change, but is finding herself lumped with a poo sandwich, while her energy minister is chasing electricity companies. Combine this with the NDP’s eastern candidates poo-canning the oilsands, and the reality that as soon as the Liberals talk oil, the tories will start chanting N.E.P., and the polls could quickly go bluer than they already are.

Right now, the Liberals lead in Calgary Centre by four points, and I think this will be barely enough to hang on, as the Libs will trot out Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who makes great entertainment by going conservative pundit Ezra Levant on twitter. The Liberal lead in Calgary Confederation is just over one percent, but this latest number seems to be a rogue, and I’d be surprised if the Grits held on. Calgary Skyview looks like a done deal for the Liberals, with a 12% lead. Three Edmonton ridings (Centre, Griesbach and Strathcona) won’t stay in the conservative fold, but you would expect them all to go to the NDP. However, the Libs inexplicably lead the NDP by 13% in Centre at the moment. Lethbridge is the final riding of interest, and the NDP holds a fragile 3.5% lead over the Conservatives right now. I’ll be generous to Rachel Notley based on her discipline of message thus far, and assume she will let the nuts out of their shells after 19 October, so the NDP should hold on here, with the Liberals garnering 19%.


Lib: 28 (+3)     Con: 54 (+28)     NDP: 15 (+3)     BQ: 0     Grn: 0     Oth: 0



British Columbia (42 seats)BC_Wiki BCdet

BC sits on Canada’s western coast as Canada’s third largest province. Of the roughly 4.5 million people who live in BC, just over half of them reside within the city of Vancouver, possibly the best known of all Canadian cities to Australians as the only direct Australia-Canada service flies Sydney-Vancouver. BC entered the confederation in 1871 and is the warmest province in Canada, attracting a strong migrant population to Vancouver and its surrounding suburban areas as a result. BC also has a significant Aboriginal population and, arguably, also pays greater tribute in public landmarks and buildings to its native population than anywhere else in Canada.

BC’s economy relies most strongly on the forestry sector, although mining also plays a prominent role. Recent changes to the economy is seeing more retail and professional service jobs moving west to an area known as Hollywood North, with Vancouver and the surrounding regions the third largest film production location in North America, trailing only Los Angeles and New York City. Originally, though, the north west was best known for beaver fur, with the British and Americans eventually negotiating to divide the region in half and share the proceeds from the trade. As a result, if you travel due east from Victoria, BC’s capital located on Vancouver Island, you find yourself landing in the USA.

Somewhat surprisingly, BC’s economy is only somewhat reliant on the tourism sector. This is surprising insofar as BC is very strong in marketing its ecotourism sector, with rainforests, lakes, rivers and mountains all attractions for those who enjoy outdoor recreation. BC is also home to the largest ski resort in Canada, with Whistler located roughly three hours outside Vancouver, the town a common gap year location for Australians to the extent that most Australian tourists now avoid the area due to the high Australian population. The Okanagan Valley is one of Canada’s leading wine growing regions, and regularly competes with Ontario’s Niagara region for the title of best wine producing region in the nation.

Politically, BC tends to the left, although the provincial situation isn’t so simply explained. While the NDP sits comfortably on the left flank in BC as it does elsewhere, the BC Liberals tend to be slightly right of centre a majority of the time. This often alienates it from the Federal Liberals, who are poll driven chameleons rather than resting on any strict ideological platform (although, more often than not, they tend left). The Liberals disappeared from the BC scene for 46 years after the Second World War, until the NDP won the 1991 election. The Liberals re-emerged to take the 2001 election, and have governed ever since, although Premier Christy Clark needed a by-election to keep her job after she lost her own seat in 2013, which is actually not an uncommon occurrence in Canada. Federally, the province has shifted between parties depending on the prevailing national mood of the time. As you would expect, the left parties perform better in Vancouver and Victoria, while the right performs more strongly in the suburbs and rural areas. BC is home to the only Greens MP in the House of Commons, Elizabeth May, whose seat shopping adventures, which I touched on previously, ended on Vancouver Island.

With the expansion of BC to 42 seats at this election, options open up for each of the parties to make some inroads into the others, the only exception being that nobody will make ground on the Greens vote. Numbers currently stand at 20 Conservative, 13 NDP, 2 Liberal, 1 Green and 1 Independent.

Current polling suggests the Conservatives will end up getting hammered, with just seven seats going blue, although BC has a propensity to swing a bit and this could well change by election day. The big winners to date are the Liberals, who currently lead in 11 ridings, while the NDP are hoping for a surge in a province where the resource sector is offset by a very strong environmental movement. The NDP vote will get a boost from the provincial opposition making noise during the campaign about the BC Liberal government, although it is difficult to predict just how much a Trudeau-led Liberal Party will be hurt by any poor performance by the provincial government. The BC Liberals stay out of federal affairs, and the Clark government has done little to raise any real controversy. Federally, aside from oil pipelines, the major issue in and around Vancouver seems to be foreign investment driving up housing prices (who says we have nothing in common with Canada?), with only Stephen Harper having anything to say on it besides moaning, and even then he has only committed to ‘look at the issue’.

The Greens, depending on which week it is, have the ability to win the seat of Victoria, or finish a disappointing third, in addition to May’s lock on Saanich-Gulf Islands. In the last few weeks, though, the NDP have looked far more comfortable in Victoria. At this stage, you can definitely lock in seven seats for the Liberals, one for the Greens, 17 for the NDP and four for the Conservatives, leaving 13 up for grabs. I daresay these numbers will change, though, so all predictions on BC are to be taken with a grain of salt until the final week of the campaign.


Lib: 35 (+7)     Con: 69 (+15)     NDP: 34 (+19)     BQ: 0     Grn: 1 (+1)     Oth: 0

3 thoughts on “Canada Votes: Preview – The West

  1. This is a very good summary of Canadian politics for people with some interest, but lacking the time to really delve into it. Thanks.

  2. A friend in Vancouver tells me that the Liberals are currently in government with 20 seats, and the Conservatives have 2 seats in BC. I think you have these two numbers around the wrong way.

  3. The numbers quoted are for Federal MPs elected in 2011, not the provincial govt numbers, which the Liberals have a majority of.

Leave a Reply