With the B.C. provincial election underway today, we’re taking a look at what are shaping up to be some of the hottest battlegrounds in the campaign.
Next on the list is a reprise of 2013’s closest contest, featuring another head-to-head rematch in one of Metro Vancouver’s most central ridings.
BC NDP: Selina Robinson
BC Liberals: Steve Kim
BC Green: Nicola Spurling
Why we’re watching
Coquitlam-Maillardville was the closest contest of the 2013 election, with an outcome that took nearly a month and a judicial recount to settle.
BC Liberal candidate Steve Kim had initially appeared as the winner, but once absentee ballots came in now-incumbent Selina Robinson took the lead by just 35 votes. In the end, the final margin was 41 votes.
Now, the two will face off again in a suburban riding that has been a close contest in every election since its formation.
In five of the last six elections, the NDP has captured the seat (the exception being 2001, when now-Mayor Richard Stewart won for the BC Liberals), but none have been easy victories with each of the last three wins coming by less than 1,000 ballots.
Adding to the drama, the riding has also had its boundaries redrawn this time around, both losing and gaining small slices in the northeast and northwest to Port Moody-Coquitlam that leaned Liberal in 2013.
Robinson is a known quantity in the riding, having lived there for decades and serving as a Coquitlam City Councillor, and before that as Director of Development for SHARE Family and Community Services.
Rival Kim, a small business owner, has lived in Coquitlam since he was eight-years-old, sits on the city’s Economic Development Advisory Committee and has secured the endorsement of at least one City Councillor. The BC Liberals are counting the name recognition and profile he built in his 2013 run to help push him over the edge this time.
And the BC Green Party looks to be taking the riding seriously, nominating LGBTQ activist Nicola Spurling as its candidate. Spurling chairs the Vancouver Pride Society’s Outreach Committee, which conducts outreach on LGBTQ2+ issues around the province.
The Greens’ 8.7 per cent finish was their 12th best showing in Metro Vancouver in 2013 – a large enough showing to easily bend the election in any direction should it attract or lose soft supporters to or from either rival party.
Transportation is one of the hottest topics in Coquitlam-Maillardville, a riding with a busy freeway on its south side and less than ideal SkyTrain access.
Lougheed and Braid stations touch the district’s southeast corner, while Coquitlam Centre station serves the northern tip.
Robinson says getting to and from those stations is a problem that needs to be solved.
“I think there’s some frustration because we don’t have the buses,” she says, adding that neither Braid nor Lougheed station have park and rides. “There’s just not enough buses, so people drive.
Owen Coomer with the Austin Heights Business Improvement Association has also highlighted transit issues, pointing to a once proposed and now shuttered light rail proposal.
“There’s just nothing kind of going our way.”
He says the park and ride problem is causing headaches for businesses in the Austin Heights area.
“What we’re finding is we do have a very limited amount of parking, and when there’s more businesses and more people living down in North Road, and obviously the Clark Burquitlam area has changed dramatically, more people are starting to use the spaces that are available… a lot of people actually park their cars and get on the bus and then head to the SkyTrain and then they leave it all day.”
The future of the Brunette interchange also looms large, with commuters frustrated with gridlock on the Brunette overpass across Highway One.
“People are talking about the Burnette interchange, and when that’s going to happen,” says Kim.
“A lot of people were part of that process, and certainly, everyone’s looking forward to getting that to go forward so that getting to Braid station, and making that safer and more accessible – even to get to the hospital in New Westminster, everyone’s putting that on their list of concerns.”
A suburban riding in the older part of residential Coquitlam, it’s not surprising that affordability is once again a key issue in this riding.
Much of the riding is made up of single-family homes and NDP Candidate Selina Robinson says it’s something she’s hearing plenty about while door knocking, even from the riding’s large late-middle age population.
“[People in their] mid-fifties with kids who are college age or just graduating from either high school or going to college or just graduating college, so there’s a lot of concern for the next generation, our kids can’t get out of the basement.”
Steve Kim with the B.C. Liberals agrees housing is a hot topic, pointing to a construction boom on the riding’s edges.
“I know a lot of development is happening on the outskirts of our riding, which will tend to help the density and increase some of the supply.”
How the province can help get that supply online is a major part of the equation, according to Coomer, who says red tape and a certain degree of push-back from residents has slowed tower construction.
“A lot of it comes down to whether the provincial government can sort of step in and understand that these things are happening and that if we can have a little bit more flexibility so things can go a little bit speedier, so we don’t have to wait so long.”
A riding with a growing aging population, health is shaping up to be a key issue in the riding.
Coquitlam’s nearest hospital, Royal Columbian, is in the process of undergoing a billion-dollar redevelopment, something Kim says is playing well as he door knocks.
“With the Royal Columbian hospital, even though that’s not in our riding, they’re very pleased to hear there are additional investments going to that hospital because it is our regional hospital.”
Robinson agrees it’s an issue that’s coming up again and again, but says the outlook isn’t so rosy, with many feeling the government has been under-investing.
“Certainly waitlists. Waitlists for surgery – people are very, very concerned about that.”
From Kim’s perspective, pocketbook issues are one of the key conversations in the area, and one he feels will play to the Liberals’ advantage.
“Everyone is very supportive and very proud of the fact that we have the strongest economy in the country, and looking forward, they want to see what can be possible to continue to build out and continue to have a strong economy so they can continue to have those jobs.”
Coomer says that’s something businesses in his neighbourhood are also watching closely, hoping for a government that can help get developments, like a long-promised new Safeway, off the ground by supporting cuts to red tape and easing the tax regime.
“Not just sales tax, property tax, whether we can have things either reduced or there’s a little bit more leniency because then it allows more people to bring in new businesses into our area.”
But Robinson says the theme she’s getting at the doorsteps is that while the economy might be growing, it’s not bringing everyone with it.
“Seniors are worried about how the cost of everything is going up, but their revenue hasn’t been going up. Their hydro is going up, seniors who are paying MSP and they’re frustrated because they’re certainly not seeing an increase in their pensions if they have a pension.”