Three ridings to watch on election night

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Image: Svend Robinson/Twitter

This year's federal election began with a bleak outlook for the NDP. At its lowest points, the party was lagging in polls, struggling to raise campaign funds and facing questions about whether it would win enough seats to hold onto official party status in the House of Commons. However, a recent surge in support for leader Jagmeet Singh has improved the NDP's chances of winning seats in some key Liberal-held ridings.

Whether or not victories in those ridings will be enough to produce a net increase in the NDP's overall seat count remains to be seen. Vote splitting with the Green party might put some NDP-held seats at risk on Vancouver Island, for example.

Still, given the real possibility of today's election giving no party a majority, turning (or keeping) even a modest number of seats orange could put the NDP in a solid position to discuss a power-sharing deal or confidence and supply agreement with other parties.

Here is a brief (and by no means exhaustive) selection of ridings to keep an eye on as election night unfolds.

Burnaby North-Seymour

Former longtime Burnaby MP Svend Robinson returned to federal politics in January, championing radical climate action and vowing to tackle the housing affordability crisis head on. He was also a leading voice in calling on Singh to oppose British Columbia's fracking and liquefied natural gas projects, after the NDP lost a byelection to the Greens.

Robinson's lifelong dedication to environmental causes earned him high profile endorsements from David Suzuki, Tzeporah Berman and former BC Green party leader Stuart Parker.

However, although federal Green party Leader Elizabeth May appears to be supporting independent Jody Wilson-Raybould's candidacy in Vancouver Granville (despite the Greens officially running their own candidate in the same riding), May didn't extend the same support to Robinson. 

Another key factor in this riding is the awkward standing of Conservative candidate Heather Leung, who Andrew Scheer tried to drop after an old video of her making homophobic and transphobic comments came to light this month. Despite attempts by Conservative HQ to remove Leung as the Tory contender, Elections Canada said it's too late to remove Leung's name from the ballot, and that all votes for her will still count as votes for the Conservative party. Will the Conservative vote (mostly located in the Seymour portion of the riding) predominantly break down in favour of the Liberals or the NDP -- or simply stick with Leung?

Either way, Robinson is in play to unseat Liberal MP Terry Beech. 

Winnipeg Centre

Leah Gazan won the NDP nomination for her riding in a campaign that observers likened to the rise of U.S. Democratic congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez. Gazan, like Ocasio-Cortez, ran a grassroots campaign to beat out a senior member of her party (longtime Manitoba MLA Andrew Swan). Gazan's nomination campaign tripled her riding association's membership.

Gazan is an Indigenous activist and self-described socialist. Back in July, She told The Tyee:

"I think we need to start looking at things differently. You know, the Liberal government bailed out a pipeline company for $4.5 billion. Why not invest that in something like a guaranteed annual liveable income, free tuition for postsecondary students? I think that we're at a point where we are living in a growing corporate dictatorship where the value of human life and human beings and the value of the environment means less than the wealth and prestige and power of big multinational corporations."

In the same interview, Gazan also emphasized the value of "people power," the need to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the importance of placing indigenous rights at the centre of any Green New Deal.

The NDP lost Winnipeg Centre to the Liberal party's Robert Falcon in 2015 after holding the seat since it was re-established back in 1997. Polling suggests Gazan has a good chance of winning back the seat for the NDP. 

Ottawa Centre

Observers say Liberal Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna's riding is among those that are too close to call. McKenna won the riding from the NDP in 2015 by a narrow margin, and this year faces a challenge from the NDP's Emilie Taman.

"We've been knocking on doors twice a day for seven months and you can feel, in the last three weeks, the shift," Taman told the Ottawa Citizen, last week. 

Taman narrowly secured the NDP riding nomination after beating Green New Deal advocate and progressive activist Graciela Hernandez-Cruz.

Also on the ballot, Green candidate Angela Keller-Herzog is staking out a position slamming the Liberals' hypocrisy on climate action and accusing the federal NDP of proposing a climate-action plan that "will not move fast enough." Reports indicate climate change has dominated candidates' debates in the riding.

Interestingly, both Taman and Keller-Herzog received endorsements from the electoral reform advocacy group Fair Vote Canada.

However, the two candidates representing parties who support electoral reform -- and radical climate action -- might end up splitting voters who favour change, potentially paving the way for a Liberal win -- such is the way of first-past-post. 

On the other hand, though, could Justin Trudeau's betrayal over electoral reform help depress support the Liberals' enough to tip the NDP over the edge in this riding?

Alex Cosh is a journalist and PhD student based in Powell River, B.C. His work has appeared on PressProgressLeft Foot Forward and in several local B.C. publications.

Image: Svend Robinson/Twitter

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